The Football is still happening
Welcome to the Match Week Preview, where we will preview and predict the major matches happening in the Bundesliga for the 27th Match Week.
Hertha Berlin vs. Union Berlin
The Berlin Derby takes a unique and different turn in these circumstances, as the biggest game of the season for both teams will have to take place within the confines of an empty Olympiastadion.
Hertha’s season was going quite poorly, but their convincing 3-0 win over Hoffenheim last week did much to restore the team’s confidence and provide a solid foundation for new manager Bruno Labbadia to build off of. The return of striker Vedad Ibišević to the team made a massive difference, and the Bosnian will likely be a key player for Hertha in this match and in the remainder of the season. It is unlikely that Hertha will be able to push for a European place, but this match offers them another chance to put some distance between them and the relegation places. It also offers them a chance to avenge their 1-0 defeat away to Union earlier in the season, as well as add to the one point lead they currently hold over their derby rival in the table. For various footballing, competitive, and emotional reasons, this match seems to be one that Hertha cannot afford to lose.
Union’s season, conversely, was going quite well. Tabbed as one of the favorites for relegation, they have enjoyed mid-table status for most of the season. After a few stumbles before the hiatus and their 2-0 loss to Bayern upon the return of the league season, they find themselves below Hertha in the table and only seven points above the relegation playoff place. While they will not likely be dragged into a relegation fight, it is best to, like Hertha, string a few wins together to add some distance between yourselves and relegation. The 2-0 result against Bayern was tough, but Union were without some key players. Playing without center back Marvin Friedrich and only having top scorer Sebastian Andersson available off the bench clearly hurt their ability to cause Bayern serious issues. Going into the Berlin Derby, they should feel good about their chances of winning and, especially with Friedrich and Andersson both likely returning to the team, should feel good about the team they are able to field.
Prediction: It is hard to read into how teams are able to carry on form or fix issues from just one game, but throughout the season, there has been little separating these two teams. Union’s win over Hertha earlier in the season was a tight and tense game decided by one goal. I feel this will also be a tight and tense game decided by one goal, but in Hertha’s favor. Ibišević will likely be the hero again.
Hertha Berlin 2-1 Union Berlin
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen
If the Berlin Derby is the match of the weekend based on spectacle, this is the match of the weekend for its importance. Two points separate these two teams, and it is likely that this match will go a long way in deciding who finishes in the top four, and qualifies for the Champions League as a result, come the end of the season.
Gladbach were largely in the center of the title picture for most of the season, and despite a slight falling away, Marco Rose’s team remains within the frame of the title race. Their convincing 3-1 win away to Eintracht Frankfurt last week allowed them to leapfrog Leipzig into third, only six points behind league leaders Bayern Munich. Their hopes for a title are not completely in their control, but they have to continue winning in order to stay in the chase. Their win over Eintracht acted as a good tune-up for their attack, with both Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram finding the back of the net. The man of the match in that match, and likely Gladbach’s key player for this match, was Florian Neuhaus, who controlled the midfield and used his strong passing range to set the foundation for Gladbach’s attacks. Gladbach must control the midfield to limit the amount of chances Leverkusen’s potent attack gets, so the match up between Neuhaus and Leverkusen’s experienced holding midfielder Charles Aránguiz will dictate how this match goes. Gladbach are very good at home this season, winning nine of their last 11 league matches at home, and despite not having the backing of their fans, they should feel confident playing within the friendly confines of Borussia-Park.
Leverkusen are a lot of fun, I will not hide that fact from anyone. Their last match was a perfect demonstration of that, as they put four goals past a hapless Werder Bremen side in a match that was not as close as the 4-1 scoreline indicates. Kai Havertz once again demonstrated why he is one of the brightest young stars in world football, and Moussa Diaby and Kerem Demirbay also put in impressive performances, showing how dangerous the Leverkusen attack truly is. They were defensively solid outside of the one Bremen goal early in the match, as young center back Edmond Tapsoba continues to grow and blossom before our eyes. Had they started the season in the form they were in before the pandemic, they would have likely been serious title challengers. At this point, eight points behind the league leaders, they are most likely not in the title picture, but they can sure have a massive impact in how the top of the table shapes up. Going into this match, they will likely still be without starting striker Kevin Volland, but Kai Havertz should once again act as a more than passable false nine, as he did against Bremen. The team should largely remain unchanged, with the only question being whether Peter Bosz will give another start to youngster Florian Wirtz. Leverkusen are about as good away from home as their opponents are at home, with die Werkself only losing once in their last six away matches, so this has all of the makings of a very interesting match up.
Prediction: These two teams are very potent going forward, but also very evenly matched. Expect a draw, but expect goals.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-3 Bayer Leverkusen
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Another important clash at the top of the table sees Europa League challengers Wolfsburg given the chance to act as spoilers to title challengers Dortmund.
Wolfsburg restarted their league season in thrilling fashion, with striker Daniel Ginczek scoring in the 91st minute to pull out a 2-1 win against Augsburg. Oliver Glasner’s side has extended their unbeaten streak in the league to seven games, and that streak has seen them rocket directly into the Europa League hunt, currently occupying the final Europa League place with a two point lead over Schalke and Freiburg below them. They will be boosted by the return of leading goalscorer Wout Weghorst, who missed the win over Augsburg due to suspension. This will likely mean Ginczek is dropped to the bench, despite his winner last week. Cruel world, huh? While die Wölfe are in a fine run of form, they will have to reverse some recent history to get a result here, having been winless against Dortmund in their last nine meetings. While Dortmund’s comprehensive victory over Schalke could make Glasner and his team quite nervous, they can be reassured by the fact that Dortmund have been quite poor away from home this season, and it has been their poor away form in the last year and a half that has stopped them from truly putting in a strong challenge at a league title. While Wolfsburg themselves have not been that good at home this season, their recent run of form should still provide them with some confidence.
Dortmund were incredibly impressive in their 4-0 victory over Schalke last week. Despite injuries to key players, they still got great performances out of the whole team. And there is good news for Lucien Favre, as Emre Can and Jadon Sancho will likely retake their place in the team. More concerning, however, is that captain Marco Reus will definitely miss this match and likely join Dan-Axel Zagadou in being out for the remainder of the season with a serious injury. Reus’ absence will be felt, but as long as Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard continue their incredible form, there is enough attacking creative talent for Dortmund to get by. Zagadou’s absence will be more heavily felt, and while the Dortmund defense played well against Schalke, they are still very much prone to errors and lapses in judgment, and the ability of the defense to “bend but not break” for the rest of the season will decide whether Dortmund is able to challenge for the title or lose challenging matches like this one.
Prediction: This is a tougher test for Dortmund than Schalke was, but I see them getting through it with all three points. The return of Sancho and Can to the team will be impactful, and I expect Brandt and Hazard to continue their good run of form, and I expect Håland to continue his ability to score from the chances that his teammates create. The interesting question will be how Favre plans for this match knowing that they play Bayern three days later, but that is a discussion for another day.
Wolfsburg 1-3 Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
The rematch of the 5-1 Eintracht win from earlier in the season, which resulted in the resignation of then-Bayern manager Niko Kovać, has arrived. But man, this match is quite different from their first meeting this season…
I will readily say that Bayern’s humiliation in Frankfurt earlier in the season was the best thing that has happened to them in a while. Kovać resigned from his position shortly after the defeat, which led to the Bayern hierarchy appointing ex-Germany assistant Hansi Flick as his replacement. Since then, Bayern have won 18 of their 21 matches under Flick, playing some incredible high-tempo, fluid football not seen since the Guardiola/Heynckes days in Munich. As these two teams get ready to meet again, Flick has been named the permanent manager, being trusted as the man to oversee the next chapter in the club’s history. Bayern restarted their league season well, with a strong 2-0 win away to Union Berlin. Despite some slow returns from injury, it is very unlikely that Flick will change the team he fielded against Union, but there could be some considerations in team selection knowing that they must travel to Dortmund a few days later. I still expect the team to remain largely unchanged, but the likeliness for some curveballs in the team selection is there.
Eintracht are on a bit of a slippery slope. Their loss to Gladbach last week was their fourth league defeat in a row and has seen them slip to within five points of the relegation playoff place, albeit with a game in hand. They have struggled to score goals recently, with striker Gonçalo Paciência hitting a rough patch of form at a less than ideal time. If Adi Hütter wants to avoid a relegation scrap, he is going to need to reverse his team’s fortunes and form, and do so quickly. Hütter also knows that Eintracht are very poor on their travels this season, having only won twice away from home all season and notably losing 4-0 away to title challengers Dortmund and Leverkusen earlier in the season. If they hope to get a result in Munich, they will need to be more resolute defensively. Martin Hinteregger has been fantastic this season, but Evan N’Dicka, David Abraham, and Almamy Touré all struggled against Gladbach in their last match and at various points in the season. Going forward, their hopes will be pinned on Filip Kostić, seemingly the most potent creative outlet in the team. They will hope that they do not need to score a goal and are able to escape Munich with a 0-0 draw.
Prediction: Bayern are out for revenge, and they are surely going to find it. Eintracht’s defense is a massive worry for me, and given how potent Bayern’s attack is, it could get ugly. It may not be a question of if Bayern will score, but how many they will score. If Lewandowski really wants to break Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record, this is a good match to make a dent in the remaining goals he needs.
Bayern Munich 4-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Mainz vs. RB Leipzig
This match will, at the same time, have serious and massive implications on the title race and the relegation race. It is truly, without question, a match that neither team can afford to lose. So this should be fun.
Mainz began the restarted league season with a massive confidence-boosting 2-2 draw away to Köln, after coming back from 2-0 down. They played very well in that match, and were probably quite unlucky to be 2-0 down when they were, but their attacking talent came through to find the draw. This match presents them with a much tougher test, as Leipzig’s attacking potency will cause the Mainz defense quite a few problems. Their hopes of getting a result rest on their ability to catch out a Leipzig defense that is, at best, patchwork. Star forward Robin Quaison, as well as midfielder Jean-Paul Boëtius, will have to create and score the opportunities when they are there, as there may not be that many. Freiburg showed last week that all it takes is one good chance and some resolute defending to get a point off of the Red Bulls, so Mainz will likely be aiming to copy that blueprint. A point here would be massive for them in fighting off relegation.
Leipzig stumbled out of the hiatus, with a draw against Freiburg leaving them on the outside looking in when it comes to the title race. Currently sitting seven points out of first, Julian Nagelsmann knows his side is one slip up away from being out of the title race completely. He is also quite a bit more paranoid about movement below them in the table, as the Red Bulls also find their lead in the final Champions League place reduced to only one point. There is little room for error here. Every match until the end of the season will likely turn into a must-win match. If there is a positive for Leipzig to conclude from the Freiburg draw, it is that they created quite a few clear-cut goalscoring chances. Their inability to score a winner can be attributed to rust, bad luck, and the incredible performance of Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow, but the fact that they had plenty of chances is still reassuring. If they are able to find a similar level of creativity in this match, they should be able to score more than one goal. Star center back Dayot Upamecano also returns from his yellow card suspension, which will allow Nordi Mukiele to return to his preferred wing back position and Tyler Adams to return to his preferred position in the midfield. Despite the setback, there are reasons for Nagelsmann and his team to be positive going into this match.
Prediction: Mainz are a tricky side, and they have the individual talent capable of causing Leipzig some issues, but I think Leipzig have knocked off some of the rust that plagued them against Freiburg. They should be able to be potent enough going forward to win this match.
Mainz 0-3 RB Leipzig