Cologne – With just 12 points left to play for between now and the end of the 2014/15 campaign, time is running out for teams near the foot of the table to retain their top-flight status, while the Bundesliga's European aspirants continue to jostle for a place in the top six.
SV Werder Bremen - Eintracht Frankfurt
bundesliga.com previews Saturday afternoon's remaining encounters...
UEFA Europa League aspirants SV Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt meet at the Weserstadion in a game that sees Eagles boss Thomas Schaaf return to the club where he spent 14 years as head coach between 1999 and 2013. Having seen his side slip six points behind sixth-place FC Augsburg last weekend, though, Schaaf knows there is little room for sentiment on Matchday 31.
“Of course I’m looking forward to going back,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “But first and foremost it’s about us putting in a good performance. We have to get a good result – something we haven’t managed to do in our last few games.” Schaaf, whose team haven’t won in the league since Matchday 25, is likely to have Marco Russ available following a knee injury, but Stefan Aigner has failed to recover from a muscle problem and has not travelled with the rest of the squad.
‘Thomas is a club legend’
Hosts Bremen fought back from two goals down to draw with struggling SC Paderborn 07 last time out, but remain three points outside the top six with four league games left to play. Although die Grün-Weißen lost 5-2 in the most recent meeting between these two sides on Matchday 14, head coach Viktor Skripnik insists revenge is not Werder’s prime motivation going into the match.
“We always want to win, regardless of who we’re up against,” he said. “We’re hoping there will be a fantastic atmosphere on Saturday. Thomas is a club legend, but hopefully we’ll be the ones celebrating after the match.” Midfielder Özkan Yildirim has been ruled out for the rest of the season after twisting his knee in training, while Felix Kroos is sidelined with a fractured rib. However, Janek Sternberg could return after being left out of the starting XI at Paderborn.
FC Augsburg - 1. FC Köln
Augsburg currently occupy the sixth – and possibly final – Europa League qualifying spot, but Fuggerstädter head coach Markus Weinzierl knows his side can’t afford to drop points at home to 1. FC Köln, whose top-flight status seems all but secure going into the final month of the campaign.
“I have huge respect for everything Peter Stöger is doing at Köln,” said the 40-year-old, who welcomes back defender Ragnar Klavan and FC Bayern München loanee Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg after illness. “They are very compact, particularly in midfield with our former player Kevin Vogt. We have to take particular care not to give Köln too much space to hit us on the counter-attack.”
Stöger: ‘We’re not safe yet’
Köln keeper Timo Horn, meanwhile, has recovered from a bruised thigh and will start at the SGL Arena, but Brazilian forward Deyverson and full-back Pawel Olkowski remain on the treatment table with thigh and foot injuries respectively. Slawomir Peszko and Dusan Svento, who both started last weekend’s draw with Rhineland rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen on the bench, are vying for a place on the left-hand side of midfield.
Despite sitting comfortably above the drop zone with four games remaining, Stöger’s side are refusing to rest on their laurels. “We want to stay in the league – that’s our main priority,” said the Billy Goats’ boss. “Now that we’ve got a chance to secure our place in the division, we want to make the most of this opportunity. We still need points to rubber-stamp our survival, but Augsburg need points to fulfil their Europa League ambitions.”
SC Freiburg - SC Paderborn 07
SC Freiburg welcome fellow strugglers SC Paderborn 07 to the Schwarzwald-Stadion in a clash between two teams scrapping for their lives at the foot of the table. Just two points separate Paderborn in 17th from their 14th-placed hosts, but the East Westphalian minnows could leapfrog Christian Streich’s charges with victory in the Black Forest on Saturday afternoon.
Having watched his side fight back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at bottom-of-the-table VfB Stuttgart last weekend, Streich feels Freiburg are in pole position to secure their top-flight status in the coming weeks. “Our position [in the table] is not too bad,” explained the 49-year-old, who could name an unchanged line-up on Saturday. “I’m not sure if we have to worry too much about relegation, but victory or defeat against one of our direct rivals would obviously be significant.”
‘We have to keep our heads’
Unlike Freiburg, Paderborn let a two-goal lead slip on Matchday 31 – Andre Breitenreiter’s side were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw against Bremen – but last season’s Bundesliga 2 runners-up are far from dead and buried and could potentially climb as high as 14th if results go their way this weekend.
They will have to do so without the suspended Mario Vrancic, as well as injured duo Alban Meha (elbow) and Marvin Duksch, but Breitenreiter is confident of getting a positive result in Baden-Württemberg. “Freiburg have the experience of being in a relegation battle and have always made the most of their resources,” he said. “But they’ll be aware of the magnitude of this game. We have to play with our heads and keep our composure.”