PREVIEW | Bundesliga – Week 28: Stadiums return to full capacity with plenty to play for across nine games

The end of the international break means the return of Bundesliga football this weekend, starting with FC Köln’s trip to Union Berlin. But what should you look out for during matchday 28? Read on to find out!

1 | Can Köln break Union hoodoo?

After 761 days, the Stadion an der Alten Försterei will once again host a full-capacity crowd on Friday night as Union take on Köln. The visitors themselves played in front of a packed arena in their last match at home against Borussia Dortmund, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Union’s home form has been the keystone of their impressive adaption to the Bundesliga, with them losing just 17% of their matches in Köpenick since their promotion.

During their two and three-quarter years in the top flight, Köln have been amongst their favourite opponents. In their five duels, Union have picked up all three points on four occasions, with the two sides sharing the points in the other clash. Coupled with the two’s contrasting form on Friday nights – Union have won their last three, while Köln have lost as many consecutive matches – the omens do not look good for Steffen Baumgart’s side.

However, the ‘Geißböcke’ do have cause for optimism. They have lost just one of their last five fixtures, with the draw against Dortmund showing they can be competitive against the top teams in the division. Union, meanwhile, have prevailed in just one of their last seven league outings, the last of which was a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Bayern. The slump has seen them drop down to ninth in the table, and they could descend even further if Mainz win their game in hand against Augsburg.

For both teams, qualification for European football is not out of the question. In front of a fanbase known for its passion and dedication, it promised to be an intriguing encounter.

2 | Will Haaland remain Leipzig’s nemesis?

When Armenia’s Arman Hovhannisyan launched himself at Erling Braut Haaland during Norway’s 9-0 hammering of the Eastern European nation on Tuesday, Dortmund hearts will have been in mouths. Quite frankly, it was a horrendous challenge and, even during a friendly, referee Mads-Kristoffer Kristoffersen had no choice but to give the aggressor his marching orders after just 17 minutes.

Fortunately, the tackle did not have too much of an impact on the 21-year-old, even though he was taken off at half-time as a precaution. After the match, Norway head coach Ståle Solbakken said, “He looked at me with disappointment when I said he wouldn’t get to play the second half, so it’s nothing serious. It was my decision.”

Of course, the availability of Haaland, who has still scored 16 Bundesliga goals this season despite missing ten matches, is a massive boost to Marco Rose, especially given his record against this weekend’s opponents. In each of his three games versus RB Leipzig, the former Red Bull Salzburg forward has scored a brace, the last coming in last season’s DFB Pokal final, which the ‘Schwarzgelben’ won 4-1.

With seven games left, Dortmund are six points behind leaders Bayern Munich in second. Even though the Bavarians have wobbled at times this campaign – they have won just one of their last three league matches, for example – the erratic form of their closest rivals means they have had little to truly worry about in their quest for a tenth successive title. For Rose and Co, the rest of the campaign is about confirming qualification for the Champions League and, with a 13-point buffer over Freiburg in fifth, another Haaland show on Saturday would put them within touching distance of that goal.

3 | Magath hoping to stop Leverkusen rot

Although a positive COVID-19 test stopped Felix Magath from being present at the Olympiastadion to watch his new side Hertha Berlin beat Hoffenheim 3-0, he would have been pleased with what he saw from afar. After ten games with a win for the ‘Alte Dame’, it was a vital victory, moving them out of the automatic relegation zone. The stars of the show on the day were Marvin Plattenhardt, with all three goals coming from his set-pieces, and assistant manager Mark Fotheringham, whose passion and activity on the bench gave a glimpse of what to expect from his partnership with Magath.

This weekend, the former Bayern Munich manager will return to the dug-out, although he could hardly have asked for a more difficult task as he takes his side to Bayer Leverkusen. Not only because the ‘Werkself’ sit third in the table, but also due to Magath’s worrying record against them. Across his eight Bundesliga positions, he has lost 14 times versus Leverkusen, conceding 50 goals along the way.

Hertha, at least, have not been defeated by these opponents since the 2018/19 campaign, when they were on the end of a 5-1 hammering. A positive result will be less important than the performance – after all, Leverkusen are expected to win comfortably and, with the Berlin derby next weekend followed by huge clashes against fellowship relegation battlers FC Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart and Arminia Bielefeld, Magath and Co have more critical challenges awaiting them. Given the new manager’s reputation as someone who demands every ounce of commitment from his players, however, he is unlikely to let them meander through any fixture between now and the end of the season.

4 | Huge clash between Bielefeld and Stuttgart

At the bottom of the table, the biggest match-up of the weekend is undoubtedly between Bielefeld and Stuttgart, who sit 14th and 17th respectively. The two sides are separated by just one point, and a win for either this weekend would go a long way to helping them retain their Bundesliga status.

The two sides come into the clash in contrasting form. Bielefeld have had a torrid time of late, losing five of their last six, and failing to score in their previous four. The 398 minutes they have waited for a goal are just 21 behind their all-time record, which was already broken last season. For Stuttgart, meanwhile, the picture looks a lot more positive. They are unbeaten in their previous three matches, winning two, while the return of Saša Kalajdžić from injury has made them more dangerous in front of goal. Second-season syndrome has hit Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side, although a long list of injuries hasn’t helped, but they go into the final seven matches with momentum on their side.

This is a game neither side can afford to lose. Whether that will impact the way they set up remains to be seen, but with Stuttgart scoring in all of their last seven games, netting at least twice on four of those occasions, Matarazzo will be confident he can pick up all three points if his team continues their recent resurgence.

5 | Schlotterbeck – Lewandowski duel could decide Freiburg vs Bayern

On Saturday, Bayern Munich travel to Freiburg’s new stadium for the first time. The ‘Breisgau Brasilianer’ enjoyed hosting the Bavarians towards the end of their time at the Schwarzwald Stadium, holding their more illustrious opponents to draws in two of the last three matches at their former ground. This season, Christian Streich’s men sit fifth in the table and could even snatch a spot in the top four, while their impressive form will only help as they attempt to take all three points off the league leaders.

The clash could be decided by the duel between two of the Bundesliga’s best players this term. Robert Lewandowski really needs no introduction, but we’ll do it anyway. Again, the Poland international sits atop the Bundesliga goalscoring charts with 31 goals in just 27 matches. With him having scored 41 times last term to break Gerd Müller’s record for the most strikes in a single campaign, you wouldn’t bet against him breaking new ground once more. 

He will be up against Nico Schlotterbeck, who has developed into one of the best central defenders in the country. Union Berlin fans will have been aware of his abilities after he spent last season on loan in the German capital, and the 22-year-old has leaned on that experience this term back with his parent club. Only Bayern have conceded less than Freiburg’s 29 goals in the top flight, and that number would surely be less if they had not shipped seven times across the two games Schlotterbeck missed after testing positive for coronavirus.

With Lewandowski scoring as Poland qualified for the World Cup and Schlotterbeck making his Germany debut against Israel, they should be coming into this clash with confidence to spare. It will be intriguing whether youthful exuberance or experience will come out on top.

Jon Radcliffe

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