After FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg all competed in European competitions in midweek, our focus returns to the Bundesliga, and Match Day 29 promises to deliver another exciting weekend’s football.
Here’s a taster of what you can look forward to…
Regarded by some as the biggest match on the Bundesliga calendar, Dortmund’s visit to Ruhr rivals FC Schalke 04 is a fixture of significant importance for both sides.
Dortmund is the only side in the division with a chance of beating Bayern to the title this time around, but Thomas Tuchel’s side can ill-afford any slip-ups when they travel to Gelsenkirchen’ Veltins-Arena. They are currently on 67 points, a tally that would have seen them top the table in 49 of the previous 52 seasons, but trailing Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side by five points.
Die Borussen are unbeaten since the winter break and have amassed more points than any other side since the resumption of the Bundesliga, but they face the added pressure of a potentially tricky visit to Anfield next week, after drawing 1-1 at the Westfalenstadion with Liverpool in their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday.
Schalke, meanwhile, have struggled for form in recent times, winning three of their last eight matches, including a 3-0 defeat to FC Ingolstadt 04 last week.
André Breitenreiter’s side is in seventh place heading into this week’s match on 44 points, but remain in contention for a Champions League berth since they are only one point behind fourth-placed VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach and four points behind Hertha Berlin in third.
Anything other than a positive result on Sunday and Schalke’s Champions League ambitions will be hanging by a thread…
Dortmund will be without the services of star midfielder Ilkay Gündogan after the German international sustained an injury during training in midweek, but have a reasonably fit squad otherwise.
Schalke, meanwhile, remains without injured midfielder Leon Goretzka, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is likely to return to the starting XI in place of the misfiring Franco Di Santo.
Bayern continue march to the title
The defending champions, meanwhile, head over to the Mercedes-Benz Arena for a clash against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday.
This is a fixture the Bavarians have dominated in the recent past, winning the last 14 encounters against Die Roten, which includes 11 on the trot in the Bundesliga.
On paper, this one looks like a routine victory for Guardiola’s charges, but as some managers like to say, anything can happen in football.
Bayern travel to Portugal for their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Benfica on Wednesday after winning the first leg at home 1-0.
Guardiola’s squad undoubtedly has the depth and experience to deal with matches every three or four days – as is going to be the case considering they are still in the DFB-Pokal as well – but this weekend’s trip to Stuttgart certainly has a banana peel sort of feel about it.
Recent history is massively against Stuttgart, but one can certainly argue that they are due a result… Another defeat and the hosts will find themselves entrenched in a relegation battle…
It’s tight at the bottom
Bottom of the table Hannover 96 need something of a mathematical miracle to retain their top-flight status as a 2-2 draw against Berlin still sees them at the foot of the Bundesliga standings. However, the other two relegation spots are far from decided.
With just seven points between Eintracht Frankfurt in 17th and Hamburger SV in 10th, nearly half the division run the risk of dropping down a division with a loss of form at this stage of the campaign.
Two of this weekend’s fixtures have the potential to be ‘relegation six-pointers’ – Frankfurt v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and SV Werder Bremen v FC Augsburg.
Frankfurt (27 points) could leapfrog Hoffenheim (28 points) with a victory and either side could find themselves as high as 13th should other results go in their favour.
Hoffenheim started the season in disastrous fashion, but since Julian Nagelsmann took over at the midway point of the season Die Kraichgauer has slowly climbed up the table. In fact, since the winter break, only Dortmund and Bayern have scored more points than Hoffenheim, and the 14th place they currently occupy is their best since Match Day 3.
This is a fixture which Hoffenheim have often had the better of, with Frankfurt averaging just 1.17 points per home game their opponents this week, their lowest against a particular opponent in the top flight.
A draw would certainly favour the visitors here, and with both sides struggling to find the back of the net at times, that is certainly the most likely result. Nevertheless, should the points be shared it could grant the teams around them on the table some breathing space. It could be rather nervy…
Meanwhile, there is also very little between Bremen (28 points) and Augsburg (27 points) ahead of their clash at the Weserstadion on Saturday.
Bremen have won their last two encounters against Augsburg, but go into the match having conceded a league-high 57 goals this term. In fact, Viktor Skrypnyk’s side hasn’t kept a clean sheet in any of their last 31 Bundesliga matches – the third-longest such in the history of the division. They tend to score more goals than their fellow relegation candidates, but are well-known for their defensive lapses.
Augsburg, along with Hannover, are the bottom of the form table with just three points from their last six matches and will be without top scorer Ja-Cheol Koo (8 goals).
Fortunately for Markus Weinzierl’s side, Werder have taken just 11 points at home this season…