With games against the league’s bottom two sides and the Champions League looming Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund may take their eyes off the ball. Roger Schmidt won’t, his job looks under threat once again.Schmidt under the spotlight
Roger Schmidt has been the Bayer Leverkusen coach for just shy of 1000 days and it feels like his job has been on the line for about half of them. But there’s now an increasingly strong sense that a failure to beat high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday may mean the end of his reign. “It is clear to all of us that pressure is increasing,” Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler told German newspaper ‘Bild’. “We are convinced it can still work.” A home loss on Saturday, when they’ll be without suspended Hakan Calhanoglu, combined with a Dortmund, would leave Schmidt’s men 13 points off fourth – and a lot closer to the relegation spots. That pressure might finally tell.
Bayern and Dortmund’s eyes may be on a different prize
Ahead of the return of the Champions League, Germany’s main two hopes in Europe couldn’t have asked for much kinder fixtures. Dortmund travel to bottom club Darmstadt while Bayern are away to Ingolsdtadt, who sit just a place higher. While Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel will no doubt suggest there are no easy games, they’ll surely both be tempted to keep their key men fresh and firing for the trip to Benfica on Tuesday (Dortmund) and visit of Arsenal on Wednesday (Bayern). It’s especially critical with Dortmund’s ever-lengthening injury list and gruelling cup game and the advanced age of some of Bayern’s superstars. If the big guns do make changes or lose focus, Darmstadt and Ingolstadt might fancy their chances of capitalizing. Both are fighting for their lives.
Leipzig looking to bounce back
Leipzig’s wings were clipped last time out at Dortmund but, with Bayern chugging ominously along they can’t afford to give up any further ground. While they are still exceeding expectations, RB have lost three of their last six in the league. They’ve recovered from their last two losses with comfortable wins but while this is far from a crisis, it’s certainly a wobble. For much of the season, Hamburg would’ve been the most accommodating of visitors but Markus Gisdol’s men have discovered some resilience of late, winning four of their last seven.
Schalke need to show some consistency
The Markus Weinzierl era was supposed to usher in a more stable period for Schalke. While it’s still early in the new coach’s tenure, the Royal Blues have been as impossible to predict as ever this season. A horrendous start was followed by a strong showing in October and November and another disappointing spell before the midseason break. Weinzierl’s men impressed in taking a point from the Allianz Arena last weekend but it will count for little unless they can start winning games – they have just six league wins so far. Their visitors on Saturday are Hertha Berlin, excatly the sort of team Schalke should be competing with but one that are notoriously difficult to break down. Expectations have become more realistic at the Veltins Arena of late but it shouldn’t be forgotten that they finished fifth last season. Must do better.
Freiburg look to strengthen fortress
Many a promoted side has relied on their home form to keep them afloat and Freiburg are the Bundesliga’s latest converts to that method. Fans at the intimate and atmospheric Schwarzwald Stadium have seen six Bundesliga wins this term. While they’ve been in the shade of fellow new boys RB Leipzig for most of the season, Freiburg have a well-established style, exciting attacking talent in the shape of Maximilian Philipp and Vincenzo Grifo and an effective plan B with supersub Nils Petersen. Cologne visit in Sunday’s late game and Freiburg may well expect to seal on of the four wins they’re likely to need to ensure safety.
Bundesliga Matchday 20
Mainz vs. Augsburg (20:30 CET)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (15:30 CET)
Ingolstadt vs. Bayern Munich
Werder Bremen vs. Gladbach
Darmstadt vs. Dortmund
RB Leipzig vs. Hamburg
Schalke vs. Hertha Berlin (18:30 CET)
Wolfsburg vs. Hoffenheim (15:30 CET)
Freiburg vs. Cologne (17:30 CET)