DAVID SMITH - Saturday, April 21, 2012
Jermaine Jones and Schalke will try to reverse their recent downturn at Augsburg while Timothy Chandler and Nürnberg can move into the upper half of the standings with a home win over Hamburg.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bayer Leverkusen
Daniel Williams and Fabian Johnson will do their best to help Hoffenheim make a late push for European qualification when they host Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
David Yelldell has been displaced from his role as Leverkusen's backup keeper with the return of Rene Adler, and will not suit up for the visitors.
While Hoffenheim have been far from spectacular over the last few weeks, the inability of the other teams just ahead of them to maintain any kind of consistency has left the door barely open for their first-ever entrance into Europe.
As matters stand, they are three points out of seventh with three games left to play, and a big win over Leverkusen - one of the teams trying to hang onto a Europa League place - could put them into position.
Last weekend's lifeless, scoreless draw at Freiburg ended the momentum of a two-game winning streak, but they will be hopeful of having a big afternoon against a Leverkusen team that somehow managed to allow three goals to relegation-favorites Hertha last weekend.
Hoffenheim are only without midfielder Roberto Firmino, who is likely out the rest of the season with a foot injury. Leverkusen are not so lucky, as the defensive pair of Stefan Reinartz and Daniel Schwaab are both absent, the former due to yellow card suspension and the latter with a broken leg, and are joined on the sidelines with injured midfielder Renato Augusto and Sidney Sam.
FC Nürnberg - Hamburger SV
With their safety a near certainty, Timothy Chandler and Nürnberg will look to add to Hamburg's misery on Saturday afternoon in their penultimate home game of the season.
Not even two weeks ago, Nürnberg were staring down the barrel of a possible drop into the relegation playoff spot, however after picking up a pair of straight wins in the time since, can now look forward to yet another season in the 1. Bundesliga.
The upswing has coincided with both a run of strong play and a return to the his customary right back position for Timothy Chandler, and the American will almost certainly keep his place in the defense against Hamburg.
The never-relegated Dinosaurs of the Bundesliga are beginning to look like they can breathe a sigh of relief after flirting with the drop in recent weeks, now holding a five point advantage over the playoff spot, and needing an improbable run from both Cologne and Augsburg to drop them back into danger.
Nürnberg is without midfielder Adam Hlousek who is out for the season with an ACL tear, along with strikers Alexander Esswein and Christian Eigler will miss out due to injury.
Hamburg are missing the defensive pair of Dennis Diekmeier and Slobodan Rajkovic to injury, along with suspended striker Jose Guerrero.
Hannover 96 - SC Freiburg
Steve Cherundolo and Hannover will look to keep ahold of their Europa League qualification spot when they host a strong SC Freiburg on Sunday.
Hannover have struggled for consistency in league play over the last month, with the wear and tear from their quarterfinal run in European play likely at least partially responsible for their inability to string together consecutive wins.
Luckily, both Leverkusen and Bremen have struggled even moreso, allowing them to barely hang onto one of the final two Europa League qualification spots. They do need to be careful, however, as three teams are within three points in the standings, and any slip-up could cost them dearly.
Freiburg have been on a roll since the beginning of March, currently on an eight-game unbeaten run that has taken them clear of their previous danger and looking headed for a third straight season in the top flight.
Hannover are missing midfielder Sergio Pinto to yellow card accumulation and striker Mame Biram Diouf to an ankle problem.
The visitors come to Hannover without defender Mensur Mujdza, who is sidelined due to a pulled thigh muscle, along with midfielders Johannes Flum and Julian Schuster, the former with a hip problem the latter with broken facial bone.
FC Augsburg - FC Schalke 04
With Borussia Mönchengladbach breathing down their necks in the race for automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage, Jermaine Jones and Schalke are in desperate need of a win on their trip to Augsburg on Sunday.
Two straight losses have seen Schalke's once heavy lead over 'Gladbach shrink to a single point, and a return trip to the Bavarian state, where they most recently were smashed by Nürnberg comes with heavy pressure to stop their slide.
This certainly won't be easy as Augsburg have been, apart from a pair of losses to Bayern and Stuttgart, on a roll in the last two months.
They have only lost twice in their last nine tries, and have picked up 15 of their 33 points on the season during this span of time. Once thought to be sure-fire bets to return to the 2. Bundesliga, they are now seeming to be relatively safe, barring a wholly unexpected turn of events.
Augsburg have no major injury concerns, with defender Marcel de Jong midfielder Gogia Akaki amongst the long-term injured list, and regular substitute striker Stephan Hain out with a thigh problem.
Schalke are missing backup keepers Ralf Fährmann and Timo Hildebrand, along with suspended defender Christian Fuchs and injured Greek central defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
SV Darmstadt 98 - SV Babelsberg 03
Preston Zimmerman should see the field for Darmstadt on Saturday afternoon, as they look to take one step closer to safety against visiting Babelsberg.
Amaechi Igwe has not appeared for Babelsberg for quite some time, and is not expected to suit up for the game.
Little has gone right for either Babelsberg or Darmstadt recently, however as the season enters its final three games, both do hold their destiny in their own hands.
Darmstadt are in a slightly better position of the two, thanks in part to their run of six games without a loss that was only snapped last weekend at Jena. However as five of those six games were just draws, they still hold only a four-point cushion.
Babelsberg's entirely unexpected win last weekend over second-place Ahlen could prove to be the key game of the season, as it pulled them just above the bottom three, where they hold a two-point edge over Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, with a relatively straightforward schedule for the remainder of the season.
For Darmstadt, the only major absence is Kevin Wölk, who is suspended.
Babelsberg will be forced to call upon third-string keeper Sebastian Rauch as Marian Unger and Daniel Zacher are both injured. In addition, striker Nicolas Hebisch is out with an ankle injury.
Alfredo Morales is recovering from a calf injury and will not be in uniform on Saturday when Hertha try desperately to claw their way up to the relegation playoff spot against last-place Kaiserslautern. Andrew Wooten will likely be a bench option for Kaiserslautern, and could be called upon for second-half substitute action.
Bobby Wood is recovering from knee surgery and will not suit up for 1860 as they host local rivals FC Ingolstadt 04 on Saturday.
Villyan Bijev could be back on Düsseldorf's bench on Sunday when they attempt to climb back into the 2. Bundesliga promotion playoff spot in their home game against FC Union Berlin.
Matt Taylor will likely be a late substitute for Paderborn on Sunday when they visit relegation-threatened Karlsuruher SC. Paderborn currently occupy the division's third-place promotion playoff spot with a slim cushion over both Düsseldorf and St. Pauli. Luis Robles has not suited up for Karlsruhe in recent months, and is not expected to participate as the team tries to escape the bottom three.