• Friday, 18 December 2009

    Bundesliga round 17

    Schalke v Mainz
    Bayern v Hertha
    Hannover v Bochum
    Dortmund v Freiburg
    Eintracht v Wolfsburg
    Leverkusen v Monchengladbach
    Stuttgart v Hoffenheim
    Hamburg v Bremen
    Cologne v Nurnberg

    This is the last round of Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break as Europe begins to shut down. The league will pick up on January 15, but first there's the small matter of round 17. Top game this week sees fourth-placed Bremen go to Hamburg in fifth and behind only by three goals. Hamburg refound their touch in front of goal last week thanks in no small part to the return of Dutch winger Eljero Elia and, while they're still missing a few out-and-out front men, he provides a focal point for the attack. Bremen are coming off just their second loss of the season and how they respond will be key to their season.

    Leverkusen's lead has been whittled away over the last few weeks, but they're still out in front and have Gladbach at home this week. It's unthinkable that Leverkusen will be as generous as Hannover were a week ago with the three own goals that helped Gladbach on their way. Schalke have kept it together despite off-field ructions and threats of points deductions. Felix Magath has even got Kevin Kuranyi going well and they will start favourites against Mainz in Gelsenkirchen. Bayern have got it together following their thumping win at Juventus in Europe a couple of weeks ago and have Franck Ribéry back on deck for the visit of rock bottom Hertha. Home win. Dortmund are on the up and are very short odds to beat Freiburg. There's often a club that emerges from the pack in winter to challenge - one thinks of Wolfsburg last year or Stuttgart before them - and it could well be Dortmund who return to the top table this year. Jurgen Klopp is mastered by few, tactically speaking, and his side play some exciting football.

    Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg are both on the fringes of things at the moment and can't let the top clubs get too far in front of them if either is to take anything tangible away from this season. Both are away this week, Hoffenheim at struggling Stuttgart and the champions at Eintracht. The Villagers ought to be beating Stuttgart, though Christian Gross has had time to get his ideas across now and they played well in Europe in his first game and would have beaten Mainz last week were it not for Jens Lehmann. This is a sterner test than either of those games though. If Wolfsburg can't beat Eintracht, then they can forget retaining the title. Eintracht have been proving hard to beat lately though and won't lie down for Wolfsburg, especially with that soft underbelly so savagely exposed by Dortmund a week ago.

    Down at the bottom, there are big games at Hannover and Cologne with Bochum and Nurnberg the visitors respectively. While neither game particularly excites the casual observer, should either produce a winner, the implications down at the foot of the league are big. Nurnberg and Bochum could end up being cut adrift, but should either win, then it's as wide open at the foot of the table as it is at the top. And that's why we love the Bundesliga.

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