Cologne - The Bundesliga is heading into its final straight this weekend with plenty to play for in the coming seven weeks with not one club in the top flight yet able to pop open the champagne or reach for the tissues.
SV Werder Bremen - 1. FSV Mainz 05
Matchday 27 boasts several crucial encounters at the top and the bottom and bundesliga.com puts Saturday afternoon's games under the microscope...
SV Werder Bremen will look to get their UEFA Europa League push back on track against mid-table 1. FSV Mainz 05. The Green-Whites are without a win in two after losing to league leaders FC Bayern München and drawing with 1. FC Köln, but still only trail sixth-placed FC Augsburg by a surmountable four points.
“We’re expecting to come up against a compact unit,” explained Bremen head coach Viktor Skripnik. “Mainz have got plenty of momentum going under Martin Schmidt and have been playing really well of late. Players like and could cause us real problems, but we’re playing at home and want to show how much we want to win. Everyone knows what’s on the line on Saturday.”
’A tough game’
As the Bremen boss alluded to, the good ship Mainz 05 is steering a course towards safety after a testing first half of the season. The Matchday 26 stalemate with second-placed VfL Wolfsburg underlined the progress the Karnevalsverein have made under Schmidt, who has overseen two wins, as many draws and just one defeat since replacing Kasper Hjulmand on 17 February.
“A lot of us knew him already, which was beneficial,” explained Mainz midfielder Geis. “He’s got us playing aggressively again with an emphasis on counter-attacking football. We’re playing more like last season […] There are two or three top teams; five or six challenging for Europe and the rest of us are fighting to make sure we don't get sucked into a relegation scrap. We have to be realistic […] It’s going to be a tough game.“
Eintracht Frankfurt - Hannover 96
Eighth-in-the-table Eintracht Frankfurt are another side who could quite easily make a late push for Europe or, by the same token, find themselves being dragged into the relegation dogfight. As an attacking unit, they have - at times - been quite brilliant, but it’s their defensive foibles that have cost them far too many points over the course of Thomas Schaaf’s first season at the helm.
“We have a point to prove [after losing the reverse fixture 1-0],” affirmed Eintracht midfielder Stefan Aigner. “Obviously we hope that Hannover’s bad run of form continues against us. They’re a good side, they’re at the same level as we are. They will fight back.” Schaaf agreed, adding: “Everyone knows teams go through rough patches. They’re still a quality side.”
'Korkut's got quality'
Hannover will be keen for that rough patch to end sooner rather than later, although club president Martin Kind remains convinced that coach Tayfun Korkut will lead them to safety. "Korkut's a highly qualified and incredibly diligent coach who learns from negative experiences and can turn them into positive ones," Kind told bundesliga.com.
"He has the necessary quality and we remain in charge of our own destiny, and I have faith in our coach succeeding." That vote of faith is just what Hannover need after learning they will lose Lars Stindl to Gladbach in the summer. He has vowed to do all he can in his final games for the Reds to ensure he leaves with exclusively fond memories, reciprocally. "Until the summer I will be exclusively focused on picking up points with 96," said the 26-year-old.
SC Freiburg - 1. FC Köln
The notion of SC Freiburg's home clash with 1. FC Köln being regarded as a survival six-pointer is rather apt. Victory for the home team would reduce the gap between the two sides to two points, dragging Köln into uncomfortable territory and lifting Freiburg away from it. The other way around, though, and eight points wound separate the two sides, which is a considerable gap with seven games to come after.
Freiburg are battle hardened, though, and capable of responding to either scenario, according to defender Oliver Sorg. "We've had plenty of experience with relegation battles in recent years," he said. "Not letting it drive us crazy has always paid dividends and we're sticking to that, and I think that's the best way."
All good things come in threes
These two sides are no strangers, having met also in the DFB Cup this season. Winners on both occasions were Freiburg, leaving Köln with a score to settle on Saturday. "Both of those games could have gone the other way," suggested Köln coach Peter Stöger. "We know what we did wrong in those games, however, and we can beat them this time. We've got to set the record straight."
Stöger is happy to have seen his players come back from international duty fit "and with a smile on their faces", although that does not apply to Dusan Svento. "We'll have to wait and see if he can make it this weekend," added the Austrian coach.