By Carlos Torres Bujanda .-Hannover host Hoffenheim looking to maintain the gap between themselves and fourth-place Bayern München, who are at Freiburg. Frankfurt host St. Pauli in a relegation dogfight, confident Nürnberg take on struggling Bremen and Hamburg's new coach takes his bow in Saturday's Matchday 27 action.
Stuttgart, Germany.- By Carlos Torres Bujanda.-Hannover host Hoffenheim looking to maintain the gap between themselves and fourth-place Bayern München, who are at Freiburg. Frankfurt host St. Pauli in a relegation dogfight, confident Nürnberg take on struggling Bremen and Hamburg's new coach takes his bow in Saturday's Matchday 27 action.
SC Freiburg - FC Bayern München
The fact that a top-three Bundesliga finish is now Bayern München's sole remaining route into the Champions League next season, "doesn't make a tough task any easier", according to Freiburg's Robin Dutt. The coach believes however that "with a healthy attitude and total commitment", his own team can get a result out of this one. Simon Pouplin (post-ankle operation), Daniel Williams, Tommy Bechmann (both short of match fitness) and Jan Rosenthal (calf problem) will all be missing for the hosts.
Van Buyten and Robben probably fit to play
For Bayern, this is the first opportunity to start working the bitter last-gasp defeat to Inter Milan out of their collective system. "Obviously the team are disappointed to have gone out. Now though we have to ensure that we hit our target in the Bundesliga, namely qualifying for next season's Champions League", said CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Daniel van Buyten and Arjen Robben, who had to be subbed against Inter after picking up knocks, should both be fit to play a role at Freiburg.
Hannover 96 - 1899 Hoffenheim
Third-place Hannover have top scorer Didier Ya Konan at their disposal again after three weeks out injured. "He could play from the start, which I'm very happy about. There's been no reaction from his knee", said coach Mirko Slomka, who may however have to do without another of his forward talents, as Jan Schlaudraff is currently struggling with a stomach bug. Ron-Robert Zieler is definitely out with a shoulder injury, so Florian Fromlowitz will take up his place between the posts.
Hoffenheim on the up
While the home side are looking to put last weekend's 4-0 thrashing a Köln behind them, Hoffenheim arrive on the back of a 1-0 victory over league leaders Dortmund. Nevertheless, 1899 coach Marco Pezzaiuoli still regards Hannover as the favourites, saying, "They've got something to make good on, besides which they're in very good form overall." His own players, says Pezzaiuoli, "need to put pressure on whoever has the ball straight away to choke off their counter-attacks. We have to put in the maximal amount of legwork, just as we did against Dortmund." Andreas Ibertsberger is out with a shoulder injury, and Tobias Weis, Manuel Gulde and Chinedu Obasi are all still short of match fitness.
Eintracht Frankfurt - FC St Pauli
Another of the weekend's relegation six-pointers sees St. Pauli visit a team on an even worse run of form than themselves. All that counts for Eintracht coach Michael Skibbe is for his side "to score one goal more than our opponents." Frankfurt are still without a win in 2011 and Skibbe is all too aware that, "We're in it up to our necks, but St. Pauli have enough problems of their own at the moment. This is a real make-or-break meeting." Patrick Ochs, Sebastian Rode and Benjamin Köhler are all doubtful for it, while keeper Oka Nikolov, defender Chris and midfielder Zlatan Bajramovic are definite non-starters due to injury.
Stanislawski calls for focus
The guests from Hamburg slipped into the bottom three after losing late on to Stuttgart last time out. "Against VfB we didn't reward ourselves for a good showing and we aim to make up for that on Saturday,", vowed St. Pauli coach Holger Stanislawski, who also issued the salient reminder that, "Lapses of concentration - particularly in the final few minutes - cost points." Fabian Morena, Bastian Oczipka, Carsten Rothenbach and Carlos Zambrano are all still on the crock list and miss out on this key encounter.
1. FC Nürnberg - Werder Bremen
A great run of form has added Nürnberg, currently sixth, to the list of Bundesliga over-performers this season and coach Dieter Hecking is directing his gaze even higher, saying, "It would be excellent, of course, to be going into the final seven games after the break for international action in fifth place." Not that Hecking is taking the game against Bremen lightly, one "that we could certainly end up losing" and he will be hoping Jens Hegeler (calf problem) and Mehmet Ekici (flu) recuperate sufficiently to play some part in the proceedings.
Bremen "developing in the right direction"
A last-second leveller denied Bremen victory against fellow strugglers Mönchengladbach last week but nevertheless sporting director Klaus Allofs took heart from "the team developing in the right direction as a unit", with some difficult weeks up ahead. Overall, "The sense of major turbulence has abated somewhat, but we're not in any danger of misjudging a difficult situation. There's a lot to do yet." Defender Sebastian Prödl will miss the game and the next few weeks as well with a thigh injury, with Mikael Silvestre set to switch to the middle and either Dominik Schmidt or Clemens Fritz stepping in at right back.
Hamburger SV - 1. FC Köln
Michael Oenning makes his dugout debut for HSV in the wake of Armin Veh's dismissal and the new head coach has been impressed by the squad's fighting spirit, saying, "The team are very focused in training and they're putting in a huge effort." In the wake of last weekend's 6-0 drubbing at FC Bayern, that attitude will clearly have to be replicated out on the pitch against their in-form visitors. Oenning has no plans to make major changes to the team - "The season's well under way, there's no need to be starting from scratch again" - but Ruud Van Nistelrooy could be back in contention for a place up front.
Köln out to improve away record
Köln head north "in the knowledge that 17 points since the league restart is a great return and one that boots our self-confidence", says Frank Schaefer. Most of those points have been garnered on home soil however, as the coach readily acknowledges: "We want a success on the road to finally clear our heads of the away-form issue." The Billy Goats will have to achieve it at Hamburg without the assistance of Pedro Geromel (reconditioning), Kevin McKenna (back problem) and Christopher Schorch (tendon damage).