PREVIEW: WEEKEND GERMAN ACTION
Alfredo Morales will earn his first Bundesliga start against Steve Cherundolo and Hannover while Preston Zimmerman's midweek hat-trick could push him into Darmstadt's lineup against Wehen.
Hertha Berlin - Hannover 96
Hertha defender Alfredo Morales will earn the start at right back for his team on Saturday afternoon, as they try to notch their first win of 2012 against Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96.
The current suspension and injury to usual starter Christian Lell looks to have propelled Morales into head coach Michael Skibbe's plans for the immediate future. As luck would have it, his first shot to show his skills on the right side of the defense will come against the current US National team starter at that very position.
The midseason appointment of Skibbe as Hertha's head coach has done little to improve their fortunes, with losses in each of their first two games of 2012 quickly pulling them nearer to a relegation fight.
Hannover on the other hand have depended on the consistency of their defense to carry them through the woes of their misfiring attack. A 1-0 victory over Nürnberg last weekend widened the gap ahead of eighth-place Hoffenheim, and left them still in contention to earn a second straight qualification to European play.
In addition to Lell, Hertha have several other key absences. At the head of that list is playmaker Raffael who is out on a red card suspension. Additionally, the defense will be weakened with the losses of Maik Franz to an ACL tear, Christoph Janker with a broken jaw and Andre Mijatovic to yellow card suspension.
In addition to the continued long-term absences of midfielders Leon Andreasen, Carlitos and Henning Hauger, Hannover must contend with two key players missing due to the African Cup, namely starting defender Karim Haggui and forward Didier Ya Konan. In addition, defender Emanuel Pogatetz is serving the first of a three-game suspension handed down by the DFB for an attack on Philipp Wollscheid in last weekend's game.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - FC Augsburg
Fabian Johnson will hope to continue his goalscoring streak on Saturday when Hoffenheim host relegation-threatened FC Augsburg.
Daniel Williams and Joseph-Claude Gyau will also be included in the gameday roster by head coach Holger Stanislawski, with the latter still looking for his first-team debut.
Hoffenheim have been entirely unspectacular since the winter break, fighting to a stale, scoreless draw in their opener against Hannover before being blown out by Dortmund one week later.
The lone bright spot of that 3-1 defeat was a fine goal by Johnson, and with one of his previously best games in the Hoffenheim uniform coming earlier in the season against Augsburg, he could be in for another big day.
In that first meeting in mid-August, Johnson was responsible for setting up both of Hoffenheim's goals in the 2-1 win, assisting on the first and drawing the penalty leading to the second.
Barring a highly unlikely and largely unexpected turnaround, Augsburg will be headed back to the familiar territory of the 2. Bundesliga following the current season.
The first two games of 2012 were perhaps their final chance for redemption, however they were only able to take a single point against the two other teams currently in the relegation places, and will undoubtedly have a far tougher go for the final months before the season's culmination.
Hoffenheim are still without defender Isaac Vorsah due to red card suspension, but otherwise have a full squad.
Augsburg are missing keeper Mohamed Amsif and forward Nando Rafael to the African Cup, along with defender Axel Bellinghausen and Jan Moravek both to injury.
SV Babelsberg 03 - Preußen Münster
Amaechi Igwe will hope to keep his spot in Babelsberg's starting lineup on Friday when they face Preußen Münster.
Babelsberg have failed to win through their first two games of 2012, and while they are currently nine points ahead of the drop zone with 15 games left to go, taking the full three points against recently-promoted Münster will be a priority.
Igwe returned to the lineup last weekend to fill in at central defense, and with head coach Dietmar Demuth once again forced to shift his back line due suspension of first-choice right back Matthias Kühne, the American will likely be on the field again from the get-go.
Münster have failed to win in their last four and have only one win since October, however their strong record through the first few months of the season will likely assure them a second season in the 3. Liga.
In addition to the suspended Kühne and long-term absence Christian Groß, Babelsberg have a number of other injuries with which to contend. Defenders Florian Grossert and Zlatko Hebib are out with respective leg and foot injuries, and midfielder Dominik Stroh-Engel is forced to watch from the stands on yellow card suspension.
For Münster, striker Daniel Chitsulo is still rehabbing from an injury that has kept him out since August, and defender Patrick Kirsch along with midfielder Massimo Ornatelli are also both injured.
SV Darmstadt 98 - SV Wehen Wiesbaden
Preston Zimmerman's recent goal-scoring touch could earn him the start on Saturday when Darmstadt host When Wiesbaden.
Just days after scoring a cracker of a goal in Darmstadt's 3-2 loss to Bielefeld, Zimmerman netted a hat-trick for the second-team in a midweek test against Karlsruher SC.
With the team having earned just one victory since the start of December, head coach Kosta Runjaic could very well start the American in the attack in an effort to spur his team to a strong performance.
Wehen are also mired in a weak run, with just no wins in their last six games and a threatening six-point cushion above the relegation places.
Darmstadt are missing injured defender Julian Ratei and suspended midfielder Sascha Amstätter. Wehen must make do without midfielders Thorsten Burkhardt and Alf Mintzel as well as forward Addy-Waku Menga, all because of injury.
Timothy Chandler has returned from suspension and injury, however Nürnberg coach Dieter Hecking has indicated that the American international will begin Friday's home game against Borussia Dortmund on the bench. Dortmund forward Terrence Boyd will likely not make the trip to Nürnberg for the game.
Jermaine Jones is still out on an eight-week suspension, and will not feature for Schalke on Saturday for their home game against FSV Mainz 05.
David Yelldell will watch from Leverkusen's bench as backup keeper on Saturday when they host VfB Stuttgart.
Matt Taylor will hope for substitute minutes on Friday afternoon when Paderborn host FC Union Berlin.
Karlsruher backup keeper Luis Robles will be ready to go from the bench on Sunday when the team hosts Erzgebirge Aue.
Ricardo Clark will not be in uniform on Sunday when Eintracht Frankfurt host Eintracht Braunschweig.
Bobby Wood is still recovering from knee surgery and will not suit up on Monday when 1860 Munich host Energie Cottbus.