MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) landed the Bundesliga treble last week. Can he repeat the feat this weekend?
Mainz v Koln | Sunday 16.30 | BT Sport Europe
It’s just over 14 months since Martin Schmidt was parachuted in as Mainz’s head coach from his U23 position, with Die Nullfunfer one point clear of the relegation zone.
The Swiss boss guided the Carnival Club to an 11th-placed finish but having sold their two best players in the summer – Shinji Okazaki and Johannes Geis – and replacing them with unheralded prospects, another tough season appeared on the cards.
But few sides in world football operate or buy so consistently well and Mainz have defied pre-season predictions to be one of five clubs scrapping it out for a top-four Bundesliga finish and Champions League qualification.
Schalke have moved heaven and earth to snap up Mainz’s sporting director Christian Heidel – the mastermind of FSV’s continued off-field success – but after 24 years service in the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, Heidel will have left a splendid base to work from.
Schmidt’s side have built their campaign upon trusty home form – they’re unbeaten as hosts since October (W6-D2-L0) with a seemingly bottomless engine. No Bundesliga side runs or sprints more than Die Nullfunfer; no team comes remotely close.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg leaves Mainz three points adrift of the top-four but their Coface Arena form should carry them to a maximum point haul when they take on Koln on Sunday.
The hosts have won eight of their last nine games when welcoming the Billy Goats to town, shutting them out in each of their last four meetings.
Koln boss Peter Stöger has been fielding criticism in recent weeks for the lack of variety or attacking panache in his travelling team and, having collected just two victories since Christmas, has seen his side tumble down the table.
The Billy Goats are a functional outfit that prefer to play direct football. Anthony Modeste’s a willing workhouse at the front of the offence but with Leonardo Bittencourt suspended, Koln may lack the craft and guile to open a stubborn Mainz defensive unit.
Koln games tend to be tight affairs when playing away – 20/31 (65%) since promotion have fallen below the 2.5 goals line, including each of their last eight – but with five losses in eight trips to top-six teams and Mainz landing 11/21 (52%) triumphs at the Coface Arena, I reckon the hosts can sneak a narrow success.
Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Schalke and Leverkusen have all lost here in Mainz’s eight-match unbeaten home streak – I’m sure they’re capable of adding Koln to that list at odds of 23/20 (Betway).
Augsburg v Stuttgart | Saturday 14.30
Augsburg head into this relegation six-pointer three points worse off than their visitors, though last Saturday's come-from-behind 2-1 win at Werder Bremen – courtesy of goals from Alfred Finnbogason and Jeong-Ho Hong – saw the Bavarians pull out of the relegation zone at Bremen’s expense.
Markus Weinzierl’s men have been poor performers at their WWK Arena home (W2-D5-L7) and last weekend’s triumph was just their second three-pointer in 2016 having ended a run of six matches without a success.
Stuttgart have a five-point cushion on the drop zone following last week's 3-1 loss at league leaders Bayern Munich. Despite putting in a spirited performance against the champions, doubts are creeping into Stuttgart's play, with the Swabians taking just two points from their last four games (W0-D2-L2).
For the first time since Jurgen Kramny was appointed as coach in December, VFB have failed to record a maximum in four fixtures and having taken 17 points from the 44-year-old’s first eight Bundesliga games, Stuttgart have accumulated just six in their most recent eight outings.
Impressively, no top-tier team are averaging more on-target attempts than Stuttgart on their travels but Die Roten also boast the league’s worst defence. Marry the two records together and it’s no surprise to hear goals tend to be on the agenda when the Swabians are on show.
Stuttgart have shipped at least two goals in six of their last seven games and with Serie Die out, the visitors don’t have their superb defensive midfield shield to call upon. Without a shutout in eight and having conceded goals in all bar one of their 14 road trips this term, the likelihood of VFB keeping their sheets clean is slim.
However, Kramny’s charges have seen Both Teams To Score bank in 11/14 (79%) of their away trips with a huge 17 of their past 19 on their travels featuring at least three goals. Taking this season in isolation, Stuttgart have seen 11/14 games as guests deliver Over 3.5 Goals winners.
Augsburg have notched in each of their last 10 Bundesliga battles but the Fuggerstädter have been breached in 11/14 (79%) of their home encounters, leading to 8/14 (57%) successful BTTS bets when hosting league action.
The Bavarians have seen Over 2.5 Goals collect in seven games on the spin now, in 8/14 (57%) at the WWK Arena in 2015/16 with six of their most recent 11 excursions on home soil breaking the Over 3.5 Goals barrier.
With Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 Goals too skinny to support, marry the two markets together and we can back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 8/11 with Bet365 – it’s a selection that’s proven profitable in 8/14 (57%) of Augsburg’s home outings and 10/14 (71%) of Stuttgart’s road trips.
If we put the two teams’ home/away records in this market together and found the average, we’d be looking at just over a 64% chance of a repeat. That probability implies odds of just 4/7, making the 8/11 a big value goals bet.
Bayer Leverkusen v Eintracht Frankfurt | Saturday 14.30
Bayer Leverkusen have recovered from a mini blip in impressive fashion – recording four successive Bundesliga wins, all without conceding a goal.
Die Werkself saw off Koln in last weekend’s derby and can now be supported at 11/10 (BetVictor) to overcome a -1.5 Asian Handicap when they welcome one of the league’s most out-of-form sides to the BayArena in Eintracht Frankfurt.
During Roger Schmidt’s Leverkusen reign, the hosts have won 17/31 (55%) of their home league outings, 10 of which were delivered by a margin of at least two goals. It’s a return that ties in nicely when digging into Frankfurt’s away efforts during the same timeframe.
The Eagles have lost 19/31 (61%) of their road trips since the start of 2014/15 with a healthy 13 (42%) seeing the visitors beaten by at least two goals as they’ve kept just four clean sheets.
Recently Eintracht have suffered six losses in seven on their travels as well as defeats by at least two goals in five of their last eight trips to top-six sides. Even new head coach Niko Kovac has been unable to stem the bleeding.
Top scoring skipper Alex Meier remains sidelined and Frankfurt have fired blanks in six of their past eight matches now, including three defeats in four fixtures under Kovac’s charge. In 20 matches that Meier has missed since the start of last season, Frankfurt have scored just 16 goals
Include home results and the visitors have W1-D4-L6 in their last 11 Bundesliga battles with their sole triumph coming in a sketchy 1-0 success against relegation-haunted Hannover.
Key centre-half Carlos Zambrano is also absent and I reckon Bayer should be more than capable of piling on the misery with a comfortable home triumph to keep their top-four aspirations on track.
Augsburg v Stuttgart – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (8/11 Bet365)
Bayer Leverkusen v Eintracht Frankfurt – Bayer Leverkusen -1.5 Asian Handicap (11/10 BetVictor)
Mainz v Koln – Mainz to win (23/20 Betway)
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