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Bundesliga Matchday 15: Preview and Open Game Thread

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The weekend opens with a high-stakes duel between the student and the master and goes out with a whimper - or a bang, depending on your perspective.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga
“Muahaha!” The Mephistophelian Sandro Wagner takes on Dortmund this week.
Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

Matchday 15 features two winner-take-all contests: Hoffenheim versus Dortmund and Leipzig versus Hertha, while Frankfurt seems poised for another win.

Matchday 15: Key Matches

Friday, 2:30 pm EST

Hoffenheim vs Dortmund (FS1)

The matchday opens with a bang as Dortmund travel to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena to face fourth-place Hoffenheim, pitting Julian Nagelsmann against Thomas Tuchel, the man who put him on the track to becoming a coach eight years ago in Augsburg. Nagelsmann’s team remains undefeated this season, with six victories and eight draws. Dortmund have been steadily climbing in the table, but have to succeed against Hoffenheim despite a plethora of injuries to their defenders. Things are so bad, Tuchel joked earlier this week that he might play Sven Bender in and “Einserkette” – a lonely “back one” rather than the usual “back three.” No quarter shall be given in this intense match: the winner stands a chance of rising all the way to third place.

Real Madrid CF v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League
Don’t shoot!
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Player to watch: Roman Weidenfeller. Weidenfeller has been saving only fifty percent of the shots sent his way, a league-worst rate. With Dortmund’s defense depleted, it will be up to the veteran keeper to ward off Hoffenheim’s Sandro Wagner.

Saturday, 9:30 am EST

Schalke vs Freiburg

Thanks to an astonishing run of bad luck, Schalke are actually one rank lower than Freiburg – 10th versus 9th – despite playing like a top-five team. Last week, after Naldo saw a straight red card minutes into the game, they valiantly fought off Leverkusen for 90 minutes only to lose on a controversial free kick decision. Now captain Benedikt Höwedes returns, but Naldo is suspended. To make matters worse, key attacker Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting fell sick during the week and will not play. With all their other regular strikers injured, that leaves the lion’s share of the offense to Max Meier and Evgen Konoplyanka, who usually comes in off the bench. Freiburg is not known for its offensive prowess, but with Maximilian Philipp back in action, they at least have one relatively dangerous striker.

FC Schalke 04 v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Bundesliga
Thilo Kehrer denies Chicharito.
Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Player to watch: Thilo Kehrer. Last week, it was Kehrer’s job to replace Höwedes. This week, he covers for Naldo. The young man put in a very solid performance in a high pressure game last week, but was on the receiving end of the controversial call that led to Leverkusen’s goal. Expect him to play hard today.

Leipzig vs Hertha (FS1)

After shocking the Bundesliga by losing to Ingolstadt last week, Leipzig end their Hinrunde with two contests against their closest rivals: third-place Hertha this week, and of course Bayern on the final matchday. This is a huge match for both teams, as Hertha also lost surprisingly last week to a resurgent Bremen. Coach Pal Dardai described his match plan against Leipzig as “Not to concede a goal and score at least one.” Their chances may be better this week, with Mitchell Weiser likely to return to the starting lineup to support Vedad Ibisevic, but beating Leipzig at home remains a tall order. Leipzig’s defense is still not optimal, but Ralph Hasenhüttl might be able to call on the services Bernardo, who trained with the team earlier this week after recovering from a long injury. A victory for Leipzig will presumably solidify their place even with Bayern; for Hertha, a chance to close the gap on the two leading teams.

Player to watch: Timo Werner. Werner has been lukewarm at best after weathering the storm of controversy over his game-winning dive against Schalke. The bigwigs at Leipzig have spoken with their young striker and put the matter to rest, but Werner himself now has to prove on the field that he has moved on.

FC Ingolstadt 04 v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga
For crying out loud, Ingolstadt?!
Photo by Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images

Around the Bundesliga

Saturday, 9:30 am EST

Mainz vs Hamburg (FS2)
A struggling Mainz squad (11th) will hope to win points off of Hamburg (16th), which still finds itself in the relegation zone despite winning its last two matches (its first victories of the season) and drawing the two prior. Hamburg will have to survive the trip to the Carnival city without key midfielder Lewis Holtby, who is serving a suspension.

Augsburg vs Gladbach
This match looks like an opportunity for Gladbach to win two in a row: Augsburg surprised the entire Bundesliga this week by firing head coach Dirk Schuster and his entire staff allegedly for “sporting reasons.” Since Augsburg (13th) was doing reasonably well, no one knows what that might mean. For Gladbach, Lars Stindl will probably miss the match, having caught the flu during the week.

Borussia Moenchengladbach v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga
Gladbach scraped by Mainz because this goal was disallowed.
Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bremen vs Köln
Köln’s Bundesliga run has skidded to a halt with two draws and a loss while scoring just a single goal over the past three matchdays. Things may be looking up for the Domstädter, though, as Marco Höger should return to the starting lineup. Anthony Modeste must score again against Bremen’s wobbly defense. Watch for a rejuvenated Claudio Pizarro to start for Werder.

Saturday, 12:30 pm EST

Wolfsburg vs Frankfurt
Fifth-place Eintracht Frankfurt rolls on, but must face the Wolves without American defender Timothy Chandler, who is serving a red-card suspension. Even so, the odds are in their favor against an astonishingly bad Wolfsburg.

Sunday, 9:30 am EST

Darmstadt vs Bayern (FS2)
First meet last for the second week in a row... Darmstadt have conceded 27 goals on their way to the bottom (tied with Hamburg). A few more, and they’ll overtake Bremen (32 conceded) and finally be the best at something. Check out the projected lineups and discussion here.

Sunday, 11:30 EST

Leverkusen vs Ingolstadt (FS2)
No one is sure who will play for Leverkusen (LOL-verkusen?). After going down with what appeared to be a serious injury, Kevin Kampl appears set to make a surprise comeback against the Schanzer. Stefan Kiessling, meanwhile, who headed Leverkusen to victory last week against Schalke, will apparently miss the match. As for Ingolstadt, after shocking Leipzig last week, they will have to find a way forward without their best attacker, Mathew Leckie, who is suspended. Either way, expect Hakan Calhanoglu to take a million very precisely aimed shots.