DAVID SMITH - Thursday, March 3, 2011
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover face the biggest test to their attempt to reach the Champions League while David Yelldell and Duisburg will try to climb back into the promotion hunt against lowly Bielefeld.
Hannover 96 - Bayern Munich
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 will hope to pile on Bayern's misery on Saturday afternoon when the two teams meet in the AWD-Arena with the Bundesliga's third spot on the line.
DaMarcus Beasley has not been included on head coach Mirko Slomka's bench for the last few games, and will likely be left in the stands once again with the return to health of Portuguese midfielder Carlitos.
After their dramatic win in Milan in the Champions League round of 16, Bayern's fortunes have taken a serious turn for the worse with a pair of losses which have left the team in crisis and the fans in a state of rage.
They saw their disappointing Bundesliga campaign summed up perfectly in last weekend's 3-1 loss at the Allianz Arena to a far superior Borussia Dortmund team, then were cruelly knocked out of the German Cup four days later at the hands of Schalke, further infuriating the home crowd and generating calls for the head of head coach Louis van Gaal.
With any chance for domestic honors out the window for the season, their only hopes for redemption lie on two fronts; another extended run through the knockout round of the Champions League, and moving into the top three spots in the league in order to qualify for next season's edition.
Saturday's clash in Hannover is crucial to this second goal, as they are currently trailing their hosts by two points on this front, and need to quickly turn things around with the final ten games of the season beginning to wind down.
Hannover will simply be looking to reverse a trend of failure against their southern opponents. The last four meetings between these two teams has seen Bayern hold an 18-1 advantage on goals scored, with their last victory in the series coming in September 2008.
They are immediately at a huge disadvantage with the absence of leading scorer Didier Ya Konan due to a knee injury that also kept him out of last weekend's win over St. Pauli, but otherwise are missing no crucial starters. Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen continues to be out with a long-term injury, and occasional contributor Christopher Avevor will not be available to the defense while he recovers from a broken foot.
Bayern will sorely miss the midfield presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger thanks to a yellow card suspension, but otherwise have no absences aside from Ivica Olic, who has been out since October with a knee problem.
FC Nürnberg - FC St. Pauli
Timothy Chandler will continue starting duties for Nürnberg, this time spotting in at right back as cover for the injured Juri Judt, as they try to take all three points at home on Saturday against FC St. Pauli.
Nürnberg has been one of the big stories of the Bundesliga since the return from the winter break, with a run of six straight games without a loss propelling them up the standings and within reach of a place in the Europa League.
They hung on last weekend for a tough draw at Schalke's Veltins Arena, in a game which saw Chandler feature both at right midfield and in the defense, and will try to add a third straight loss to St. Pauli's recent poor run in the league.
Any questions as to Chandler's rightful spot in Dieter Hecking's starting eleven were either answered or put off for several more weeks, as the team's usual starter at right back Juri Judt left the field with a muscular problem last weekend, and will miss some time as he recovers.
In addition to Judt, Hecking must contend without his leading scorer Julian Schieber, who will be out for an extended period of time after being forced to undergo surgery on his knee.
St. Pauli are in far worse shape on the injury front, missing a trio of their usual starters. Forward Gerald Asamoah is forced to sit after contracting bronchitis, while defenders Bastian Oczipka and Carsten Rothenbach are out with respective ankle and knee issues. Additionally, spot starter in central defense Fabio Morena is out for an extended period with a broken foot.
VfL Bochum - Karlsruher SC
Luis Robles will hope that a shaky Karlsruhe defense won't leave him hanging out to dry once again when they face promotion favorites Bochum on Saturday afternoon.
Karlsruhe's defense has been in shambles since the return from the winter break, with last week's 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Ingolstadt their fourth game in the last eight in which they have conceded three or more goals.
In addition to sitting in the division's relegation playoff spot, they are sporting the league's worst defense with 53 conceded through 24 games, which could be a problem up against a Bochum team which hasn't lost since the turn of the new year.
While currently occupying the third-place promotion playoff, Bochum have looked set to make a quick return to Germany's top flight, taking points off of nearly all of their rivals at the top of the standings over the course of the last eight weeks.
Bochum midfielder Paul Freier is nearing a return from his MCL tear, however defender Matias Concha is still a month away from being back from his severe leg break last year, and Matthias Ostrzolek will be unable to continue his run of starts in the team's back line after being called up to the first team in December thanks to picking up a pair of yellow cards in last weekend's draw at Fürth.
Karlsruhe are a complete disaster on the injury front, missing a number of key contributors. Defenders Martin Hudec and Sebastian Langkamp are out with injury, as are midfielders Gaetan Krebs, Michael Mutzel and forward Serhat Akin. Additionally, midfielder Marco Engelhardt is still forced to sit out as he recovers from tuberculosis.
MSV Duisburg - Arminia Bielefeld
David Yelldell and Duisburg will hope to ride the momentum from Tuesday's historic Cup win and get a grip on their promotion campaign when they host last-place Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday.
Duisburg lined themselves up for perhaps the biggest moment in the history of the team on Tuesday night when they defeated Cottbus in the DFB Cup semifinal setting up a May 21 final date with Schalke in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
That has been the lone bright spot for Duisburg in recent weeks, as they have seen their chance on returning to the Bundesliga slowly slip from their grip with a pair of draws and a loss over the last trio of games.
Sunday's home match-up against Bielefeld should provide them with the perfect chance to begin their turnaround as their visitors are on a direct path to the 3. Liga with a pitiful haul of 11 points throughout the season and no victories since 2010.
Duisburg coach Milan Sasic does have two vital starters out for the game as midfielder Ivica Grlic is out for awhile with a MCL injury and defender Julian Koch is sidelined with a knee problem.
The visitors are missing a pair of defenders, with Nils Fischer and new arrival Dare Nibombe absent in addition to forward Collin Quaner.
FC Ingolstadt 04 - Alemannia Aachen
Ingolstadt forward Edson Buddle will hope to add another goal to his tally on Sunday afternoon when Ingolstadt host Alemannia Aachen.
Defender Amaechi Igwe has successfully returned from his long-term knee problem and could be in the running for a spot on the team's bench after a successful run-out in a friendly match.
While Buddle has been relegated to substitute duty in recent weeks, he finally nabbed the second goal since his arrival at Ingolstadt last weekend in the team's blowout over Karlsruhe.
While it might not have been enough to put him back into Benno Möhlmann's starting lineup, he is sure to be one of his coach's first substitute choices as they try to climb out of the relegation zone.
They are currently in one of the league's automatic relegation spots with 20 points, however as they trail bot Karlsruhe and Oberhausen by just three points with a far superior goal differential, a win could push them temporarily to safety.
Ingolstadt will have a weakened midfield thanks to the ankle injury of Andreas Buchner and suspension of Malte Metzelder, while new arrival Artur Wichniarek is still unable to join the team's front line after arriving in the January transfer window in bad health.
Aachen have been relatively fortunate on the injury front, with Alper Uludag and Florian Müller still unable to participate with long-term injuries which have kept them out of action since the fall.
Carl Zeiss Jena - Rot Weiss Ahlen
Matt Taylor and Ahlen face a tough road on Saturday when they visit a hot Carl Zeiss Jena team, needing a result to avoid falling back into the relegation race.
After showing some promise towards the end of the fall, Ahlen's downturn since the winter break has been dramatic, with just a single win and a draw as their only positive results in the eight games since the turn of the new year.
Their record of futility has left them back on the edge of drop zone, with just a two-point safety cushion keeping them out of a spot destined for the lower reaches of the German league system.
Ahlen have a full squad available for the trip east while Jena only have long-term absentees Timo Nagy and Tim Wuttke out for the long-haul.
Bobby Wood will hope to continue seeing substitute minutes for 1860 Munich when they host Rot-Weiß Oberhausen on Friday evening.
Ricardo Clark is still recovering from a broken cheekbone and will not take part when Eintracht Frankfurt try to stop their downturn against visiting FC Kaiserslautern on Saturday.
Daniel Williams continues to be sidelined with a knee injury and will miss Freiburg's home clash with Werder Bremen on Sunday.
Alfredo Morales has returned to Hertha's second team and will not take part when the top squad's welcome FSV Frankfurt on Friday afternoon.