Wolfsburg vs Werder Bremen
Friday, 2:30 pm EST (FS2)
The two green W’s of the Bundesliga clash in an opening relegation struggle. The Wolves were roundly beaten by Dortmund 0-3 last week, despite a tepid performance by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and now coach Valerian Ismael again must find away to wake his dramatically underperforming offense from its slumber. The toothless wolves have just 19 goals this season, as many as Augsburg and Ingolstadt and ahead only of last-place Darmstadt. Will someone please ready the Mario Gomez button? Anyone?
For Werder, times are tough and their chances look bleak. Their 2-0 victory over Mainz last weekend snapped a four-game losing streak but cost them dearly: Clemens Fritz saw his fifth yellow card of the season and will serve a one-game suspension, and scorer Thomas Delaney suffered a facial fracture. Those injuries rip the heart out of Werder’s midfield. Coach Alexander Nouri must find a solution, and Max Kruse and Serge Gnabry must bring their best game.
Hertha vs Frankfurt
Saturday, 12:30 pm EST (FS2)
The Saturday matinee pits tablemates Eintracht Frankfurt against Hertha Berlin in the fortress that is the Olympiastadion. The two are respectively holding in Europa League spots in fifth and sixth place, Frankfurt with 35 points, Berlin with 34. This could be Hertha’s chance to leapfrog their struggling rival. Hertha have an outstanding record in their home stadium - 8 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss - and even brought Bayern Munich to the bring of defeat last weekend. Hertha’s starting XI are ready, including key attacker Salomon Kalou, who took a hard knock last weekend.
Frankfurt have struggled over the past two matchdays. They were stunned by Leverkusen’s Chicharito and Kevin Volland to the tune of 0-3 and then shockingly fell 0-2 to seventeenth-place Ingolstadt, a game for which they are still paying. David Abraham saw a red after kicking Dario Lezcano in the stomach and will serve a two-game suspension, Oscar Mascarell picked up his fifth yellow card and will also be suspended, and Jesus Vallejo suffered a muscle injury - all that on top of the long-term injury to their best player, Mexican international Marco Fabian.
Schalke vs Hoffenheim
Sunday, 11:30 am EST (FS2)
The Bundesliga saves the best for last, as Schalke host Hoffenheim for a contentious rhapsody in blue. Hoffenheim are riding high in fourth place, just behind Dortmund while tied for points (37). The Hoff made short work of Darmstadt last weekend thanks to a brace by Andrej Kramaric. With Mark Uth sidelined by a rib injury, Karmaric is likely to start alongside Sandro Wagner against Schalke.
The past week was mixed for Schalke, who secured their place in the knock-out round of the Europa League with a 1:1 draw against PAOK Saloniki. The match saw the triumphant comeback of veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to the starting lineup - with Choupo serving a nice assist for their only goal. That success allowed Guido Burgstaller and Daniel Caligiuri to stay fully rested for Hoffenheim. The season is over, however, for Naldo, who suffered a partial tendon tear in the groin. His place in Schalke’s back three will be taken most likely by Matija Nastasic, whom Holger Badstuber has increasingly pushed to the bench, or youngster Thilo Kehrer.
Around the Bundesliga
Saturday, 9:30 am EST
Leverkusen vs Mainz: Leverkusen roared back to life last week, beating Augsburg 3-1, but then lost spectacularly to Atletico Madrid 4-2, all but guaranteeing the end of their Champions League run. Who knows which Leverkusen will show up against plucky Mainz? Keep an eye on Jhon Cordoba and Danny Latza.
Darmstadt vs Augsburg: It’s an Altintop reunion, with Hamit and Halil squaring off. While in recent games Darmstadt has not been abjectly awful (even beating Dortmund 2-1), they desperately need to win to avoid impending relegation. Augsburg could fall prey - but even they are a tall order for this Darmstadt side.
Freiburg vs Dortmund: Dortmund are widely expected to crush the Freiburger from the Black Forest, as they have done eleven times in a row since 2010. A twelfth win would set a club record, but they will have to earn it. Dortmund lately have played like champs one day, like uninspired dawdlers the next.
Leipzig vs Köln: Leipzig are heavily favored in this clash of the Bundesliga’s likable Austrian coaches, Peter Stöger and Ralph Hasenhüttl. Leipzig’s captain, Willi Orban returns after a yellow-card suspension, while Marcel Sabitzer will probably play as striker alongside Timo Werner. As Leipzig know full well, though, Anthony Modeste can strike at any time, and lately he’s had lots of help from Yuya Osako.
Sunday 9:30 am EST
Ingolstadt vs Gladbach: Gladbach overcame a 2-0 deficit against Fiorentina to crush them 4-2 in the Europa League this week, with Lars Stindl scoring a hat-trick. That means Raffael will be fresh to bombard the Schanzer in their fortifications. Gladbach will have to play carefully though, as Ingolstadt has shown an uncanny ability to defeat vastly better teams - most recently Frankfurt 2-0 - despite languishing in seventeenth place.