This weekend ushers in a crucial period of the Bundesliga season. Sides who excelled over the Hinrunde, the first allotment of matches preceding the long Christmas break, now face the task of cementing their status as pretenders to the Bayern Munchen throne. The Rückrunde is three matches deep, an adequate amount of time to bed in January signings and shake the inevitable rust. European ambitions will no doubt preoccupy a congested mid-table, while relegation is a very real prospect for a host of bottom-dwellers. Of course, mighty Munich continue atop the league, eight points clear of a Wolfsburg side in fine form. Werder Bremen have rallied following the mid-season hiatus and are managing to evade relegation, for now. No such luck for Jürgen Klopp as Dortmund’s demanding season continues.
Borussia Dortmund 7/20
Mainz 05 72/10
Dortmund returned to winning ways last weekend with a 3-0 victory away at Freiburg, inspired by an electric Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang performance. The Gabonese striker set up Marco Reus for an early opener before bagging a brace to wrap up a determined Dortmund showing. Reus’ ninth-minute strike was the first Dortmund goal of the Rückrunde, the side having been held to a 0-0 draw at Leverkusen followed by an insipid 1-0 loss to a ten-man Augsburg. BVB lost the reverse fixture 2-0 away from home, ending a Mainz win drought over Dortmund that extended eight matches and four years. Mainz are the Bundesliga draw specialists with ten stalemates to their name. Prior to their 5-0 thrashing of Paderborn the side were without a win stretching back to mid-November and have been disappointing since. An out-of-form Okazaki is their main source of goals and without him at his best, Mainz will struggle to score. Dortmund are shorter than I’d like to see for a side currently occupying the relegation playoff spot, but should come up with the victory at 7/20 as their confidence slowly returns.
1899 Hoffenheim 19/20
VfB Stuttgart 26/10
The home side have been cut adrift from the top of the table following an awful return from the winter break. They lie six points behind Leverkusen, in seventh, and will need to make a concerted push over the next few months to earn a spot in the Europa League qualifiers. Three losses on the trot, most recently a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Wolfsburg, makes this a must-win for Hoffenheim. They’ll fancy their chances as well, considering that opponents Stuttgart remain rooted to their bottom of table as a result of a -15 goal difference. The head-to-head encounters are fairly even over the past few seasons but Stuttgart were beaten by a comfortable 2-0 scoreline in the reverse fixture and have been abject for large portions of this season. They are without a win in four matches and despite the notion of Stuttgart avoiding relegation not being beyond the realm of comprehension (they are a mere three points behind Hertha Berlin in fourteenth), one must feel that the home side will have what it takes to get back to winning ways. Hoffenheim are tipped to oust Stuttgart at a generous 19/20.
Werder Bremen 16/10
FC Augsburg 31/20
What a remarkable turnaround for Werder Bremen and coach Viktor Skripnik. The 2004 champions spent the Hinrunde battling relegation but have since gone on a four-game winning streak that has propelled them to eighth on the table. The new coach has seemingly instilled a winning mentality at the club, whose form over the last eight matches includes five victories and one draw. They have recently bested Champions League clubs in Dortmund and Leverkusen as well as their nearest table rivals, Hoffenheim. Augsburg were handed a few blows last time out against Eintracht Frankfurt. They gave up a two-goal lead, squandered the opportunity to leapfrog Schalke into third and lost the services of captain Paul Verhaegh. It has nevertheless been a highly successful season for the Bundesliga surprise package and having won four of the last five head-to-heads with Werder Bremen, will be high on confidence. However, Werder Bremen haven’t lost at home since October and not under coach Skripnik, which makes the Werder Bremen or Draw Double Chance a good bet at 9/20.
Bayern Munich 1/11
Hamburger SV 24/1
Since being demolished 4-1 by a fearless Wolfsburg, the German juggernaut has gradually chugged into gear. They were held to a home draw by Schalke but comfortably dispatched Stuttgart in their last outing and looked totally in control for the full ninety minutes. Arjen Robben notched his second strike in consecutive matches and is now second on the Bundesliga goal scorer list with twelve this season. Confidence is not an element missing in Bayern’s make-up, but a significant ego boost comes in the form of their head-to-head record with Hamburg. They haven’t lost a match in thirteen straight meetings with die Rothosen. Hamburg are still at risk of relegation, residing a mere five points above the drop zone. They have two wins on the trot but neither of these have come against significant opposition and certainly not a team of Munich's stature. It is thought that Hamburg have little to offer and only complacency can deny Bayern Munich marching to victory on the halftime-fulltime double at 7/20.
Borussia Monchengladbach 7/10
1. FC Köln 4/1
Gladbach are the perfect example of one of the aforementioned sides who impressed over the Hinrunde but need to make the second half of the season count or risk missing out on the Champions League. They dropped to fifth on the table following a 1-0 loss last time out but have a very real opportunity to make a move up the log with a win against struggling Köln. They have been workmanlike since the winter break with 1-0 wins over both Stuttgart and Freiburg preceding their disappointing meeting with Schalke. Granit Xhaka has put pen to paper and extended his deal with Gladbach to 2019, while striker Max Kruse attracted attention in England during the January transfer window. Köln’s mediocre season took a turn for the worse with utterly painful 0-0 draws with lowly Paderborn and Stuttgart, leaving their mid-table credentials in doubt. While I think that Gladbach should edge the win at 7/10, neither side have been anywhere near prolific in front of goal and you’ll find Under 2.5 goals at 13/20. The former seems the wiser option.
Bayer Leverkusen 13/10
Much like Gladbach, Leverkusen face a critical point in their season. Bayer remain a fixture in the Champions League and will already be in preparation for their clash with Atletico Madrid later in the month. However, they run the risk of losing a place in Europe if they continue to relinquish points. Since the Rückrunde began they’ve drawn at home with Dortmund, scraped over the line against Hertha Berlin and slumped to a loss at Werder Bremen. Importantly, they are undefeated on their home patch all season but have been less than convincing recently with four draws in their last five home fixtures. Saturday’s upcoming clash at fortress BayArena is enough to have one salivating. Wolfsburg have been in imposing form of late and their draw with Frankfurt last midweek is one of three on an otherwise flawless run since November. They routed Munich 4-1 on their return from the winter break and handed Hoffenheim a 3-0 drubbing in their last outing. Wolves have dominated recent encounters with Leverkusen, outscoring the home side seven goals to two over the last pair of matchups. Kevin De Bruyne is in irresistible form with five goals in three appearances, while striker Bas Dost has three in the same number of games. January signing Andre Schürrle has been integrated seamlessly into the side and had a hand in all of the goals scored against Hoffenheim. Wolfsburg are valuable at 19/10 for the win but considering Leverkusen’s tendency to draw home matches and Wolfsburg’s affinity for sharing points on the road, Wolfsburg or Draw on the Double Chance at 6/10 looks the correct play.
Eintracht Frankfurt 12/10
FC Schalke 2/1
Sitting pretty in third spot, Schalke will be hoping to continue their good run of form against mid-table Frankfurt. Die Knappen have managed to overcome the loss of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, currently serving a six-match ban as a result of a straight red card received in Schalke’s 1-0 win over Hannover, by drawing with Munich and winning at home against Gladbach. They haven’t lost against Frankfurt in the last four head-to-heads but will be wary of Thomas Schaaf’s enterprising outfit. Frankfurt fought back from two goals down to draw with Augsburg, star midfielder Alexander Meier continuing his prolific league form with his fourteenth strike of the season to level proceedings. They also recently held Wolfsburg to a 1-1 draw. Despite these plucky performances, Frankfurt are without a win since early December. Their fragile defence has let them down with regularity and Schalke are tipped to come away with a win on the road at great value.
Hertha Berlin 11/10
Sport-Club Freiburg 5/2
Prepare for a basement battle as relegation bound Freiburg travel to struggling Hertha Berlin. The men from the German capital got back to winning ways with competent 2-0 away victory at Mainz but have otherwise had little to celebrate in recent times. Berlin have been beaten by both Werder Bremen and Leverkusen on the return from the winter break, which makes for eleven losses in their twenty Bundesliga matches this season. Freiburg have lost only eight but have recorded nine draws and their inability to put matches to bed has left them with only three wins all season, costing them dearly. Freiburg’s 4-1 win over Frankfurt upon the league’s resumption stands as an anomaly in an otherwise dismal season. Berlin are good value for the home win but I prefer caution in fixtures such as these. The last three meetings between these two sides have ended in draws which makes me gravitate towards the Hertha Berlin or Draw Double Chance at 3/10 in the interest of safety.
Hannover 96 8/10
Hannover’s fantastic start to the season is all but a distant memory. Their 2-0 victory over Augsburg in December remains their only win in nine previous fixtures. They still remain tenth on the table, but will begin to plummet rapidly unless they can recapture some form. Opponents Paderborn definitely offer them a chance at redemption but Hannover have fluffed games against both Mainz and Freiburg in recent times and will hope talisman Joselu, who hasn’t scored in three matches following an awesome five-game goal-scoring run, can arrest his side’s slump. Paderborn have only four wins all season but have also clawed eight draws, more of a testament to the opposition spurning chances than to Paderborn’s defensive solidity. Paderborn are also goalless in their last four encounters. Despite Paderborn winning the reverse fixture 2-0 at home, Hannover are tipped to end their win drought with home ground advantage the key.