Match of the Matchday: Freiburg vs Köln (FS1)
Sunday, 11:30 am EST
The last match of the matchday has the potential to be the best: seventh-place Köln (32 pts) travel to the Schwarzwald to face eighth-place Freiburg (26 pts). A gap of six points lies between seventh and eighth place, but the contest should be close. Peter Stöger's excellent Köln side combine one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga (only 16 goals conceded) with one of its most prolific scorers, Anthony Modeste (15 goals). Freiburg meanwhile have scraped their way up the table with a curious balance of mediocrity, scoring 24 goals yet conceding 33. Where Köln settles for a draw, Freiburg loses.
Coming off a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Mönchengladbach last week, Freiburg stand a chance of taking points from a tired Köln side, which was knocked out of the DFB Pokal earlier in the week by Hamburg. Köln's Jonas Hector moreover took a knock in the Pokal game and could not practice on Thursday. Stöger says he's "feeling better," but Artjoms Rudnevs is definitely out sick. As for Freiburg, while they have found a solid replacement for Pascal Stenzel in Lukas Kübler, Georg Niedermeier may not yet be fit to start.
Around the Bundesliga
Friday 2:30 pm EST
Mainz vs Augsburg (FS2)
Mainz face a tall order in Augsburg after suffering a devastating 4-0 loss to Hoffenheim last week. The scar in the midfield left by the transfer of Yunus Malli has yet to heal. Augsburg are in good form, having beaten both Wolfsburg and Bremen in their past two matches. A victory here and losses by Freiburg and Leverkusen could see them catapult improbably to eighth place in the table.
Saturday, 9:30 am EST
Leverkusen vs Frankfurt (FS2)
If you would have picked this match as “match of the matchday,” I fully understand. Third-place Frankfurt come off a Pokal victory over Hannover to face a fully rested but crisis-ridden Leverkusen, still reeling from the loss of Hakan Calhanoglu. Frankfurt have conceded a paltry 15 goals all season, while dramatically underperforming Leverkusen literally just lost one of their two leading scorers and have lost two matches in a row. Leverkusen are increasingly desperate to escape their mid-table purgatory. The team had a session of beach volleyball as a diversion at practice this week - although Roger Schmidt curiously disputes calling it a “team-building” exercise.
Bremen vs Gladbach
If Gladbach aspire to continue their trend upwards, Bremen look like the ideal opponent. Hapless Werder have lost four games in a row, including a friendly match against Braunschweig and a dramatic, last-minute loss to Augsburg last week. Gladbach have finally showed some mettle, crushing Freiburg 3-0 and advancing to the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokale with a 2-0 over Greuter Fürth.
Darmstadt vs Dortmund
As they continue their campaign back to the top of the table, Dortmund will travel south to the humble Hessians of Darmstadt sniffing blood - a point shy of third place. For a team in their position, they absolutely must capitalize on every opportunity against bottom-feeding teams like Darmstadt. Frings and his men will run to the barricades. Expect Reus, Aubameyang, and co. to show no mercy.
Leipzig vs Hamburg
Things have been looking up for Hamburg, beating Leverkusen last week and knocking Köln out of the DFB Pokal this past Tuesday. But Leipzig will be another task altogether. Ralph Hasenhüttl's team will again be near full strength, as the long-suspended Swede Emil Forsberg takes the field again alongside Timo Werner and Naby Keita. Only defender Marvin Compper will sit out (5th yellow card), but Hasenhüttl has already shown this season that he is replaceable.
Saturday, 2:30 pm EST
Schalke vs Hertha (FS2)
Schalke courageously drew with Bayern 1-1 last week and convincingly crushed Sandhausen 4-1 in the DFB Pokal. Now they face inconsistent Hertha, which was knocked out of the Pokal by Dortmund on penalties. Schalke's long dearth of strikers seems to be at an end, as newly acquired Daniel Caligiuri and Guido Burgstaller have breathed new life into the offense, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is now also an option of the bench, playing for the first time since tearing a knee ligament October. The versatile Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting unfortunately remains sidelined due to an adductor injury. Hertha is at full strength, but they may have heavy legs after their stout performance against BVB.
Sunday, 9:30 am EST
Wolfsburg vs Hoffenheim (FS1)
Hoffenheim stand a good chance of keeping close with Dortmund in contention for fourth place (both with 34 points). Julian Nagelsmann's team responded to a disappointing 2-1 loss to Leipzig with a 4-0 rout of poor Mainz. Injuries will force Nagelsmann must shuffle several players around, and striker Sandro Wagner remains suspended, but they remain the favorites. The Wolves have lost three in a row now, but, after rotating heavily for their clash with Bayern, they can at least place their hopes in fresh legs.