Match of the Matchday: Dortmund vs Leipzig (FS2)
Saturday, 12:30 pm EST
Sitting in fourth place a full eleven points behind upstart Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund undoubtedly hope to give the Lawn-Ballers the same experience they received on their trip to the Allianz Arena: a reassertion of the Bundesliga’s old order in the form of a humiliating defeat.
Circumstances have conspired in Dortmund’s favor to make the task far easier than it otherwise would be: in addition to offensive tactician Emil Forsberg, who remains sidelined for the last game of his three-game suspension, Leipzig’s leading scorer Timo Werner will also miss the match on account of a severe cold. That leaves Marcel Sabitzer as his likely replacement alongside striker-decoy Yussuf Poulsen.
Of course, Leipzig still have brilliant midfield support in Naby Keita and Diego Demme, while their back line remains almost impregnable. Three points would keep them within striking distance of Bayern Munich.
Dortmund will be nearly at full strength and at home: Leipzig will face a fairly terrifying attacking trio of Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and André Schürrle, backed by a high-quality midfield, especially Julian Weigl, as reliable as he is young.
Dortmund's Achilles heel is its defense: Matthias Ginter has sometimes struggled, while a lapse by Lukasz Piszczeck last week allowed Mainz to equalize. Some have called for Felix Passlack to take his place, but for now Piszczeck seems secure. The matchup between him and Sabitzer may be key in the match.
Player to watch: Marco Reus. Last week's draw against Mainz fell far below Dortmund’s lofty standards, and a fairly anemic performance by Reus had a large part to do with it. Reus must bring his A game and combine with Aubameyang to beat Leipzig's defense.
Around the Bundesliga
Friday, 2:30 pm EST
Hamburg vs Leverkusen
Just when you thought Leverkusen’s season could not get worse, news came out Thursday that FIFA's Court of Arbitration for Sport had suspended their star and free-kick maestro Hakan Calhanoglu for four months for breach of contract, effectively ending his season. That leaves Leverkusen without its best player for the crucial period of the season. The only good news is that they face 17th-place Hamburg without Gotoku Sakai and probably also without first keeper René Adler.
Saturday, 9:30 am EST
Gladbach vs Freiburg
This match is anyone's guess: Gladbach rallied strongly against Leverkusen last week, much to everyone's surprise - especially Roger Schmidt's - while Freiburg beat Hertha. Gladbach, now coached by Dieter Hecking, certainly has the potential to climb to the top half of the table. Can Lars Stindl and Christoph Kramer maintain momentum?
In a way, Freiburg are somehow the most stereotypically German team in the league right now: hard working and unglamorous, they have steadily fought their way all the way to eighth place despite owning a negative goal differential (-6). They tend to either win or lose, rather than draw (8W, 2D, 8L), but with Yanik Haberer and Florian Niederlechner in form, along with Italian superstar Vincenzo Grifo, they might just steal three points from Mönchengladbach.
Hertha vs Ingolstadt
After their disappointing loss to Freiburg last week, Hertha look to keep their hopes of playing in the Europa League alive. Anything less than victory may see them slip out of the slots for European soccer. Fortunately, they face usually hapless Ingolstadt. Unfortunately for them, Ingolstadt has become a much tougher nut to crack since their shocking victory over Leipzig on matchday 14. They followed that up by beating Leverkusen (yup), losing 1-2 to Freiburg and 1-0 to Schalke - both respectable losses - and then trouncing Hamburg 3-1 last weekend. Hertha has the quality to win, but they must get Vedad Ibisevic service.
Köln will be favored to win this match at home against the Wolves. They demolished Darmstadt last week and will look to maintain that momentum in hopes of claiming a Europa League slot in the table. Anthony Modeste has been cleared to play, after facing scrutiny for (accidentally?) striking an opposing player in the face last week. The Wolves may find some reinforcements in Daniel Didavi, who is nearing a comeback.
Hoffenheim vs Mainz (FS2)
Mainz courageously snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat in Dortmund last weekend, but they must pull off another upset to beat Julian Nagelmann’s Hoffenheim, coming off their first loss of the season. The Hoff will be forced to line up without striker Sandro Wagner, who will be serving a suspension for his ejection last week.
Sunday, 9:30 am EST
Augsburg vs Bremen (FS1)
Bremen put up quite a fight against Bayern last week, while Augsburg beat Wolfsburg. Bremen have a decent chance here of rising further out of the cellar, but they will need offensive help. The timeless Pizarro has struggled with back issues, and Serge Gnabry cannot carry the team alone, while Augsburg's defense has been relatively good.
Sunday, 11:30 am EST
Frankfurt vs Darmstadt (FS1)
The most lopsided match concludes the matchday: third-place Frankfurt host last-place Darmstadt. Thorsten Frings' "Lilies" are coming off a humiliating 6-1 home loss to Köln. How can they possibly respond to hold off Frankfurt? Frankfurt's offense might leave something to be desired - scoring fewer goals (23) than places 1-10, including Mainz - but their defense is second only to Bayern's (15 goals conceded). Darmstadt have just signed former Bayern star Hamit Altintop, but even Frings concedes, "He's not the messiah."