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Going into Matchday 12, no fewer than five teams are tied with 21 points behind league-leading Leipzig (27 pts) and second-place Bayern (24 pts): Dortmund, Köln, Hoffenheim, Hertha, and Frankfurt. Dortmund is currently sitting in third place on the merits of its 26-12 goal differential, so its contest against Frankfurt will be especially fierce. Here is a look at some key matches this weekend.
Matchday 12: Key Matches
Friday, 2:30 pm EST
Freiburg vs Leipzig (on FS2)
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Lawn-Ballers will look to extend their lead atop the Bundesliga table with a victory over Freiburg in Friday’s opening match, but will have to improvise a back line. Marvin Compper is the latest casualty, and now his hypothetical replacement Papadopoulos is also out for at least three weeks. Leipzig’s bench should suffice against Freiburg, who sit squarely in the middle of the table in 10th place with a -5 goal differential.
Player to watch: Naby Keita. The Guinean midfielder possesses arguably the most raw talent on a highly talented, young Leipzig team, with dribbling skills that are off the charts. There is plenty of room for him to play in the midfield now, and he is sure to make the most of the opportunity.
Saturday, 9:30 am EST
Gladbach vs Hoffenheim
Hoffenheim were sitting pretty in third place two weeks ago when they tied Bayern at the Allianz arena. That draw broke a string of five victories, and Hoffenheim blew their big chance to reclaim third place last week by conceding two goals to bottom-dwelling Hamburg. Now they have to beat a struggling Gladbach coming off of back-to-back losses to Hertha and Köln. Hoffenheim should be more than a match for Gladbach’s underperforming offense.
Player to watch: Karem Demirbay. Hoffenheim’s Turkish international has put together a string of outstanding performances, garnering three goals and three assists this season, despite not starting until matchday 4.
Hamburg vs Bremen
The cellar-duel, as they say in German. Bremen and Hamburg are respectively placed 16th and 18th (dead last). Hamburg have yet to win a game and have scored only 6 goals all season. It hurts just to read these teams’ goal differentials (Werder: 13:29/-16; HSV: 6:25 / -19). Despite those numbers, these teams defend so badly that a scoreless draw seems a remote possibility. My money is on Bremen: they’ve shown some signs of life lately after their catastrophic start. Hamburg may have scored two against a lazy Hoffenheim last week, but they escaped a loss only because Hoffenheim failed to capitalize on some incredibly poor defending.
Player to watch: Serge Gnabry. Gnabry might as well have come from another planet rather than Arsenal; he is so vastly better than his teammates. It is no secret now why Bayern Munich were interested in the newly minted German international. Bremen’s chances of avoiding relegation depend disproportionally on him.
Frankfurt vs Dortmund (on FS2)
Dortmund and Frankfurt are tied for points, and neither team can afford a loss. Both will undoubtedly do everything possible to keep pace with Bayern and Leipzig. Coming of a victory over Bayern and bizarre 8-4 CL win, Dortmund face a tough stumbling block in a well-rested Frankfurt team, which has ground out several good results. Despite playing earlier in the week, several of Dortmund’s regular starters will also be well rested. Dortmund should have an edge, but this one could go either way.
Players to watch: Marco Fabian and Marco Reus. Chicharito is not the only exciting Mexican international in the Bundesliga. With three goals and four assists, Fabian has been potentially more valuable to Frankfurt this season than his famous countryman has been for Leverkusen (5 goals, 1 assist). He could make life difficult for Roman Weidenfeller, who will start in place of an injured Roman Bürki. Opposite Fabian, Dortmund’s Reus will look to make a difference after a fantastic comeback match against Legia Warsaw in which he scored two goals, an assist, and induced an own-goal.
Sunday, 11:30 am EST
Hertha vs Mainz (on FS1)
Hertha will look to improve its record after a very disappointing draw against Augsburg last week. Expect them to come out aggressively to seize their chance to leap ahead of Frankfurt, Hoffenheim, Köln, or Dortmund, should they drop points. Mainz meanwhile have their work cut out for them if they hope to beat Berlin at home. None of their five victories have come against a top-table team. Hertha should be able to score more than one goal against Mainz’s porous defense, while conceding few in return.
Players to watch: Salomon Kalou. Kalou announced his comeback with a hat-trick against Mönchengladbach, but followed up with nary a peep against lowly Augsburg. Hertha need him (and teammate Vedad Ibisevic) to lead them to victory over inconsistent Mainz.
Köln vs Augsburg (Saturday, 9:30 am). Little Augsburg should not give Köln's Anthony Modeste & co. trouble at home.
Ingolstadt vs Wolfsburg (Saturday, 9:30 am). This is Wolfsburg’s big chance to win some points off one of the worst teams in the Bundesliga, but can the most underperforming offense in the league score a few goals?
Schalke vs Darmstadt (Sunday, 9:30 am, on FS1). The Royal Blues should have no trouble dispatching Darmstadt at home. Watch for Nabil Bentaleb and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting to lead the charge.
Bayern vs Leverkusen (Saturday, 9:30 am, on FS2). We’ll post a separate preview for Bayern’s must-win match against Bayer Leverkusen.