DAVID SMITH - Friday, January 15, 2010
League play in Germany gets back underway, with Steve Cherundolo and Michael Bradley both presented with prime opportunities to help their teams pick up vital home points against relegation-bound opposition.
Hannover 96 - Hertha Berlin
Steve Cherundolo and the Reds will look to start the second half of the season out on the right foot on Saturday, hoping to take advantage of a weak Hertha team as they try to put an end to their lengthy winless streak.
The Reds looked to be in safe standing through mid-October before an unfortunate turn of events saw them go on to lose four of their next five to rest one point above the drop zone.
The holiday break helped, but didn't solve their constant staffing problems, as several players are still expected to miss the game. Defender Karim Hagui is with Tunisia on African Cup duty, while forward Mikael Forssell is not yet ready to go after a lengthy layoff and midfielder Hanno Balitsch must sit due to yellow card accumulation.
Further depleting coach Andreas Bergmann's midfield options are knee injuries to Sal Zizzo and Jacek Krzynowek, plus a thigh problem which continues to keep Leon Andreasen on the sidelines.
The defense could be boosted by the possible debut of new center back Jan Durica, as the loan of the Slovakian international to Hannover was confirmed on Wednesday.
With a ten-point gap to safety, Hertha look to be a lost cause destined for a future in the 2. Bundesliga despite their relative success in the Europa League. Their pitiful single win through 17 league contests stands in stark contrast to their three throughout the six games of UEFA's second-tier competition.
Hoping to provide any spark to the team, latest coaching hire Friedhelm Funkel added Greek international forward Theofanis Gekas and defender Roman Hubnik on loan from Leverkusen and FC Moscow, respectively, as well as the signing of aged Schalke veteran midfielder Levan Kobiashvili.
It may not be enough to help what is the league's worst defense and third most inept attack, particularly with the midfield trio of Pal Dardai, Gojko Kacar and Nico Maximillian out with respective ankle, knee and back problems.
Borussia Mönchengladbach - VfL Bochum
Michael Bradley and the Foals will expect to start 2010 off with the full three points when they host struggling Bochum on Saturday.
Even though Bradley and his compatriots ended 2009 on a sour note in losing to leaders Leverkusen, it did little to cast shadow on an impressive first half of the season which has them looking to have developed into a solid mid-standings team.
A run of four wins in their final seven games of the year against many of the league's top teams showed that head coach Michael Frontzeck has guided them past their struggles of the last season.
Helping their cause is a nearly empty training room, with Rob Friend the only notable casualty due to a heel injury. The Foals will also have to make do without striker Karim Matmour as he is with the Algerian national team in the African Cup.
Joining Matmour is Bochum's defender Anthar Yahia who has also made the trip to Angola. Otherwise, Heiko Herrlich's team is at full-strength, as the only major loss in the transfer window, midfielder Shinji Ono, was replaced with Serbian midfielder Milos Maric in a move aimed to cause as little disruption as possible to the creative core of their lineup.
Jared Jeffrey is not expected to be a part of Mainz's traveling squad when they visit first-place Leverkusen on Saturday.
Jermaine Jones is still recovering from a broken leg and will not be in uniform when second-place Schalke host Nürnberg on Sunday.
Luis Robles will watch from the bench when Kaiserslautern try to extend their grip on first place on their visit to Fürth on Saturday.
Kenny Cooper and David Yelldell are both sidelined for their respective teams with MCL injuries, meaning neither will play any part when 1860 Munich head west to Koblenz on Sunday.
Matt Taylor will hope to make it off of FSV Frankfurt's bench on Sunday when they head to Duisburg.