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Bundesliga Matchday 14: Preview and Open Game Thread

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With Leipzig, Bayern, and Hertha looking like sure bets, the biggest fight is for fourth.

Poland U-21 v Germany U-21 - International Friendly Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

Hoffenheim and Frankfurt clash in Friday’s opening match, while Dortmund will look to snatch points away from an ailing Köln. The weekend looks bright for Hertha, and only the upset of the season can stop Leipzig. A Sunday duel between Schalke and Leverkusen closes out the weekend.

Matchday 13: Key Matches

Friday, 2:30 pm EST

Frankfurt vs Hoffenheim (FS2)

The opening match auspiciously has the most at stake. Fourth-place Hoffenheim travel to face fifth-place Frankfurt in what should be a fiercely contested game. The prize for the winner is a guaranteed lead over Dortmund and Köln, who also face each other this weekend. Anything less all but guarantees falling in the table. Hoffenheim are in outstanding form after annihilating Köln 4-0 last weekend, although they again will be without the services of Kerem Demirbay. On the other side, Frankfurt’s ever-dangerous Marco Fabian will make his return after his yellow-card suspension. While Hoffenheim are in better form, Frankfurt enjoy home-field advantage and have an uncanny knack for grinding out wins.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

Player to watch: Mark Uth. After missing matchdays 6-11 because of a muscle injury, Uth returned to action as a joker in Hoffenheim’s last two matches, scoring last week against Köln. He may at last return to the starting lineup this week alongside mainstay Sandro Wagner.

Saturday, 9:30 am EST

Köln vs Dortmund (FS2)

After crushing Gladbach last week and rallying to take a 2-2 draw from Real Madrid, Dortmund’s Busy Bees travel to Cologne, where they’re heavily favored to dominate a depleted Köln squad. That’s not the whole story, though: Dortmund’s defense looked dreadful against Real and may be more vulnerable to Köln than meets the eye. And although Köln may have fallen to Hoffenheim last week, they created almost precisely the same amount of good goal-scoring chances and may expect better luck this week. Of course, Köln’s defenders will have their work cut out for them, with perennial threat Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now reunited with Marco Reus.

Real Madrid CF v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Player to watch: Marco Reus. It’s no secret that Marco Reus is one of the most dynamic players in the world when healthy. After missing Dortmund’s first eleven games due to yet another lingering injury, Reus is back. He logged three assists against Gladbach in his debut and scored Wednesday against Real Madrid. Köln may be the next to pay.

Saturday, 12:30 pm EST

Hertha vs Bremen (FS2)

Things are looking very good for Hertha, as key winger Mitchell Weiser has overcome his injury and striker Vedad “the Billiken” Ibisevic has served his yellow-red card suspension. A victory will be Hertha’s seventh in a row at home, a club record that they undoubtedly want to set. Three points snatched from Bremen’s woeful defense would also solidify their hold on third place behind Leipzig and Bayern. Expect Hertha to treat the home fans to a showcase of attacking soccer. Bremen are riding, if not high, then at a modest height after a home victory over Ingolstadt, but it’s unlikely that Serge Gnabry’s individual brilliance can save them against a fit Hertha squad itching to demolish their northern rivals.

Player to watch: Mitchell Weiser. Bayern’s wayward winger is anticipated to return to the starting lineup. Will he need time to find the excellent match form that followed him through most of the Hinrunde?

Sunday, 11:30 am EST

Schalke vs Leverkusen (FS2)

The matchday concludes with another duel between neighbors on the Bundesliga table: Schalke in eighth and Leverkusen in ninth. After cruising through an 0-2 loss in a meaningless Europa League match, Marcus Weinzierl’s men will be looking to draw blood against a wildly inconsistent Leverkusen after a disappointing loss to Leipzig. Only captain Benedikt Höwedes will sit, serving a suspension for his fifth yellow card. He also was the only regular player to play mid-week. Leverkusen meanwhile just advanced to the knockout round of the Champions League, but their Bundesliga campaign is verging on crisis. Striker Stefan Kiessling has returned, but key midfielder Kevin Kampl will miss potentially two months with a foot fracture, and Kevin Volland is also sidelined. A well-rested Schalke should add to Leverkusen’s Bundesliga woes.

Player to watch: Sead Kolasinac. Schalke’s left wing-back got on the board twice last week – once for a goal and once for an unfortunate own-goal. That gaffe notwithstanding, Kolasinac has been a revelation for Schalke since joining the starting lineup under Weinzierl, with four assists and two goals.

RB Leipzig v FC Schalke 04 - Bundesliga Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Other Matches

Saturday, 9:30 am EST

Bayern vs Wolfsburg (FS1)
Did you know that barbecued Wolf is delicious? Robert Lewandowski happens to have a wonderful Polish recipe. Check out Phil’s match preview here.

Hamburg vs Augsburg
Hamburg should be easy prey for Augsburg, although Augsburg in turn represents an opportunity for Hamburg to claim some points. Hamburg won its first game this season last week, but two in a row seems like a stretch.

Ingolstadt vs Leipzig
Nothing short of a miracle should prevent Leipzig from dominating Ingolstadt and building their lead atop the Bundesliga table. But, you know, miracles sometimes happen. The Schanzer better dig that trench a little deeper.

RB Leipzig v FC Schalke 04 - Bundesliga Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Freiburg vs Darmstadt
Freiburg have been solidly mid-table, while Darmstadt are in free fall, finally firing coach Norbert Meier just days ago. Unless Freiburg collectively forget on which end of the field they’re supposed to score, they should squash their Hessian adversaries.

Sunday, 9:30 am EST

Gladbach vs Mainz (FS1)
Perhaps I should include this in the key matches, but I just can’t. Sadbach have underperformed themselves into thirteenth place, while Mainz are holding in tenth, despite their alarming number of goals conceded. This match could be a chance for either team to rebound from recent defeats. Mainz perhaps has an edge, insofar as they have legitimate scoring threats in Yunus Malli and Jhon Cordoba.