THE new Bundesliga season gets started this weekend. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his best bets from the opening round of fixtures.
Werder Bremen v Schalke | Saturday 14.30
Werder Bremen begin the new campaign with hope, optimism and a decent smidgen of belief – a far cry from 12 months ago. Directionless and rudderless under Robin Dutt heading into 2014/15, the River Islanders were realistic relegation candidates. That was until Dutt was ditched and Viktor Skrypnyk promoted from the reserve team to take over the head coach role.
The Ukrainian made a seamless transition to the first team and rejuvenated Bremen, even coming close to a Europa League qualification place. Werder’s form at their Weserstadion home under Skrypnyk’s charge (W8-D2-L3) was a major highlight and I’m reasonably confident the club can pierce the top-half this term.
Top scorer Franco Di Santo has moved to Saturday’s opponents Schalke having turned down a new deal with Bremen (he’ll be entering and leaving the ground via the backdoor for security reasons) and second top goal-getter David Selke has also departed. But the River Islanders have brought in Anthony Ujah and American Aron Johannsson to fill the striking void – both are capable enough.
Most importantly, mind, deadly set-piece specialist Zlatko Junuzovic remains in tow having committed his future to Bremen. There’s a nice balance between talented youth, experienced old heads and match-winners in the Werder ranks and having W10-D2-L1 in their previous 13 season openers at the Weserstadion, I’m confident they’ll be good enough to get something on Saturday.
Schalke endured a horror season, finishing only two points ahead of bitter rivals Dortmund. Jens Keller was dismissed midway through the campaign and Roberto Di Matteo released at the end of the season after a spell of boring, bland and ultimately below-par results.
Andre Breitenreiter was the surprise call to lead the Royal Blues into battle for 2015/16 having impressed with tiny Paderborn despite their immediate relegation. He’ll employ a polar opposite approach to Di Matteo with Schalke expected to win the ball high up the pitch, get forward quick and attack at pace.
The signing of Johannes Geis was a real coup for the Gelsenkirchen club but whether Breitenreiter has the ability to knit together a broken dressing room and get the best out of a talented bunch in time for the first league fixture, I’m not so sure. For the time being, I’m happy to oppose Schalke.
The visitors may be unbeaten in their last seven trips to Bremen (W4-D3-L0) but I’m happy to ignore head-to-head trends. Instead, a more valuable stat might be that across the past two seasons, Schalke have returned W10-D9-L15 when playing away – that’s a win rate of just 29% – making a pro-Bremen bet the obvious recommendation. The hosts are 4/6 (BetVictor) off a +0.50 Asian Handicap start meaning, we’ll be in profit should Bremen avoid defeat.
Bayer Leverkusen v Hoffenheim | Saturday 14.30
If you’d taken a peek at my ante-post Bundesliga picks, you’d know I’m keen on Bayer Leverkusen this season. Roger Schmidt’s had a season to bed in at the BayArena and following a fourth-placed finish, Die Werkself look primed for an improvement and I reckon a silver medal is well within reach this term.
Midfield schemer Gonzalo Castro has gone, so to Simon Rolfes, but the club has strengthened superbly during the summer. Former Freiburg striker Admir Mehmedi will add depth to the attack, Christoph Kramer’s return stiffens the middle and the capture of Chilean star Charles Aranguiz was probably the best piece of business in Germany.
The squad still contains the shining lights of Hakan Calhanoglu, Karim Bellarabi and Heung-min Son and although defensively they might be a little light, a return of 16 clean sheets last season suggests Schmidt will find the answers to any potential backline problems.
Leverkusen host Hoffenheim on Saturday and boast an outstanding W12-D1-L1 record in recent head-to-head duels as well as a quite ridiculous W32-D12-L7 return when hosting Bundesliga matches dating back to the start of 2012/13. Arguably even more impressive is the fact 20 of those 32 victories came by a margin of two goals or more.
Hoffenheim make the journey to Bayer on the back of a worrying DFB Pokal defeat to second tier 1860 Munich last weekend, with a W1-D2-L6 record from their past nine away Bundesliga games and without the talents of now Liverpool player Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian played a part in 62 goals during his 140-game career with Hoff.
German U21 star Kevin Volland will now fill a more central striking role but Kevin Kuranyi is a downgrade on Firmino. Although Swiss centre-half Fabian Schar could be an decent addition, Markus Gisdol’s men just lack the talent to give Leverkusen a serious test.
The visitors are poor travellers (as already referenced) and since Gisdol took charge of the club, Hoffenheim have W8-D12-L18 of their road trips with 13 of those 18 defeats coming by two goals or more. We can back Leverkusen to win off a -1 Asian Handicap start at 6/7 with BetVictor.
Taking this selection means, should the hosts win by two goals or more, we’ll be in profit. But should Leverkusen only manage a single goal victory, we’ll get our cash back. The only way in which we’ll end up out of pocket is if Hoffenheim avoid defeat on Saturday.
Wolfsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt | Sunday 14.30 | BT Sport Europe
Bookmakers expect Wolfsburg to again be Bayern Munich’s closest rivals this season but their challenge is likely to depend on the future of Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian continues to be linked with a move to Manchester City and having been named Bundesliga Player of the Year last season following an outrageously good campaign, his departure would no doubt rock the boat.
De Bruyne created a league record 20 assists and scored 10 goals, playing a part in 42% of the Wolves’ league goals. But luckily for Dieter Hecking, his main man remains at the Volkswagen Arena and should play a part in Sunday’s opener against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Last season’s memorable campaign was built upon their fortress home form (W14-D3-L0) and Wolfsburg can now boast daunting W24/34 (71%) figures when hosting Bundesliga matches during Hecking’s two full seasons in charge. But they’ve not been totally infallible at the Volkswagen Arena.
Despite their unbeaten home record in 2014/15, the Wolves kept just six clean sheets with those aforementioned 34 matches also returning 23 winners for Both Teams To Score backers – that’s a 68% success rate. So whilst we should expect the hosts to do the business, they’re unlikely to be good enough to keep a decent Frankfurt attack quiet.
The Eagles held the dubious honour of holding the division’s worst road record last term (W2-D5-L10) and their previous two campaigns have reaped a worryingly poor return of 19/34 (56%) defeats when playing away. Only two clubs conceded more goals in 2014/15 than Eintracht but Armin Veh’s summer arrival should at least help to improve those sorry records.
Frankfurt were a constant menace when going forward, mind. Veteran Alex Meier rolled back the years to finish as the league’s top marksman and Luc Castaignos’ arrival adds further weight to an attack that already can call upon Vaclav Kadlec and Haris Seferovic too. Only Bayern, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen netted more goals than Frankfurt last season and 20/34 of Frankfurt’s away days over the past two campaigns have also rewarded BTTS backers.
Wolfsburg are rated just 1/2 shots to open their account with three points on Sunday but if we throw in Both Teams To Score, we can get with De Bruyne and co at a tasty 15/8 thanks to TitanBet.
Werder Bremen v Schalke – Werder Bremen double chance (4/6 BetVictor)
Bayer Leverkusen v Hoffenheim – Bayer Leverkusen -1 Asian Handicap (6/7 BetVictor)
Wolfsburg v Stuttgart – Wolfsburg to win and Both Teams To Score (15/8 TitanBet)
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