All eyes will be on Der Klassiker on Saturday evening as Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund, but the relegation battle is also heating up. Meanwhile, there’s more than just bragging rights at stake in the Rhine Derby.The Rhine Derby
The latest instalment of the Rhine derby has more than just local bragging rights at stake with both Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach battling to qualify for Europe.
Cologne’s stated aim at the start of the season was a repeat of last season’s ninth place finish as the club looks to consolidate its place in the Bundesliga. But with the Billy Goats now “the best of the rest” in fifth, the fans are dreaming of a return to Europe for the first time since the Intertoto Cup in 1997. Heavily reliant on the league’s third top goal scorer Anthony Modeste (22 goals), Cologne will have been pleased to see Serbian midfielder Milos Jojic score in each of the last two games – especially with attacker Yuya Osako out injured.
For rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach, their positive start to life under Dieter Hecking has stalled somewhat and Wednesday’s hard-fought win over Hertha BSC was their first win in just over a month. The return to fitness of captain and talisman Lars Stindl has been a welcome boost, as has the news that sporting director Max Eberl will not be going to Bayern Munich. Meanwhile 19-year-old Slovakian midfielder Laszlo Benes showed that the Foals may already have a replacement for Mahmoud Dahoud, who is set to join Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
In the stands, Saturday’s derby should be a more atmospheric affair than in recent years – when both sets of fans have boycotted matches in protest at issues such as personalized tickets.
Goal drought vs goal machine
The situation couldn’t be more different for both teams when struggling Eintracht Frankfurt meet flying Werder Bremen on Friday night.
Fourth at Christmas, Frankfurt were one of the stories of the Hinrunde as Niko Kovac instilled a togetherness and work ethic in a side which had come close to relegation last season. Since then however, the Eagles have only scored four goals – and only one in their last eight – and have slipped from Champions League contenders to eighth.
The opposite is true of Werder Bremen. Fourth from bottom at the midway stage, Alexander Nouri has since overseen an incredible turnaround. Now, following six wins in their last seven games, including a 3-0 win over high-flying RB Leipzig and a 5-2 triumph away at Freiburg, the Green and Whites are suddenly dreaming of Europe. Another victory in Frankfurt on Friday night would see them leapfrog their opponents in the table.
The most important week of the season so far has arrived for the Bundesliga big two. On Tuesday, Borussia Dortmund host Monaco in the quarterfinals of the Champions League before Bayern Munich welcome Real Madrid on Wednesday. First though, the two German powerhouses will battle it out for domestic bragging rights in Der Klassiker in Munich on Saturday evening.
After five wins on the bounce won by a combined score of 21 goals to nil, Bayern Munich looked to be approaching the business end of the season in unstoppable form – but that run came to an abrupt end in Sinsheim on Tuesday night when Carlo Ancelotti’s side deservedly lost 1-0 to high-flying Hoffenheim. Center back Mats Hummels believes the defeat was just the wake-up call they needed ahead of a crucial week.
“That set-back came at the right time,” he said. “Now we know that we’re not half as strong when we are passive and hesitant. That was certainly the case in the first half. But it was better to lose that than to lose next week.”
Ancelotti admitted his team were “surprised” by Hoffenheim’s aggressive game plan which yielded a string of early chances – something which Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel will surely have noted.
But just as Hoffenheim missed those early chances on Tuesday, so Borussia Dortmund have been guilty of extreme profligacy in front of goal. Despite averaging over 15 shots per game, the Black and Yellows have struggled to finish games off, and Tuchel has accused his players of “carelessness” and “negligence.”
They were fortunate to beat second-bottom Ingolstadt 1-0 after a string of missed chances and had to settle for a draw against Schalke after failing to build on their lead. On Tuesday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed three golden chances against Hamburg before Shinji Kagawa’s late strike finally put the game to bed. They cannot afford such complacency in the Allianz Arena.
HSV’s biggest test yet
Unbeaten in the league at the Volksparkstadion since the start of November, Hamburg’s home form has been key to their recent revival. Now they face their toughest task yet as high-flying Hoffenheim come to town. Julian Nagelsmann’s team are on the brink of qualification for the Champions League and will arrive in Hamburg in confident mood after their midweek win over Bayern Munich, where they shocked the champions with their aggressive high pressing game in the early stages.
HSV dealt with similar tactics very well in their shock 3-0 win away at RB Leipzig in February, so Markus Gisdol can always fall back on that blueprint. But if they surrender possession to Sebastian Rudy, Kerem Demirbay and co, they’ll need to remain extra tight at the back.
Whilst a point would be a great result for the northerners, their Bundesliga fate will be decided over the coming weeks as they face all of their direct rivals – Darmstadt, Augsburg, Mainz and Wolfsburg, plus Bremen and Schalke – in a series of vital relegation six-pointers.
The battle at the bottom
On Sunday, attention turns to the foot of the table. Just a couple of weeks ago, Ingolstadt were eight points adrift of safety. But after two wins on the bounce over fellow relegation rivals Mainz and Augsburg, that deficit has been halved.
Coach Maik Walpurgis has overseen a mini-revolution in Bavaria and, even if the results haven’t always gone their way, the “Schanzer” have produced some impressive performances. Despite the score line, Ingolstadt were the better team for long periods in their 5-2 defeat away at Hoffenheim and deserved much more than a 1-0 defeat in Dortmund.
Victory over doomed Darmstadt combined with an Augsburg defeat in Berlin (not unlikely, given Augsburg haven’t won in five whilst Hertha have only lost once at home all season), would see Ingolstadt move to within a single point of safety. It’s not over yet.
Matchday 28 in full:
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Werder Bremen (Friday 20:30 CET)
1.FC Köln vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Saturday 15:30 CET)
Hamburger SV vs. TSG Hoffenheim
Schalke 04 vs. VfL Wolfsburg
SC Freiburg vs. 1.FSV Mainz 05
RasenBallsport Leipzig vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Hertha BSC vs. FC Augsburg (Sunday 15:30 CET)
FC Ingolstadt vs. SV Darmstadt 08 (Sunday 17:30 CET)