MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) talks us through his favourite fancies from the Bundesliga this weekend.
Bayer Leverkusen v Hamburg | Sunday 14.30 | BT Sport Europe
Following a three-game touchline suspension, Roger Schmidt will be back on the sidelines for his 49th birthday on Sunday as he bids to put an end to Bayer Leverkusen’s faltering 2016 form.
Die Werkself went into the winter break in fourth but a return of W2-D3-L3 has seen Schmidt’s side tumble down the standings to eighth and a full five points off the Champions League qualifying places. Sadly, his position is now under serious review.
Injuries have played a part in Bayer’s downturn – key midfielders Kevin Kampl and Lars Bender remain sidelined, centre-half stalwart Omer Toprak is still a major doubt, as is fellow centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos. Meanwhile, Christophe Kramer took a heavy blow to the head on Thursday night and may be rested.
It leaves Leverkusen short of experience and shorn of quality with Hakan Calhanoglu being asked to drop deeper and play a more reserved role that just doesn’t suit his attributes.
And talking of Thursday, Bayer were beaten 2-0 at Villarreal as they landed just one shot-on-target in their Europa League last-16 tie. That loss comes on the back of a run of W0-D1-L3 in Bundesliga action with Die Werkself conceded three goals in three successive top-flight games for the first time in 12 years.
During Schmidt’s stint at the BayArena, Leverkusen boast a 52% win rate in domestic action but only 9/29 (31%) of those matches ended in victories by at least a two-goal margin. Indeed, only twice in 12 home Bundesliga outings in 2015/16 have Bayer overcome a one-goal handicap.
So with those trends in mind, I’m putting my faith in Hamburg +1 on the Asian Handicap line at 11/13 (BetVictor). We’ll be paid out should HSV avoid defeat on Sunday but see our stake returned should Leverkusen win by just a solitary goal.
The Red Shorts have only secured two successes in 11 (W2-D4-L5) but Bruno Labbadia’s crafted a hard-working and resolute side. The returns of Albin Ekdal and Aaron Hunt have improved Hamburg’s attacking play and at the back they’re a tricky team to open up.
Last time out HSV picked up a valuable victory over Hertha Berlin and this weekend they welcome back Johan Djourou from suspension. Hot-headed Emir Spahic is now banned but Cléber’s an able replacement and so a side with only one reverse in six won’t fear a trip south.
The northerners have already scored five more goals than they managed in the whole of 2014/15 and under Labbadia’s charge the Dinosaur have been beaten by a two-goal margin or bigger just twice in 15 road trips, one of which was at Bayern Munich way back on the opening day of the current campaign.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Eintracht Frankfurt | Saturday 14.30
Last Sunday Eintracht Frankfurt sacked Armin Veh just 249 days into his second spell in charge of the club. Having guided the Eagles back to the top-flight during a successful first spell, Veh was unable to turn a sinking shop around with a 1-1 draw against Ingolstadt the final nail in his coffin.
Frankfurt have picked up just four points (W0-D4-L3) from a possible 21 to slide into the Bundesliga relegation play-off place – their 24 point-tally after 25 matchdays is their worst return since 1999 and 17th-placed Hoffenheim have now closed the gap to just three points.
SGE notched just once in their last four fixtures and only created four clear-cut chances in those 360 minutes. There’s a huge overreliance on veteran skipper Alex Meier in attack and this weekend Eintracht will be without their top scoring skipper as they head to Gladbach.
Ex-Croatia head coach Niko Kovac is the new man in the hot-seat and the German-born boss has no previous experience of club football management. So without Meier, talismanic centre-half Carlos Zambrano and playmaker Marc Stendera to call upon, his debut prospects appear bleak.
Frankfurt have collected just nine points on their travels this term – the second worst in the division – and have suffered defeats by at least a two-goal margin in seven of their last 11 visits to top-six teams. With a ramshackle defence and misfiring attack, a repeat looks on the cards.
Gladbach are the most profitable home team on the continent this weekend, returning £169 from a £10 stake in their last 20 Borussia-Park encounters (W15-D1-L4). And since Andre Schubert took charge, the Foals have W9-D1-L1 in front of their adoring home supporters.
Without a win in six on their travels, Gladbach’s Champions League challenge has been built on their solid home success and so with a record of 11 victories from 13 when entertaining bottom-six clubs and Raffael rolling back the years, taking the Foals with a -1 Asian Handicap start at 15/16 (BetVictor) holds plenty of appeal.
We’ll get our stake back should Schubert’s men only come out on top by a single goal but a victory by two or more goals will net us profit. We’ll only end up with a loss if Eintracht avoid defeat.
Bayern Munich v Werder Bremen | Saturday 17.30 | BT Sport Europe
Der Klassiker was the game that promised so much and delivered all nearly all fronts, bar goals.
Bayern Munich have now failed to win in back-to-back Bundesliga games for the first time this season following last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Dortmund. It was also the closest Pep Guardiola’s men came to being outplayed this season.
Sure, FC Hollywood have lost to Arsenal, Gladbach and Mainz – the latter in their last Allianz Arena outing – but none of those three teams put the Bavarians under such intense pressure as the Black & Yellows. For a good hour or so, Dortmund were the better team.
The league leaders have now managed just a solitary success in four across all competitions and might have one eye on their midweek Champions League tie with Juventus. Pep’s still without the injured Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez so perhaps there’s hope for Saturday’s visitors Werder Bremen?
The River Islands swept injury-hit Bayer Leverkusen and rock-bottom Hannover 4-1 in consecutive games to ease their relegation fears, climbing to 13th in the table – their best standing since Week 7.
Viktor Skrypnyk’s side are now three points clear of the relegation play-off pace and attacking teams with verve and confidence. Well, Bremen have failed to shutout any Bundesliga side in 28 now – an on-going club record – so attack really is their best form of defence.
This weekend Werder are without suspended duo Clemens Fritz and Zlatko Junuzovic, while Philipp Bargfrede remains unavailable. But even so, I like their prospects of getting a goal here. The guests have notched in 20 of their last 23 away trips in league football and have a veteran striker in outstanding nick.
Claudio Pizarro spent six years at Bayern before returning for another three seasons after a spell away from the club. The Peruvian won six league titles and was involved in the 2013 treble campaign but has lit up the league in 2016 with a series of influential performances at the head of Bremen’s offence.
Pizarro has scored 10 goals in his last nine outings, racking up 12 goals and two assists in his most recent 11 appearances in all competitions. No player has scored more Bundesliga goals this calendar year and the division’s all-time foreign scorer needs just one more to become the Bremen’s top scorer of all time.
I certainly wouldn’t want to bet against the likeable striker on Saturday but ultimately, the River Islanders will suffer a first loss in four. The northerners have been beaten in each of their last 10 games against the table-toppers, shipping 40 goals in the process.
Werder’s eight league outings since the winter break have featured 34 goals and 11 of their last 12 trips to top-six sides have broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, seven of the most recent nine producing four or more goals. Bremen won’t be afraid to get forward and have the tools to pinch a goal.
But with Bayern winning 40 of their previous 46 home Bundesliga matches under Pep’s guard, a 12th loss in 25 away days under Skrypnyk’s leadership appears destined for the guests here.
Just to avoid the possibility of a thumping whitewash, I’ll take a Bayern win and Over 3.5 Goals at 9/10 (Betfred) rather than the home win and Both Teams To Score option. A huge 30 of those aforementioned 46 Bayern matches have overcome the Over 3.5 Goals hurdle, as have 11 of 25 Bremen games under Skrypnyk’s watch.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Eintracht Frankfurt – Borussia Monchengladbach -1 Asian Handicap (15/16 BetVictor)
Bayern Munich v Werder Bremen – Bayern Munich to win and Over 3.5 Goals (9/10 Betfred)
Bayer Leverkusen v Hamburg – Hamburg +1 Asian Handicap (11/13 BetVictor)
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