MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from the weekend's Bundesliga action.
Hoffenheim v Wolfsburg | Saturday 14.30
The Bundesliga has thrown up a devilishly difficult coupon this weekend and in truth I’ve found it tough to find three decent-priced selections from Germany’s top-tier.
I’ve found four or five angles to exploit but the prices aren’t as exceptional as I’d have hoped but bear with me as I try and justify the trio of best bets across the weekend.
Across the previous seven months I’ve eulogised over Hoffenheim and their bold appointment of 29-year-old kid Julian Nagelsmann as head coach. The youngster took charge in early February when Hoffe were only off the bottom of the Bundesliga on goal difference and five points adrift of 16-placed Werder Bremen.
The Sinsheim side were struggling for inspiration but I don’t think any of us expected Nagelsmann to make such an immediate impact at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Only Bayern Munich (35), Dortmund (33) and Leverkusen (28) claimed more points than Hoffenheim (23) during his 14-match spell to conclude the campaign (W7-D2-L5) with Hoffe finishing outside of the bottom-three. Job done, and in style too…
The swashbuckling style employed by Nagelsmann’s saw total goals figures as high as 3.21 per-game as the “Mini-Mourinho” oversaw Hoffenheim fail to score just once whilst performing superbly in all the key performance data metrics.
There was a little sense of negativity following Kevin Volland’s departure and Tobias Strobl will be tough to replace but Adam Szalai has returned to the club following his loan at Hannover and Andrej Kramaric has made his loan from Leicester City permanent.
Eduardo Vargas remains and Darmstadt’s top goalscorer Sandro Wagner also arrives to give the Sinsheim outfit a bit more clout in attacking areas. And the hosts have continued where they left off in 2015/16 by bidding to out-gun their opposition in goal-filled games.
Hoffenheim’s opening two fixtures have both ended in draws but that doesn’t tell the full story. Hoffe have seen both sides score in both encounters with a total of 12 goals plundered across the 180 minutes of action.
Last weekend Nagelsmann’s men fought back from 3-0 and 4-1 down to snatch a point against Mainz whilst they opened their campaign with a thrilling 2-2 draw against newly-promoted RB Leipzig.
Considering a huge 15 of Hoffenheim’s past 20 games when welcoming top-six teams have featured Over 2.5 Goals winners, it would make sense to follow the trends here.
Wolfsburg endured a wretched Bundesliga campaign in 2015/16 but Dieter Hecking stayed at the Volkswagen Arena with the Wolves eager to engineer their way back into the top-four positions.
The visitors actually finished with a negative goal difference in eighth, missing out on European competition as they lost one more match than they won. Goals were hard to come by following Kevin De Bruyne’s sale with Julian Draxler and Max Kruse struggling for form for large swathes of the campaign.
Rotten road form also contributed to an unhappy campaign. Wolfsburg W3-D4-L10 on their travels, losing by at least two clear goals at each top-six team. So it’s been a summer of upheaval with Andre Schurrle, Bas Dost and Kruse all departing plus both first-choice centre-backs Dante and Naldo.
Jeffrey Bruma arrives from PSV to fill out the vacant defensive positions whilst Mario Gomez’s signing was perhaps the headline signing. Elsewhere, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Yannick Gerhard add experience and quality to midfield.
Hecking’s seen his new-look team take four points from a possible six thus far, including back-to-back clean sheets against Koln (0-0) and Augsburg (2-0). But neither of their previous opponents will present the all-action approach that Hoffenheim will take here.
I’d have liked to keep Hoffe onside in some way or form but their porous backline makes it a little too risky so instead I’ll venture into the goals markets with Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score available at 17/20 (Coral).
It’s a bet that’s proven profitable in six of Hoffenheim’s eight home Bundesliga games under Nagelsmann and further back the hosts have seen 20/35 (57%) of their Rhein-Neckar-Arena outings break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
Both sides have scored in 11 of the past 13 meetings as well as 19/35 (54%) of Wolfsburg’s previous away days. The visitors have kept only eight clean sheets in that sample and seen three or more goals scored in 11 of their last 16 at bottom-six sides.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Werder Bremen | Saturday 17.30 | BT Sport 2
Borussia Monchengladbach began 2015/16 appallingly and with Lucien Favre walking away from the head coach’s role, Andre Schubert reluctantly took the reigns in a bid to steady the Foals ship.
Schubert made an immediate impact, remedying Gladbach’s seasick side and putting the team back in action with a serious cutting-edge in attack. The Foals’ offensive approach made them fantastic viewing and Borussia recovered to finish fourth in the Bundesliga.
Key central midfielder and skipper Granit Xhaka left in the summer but Christoph Kramer has returned from a fruitful loan spell at Leverkusen to take his place. Elsewhere, Tobias Strobl is an able replacement for Havard Nordtveit and Jannik Vestergaard joined to bolster their centre-back options in their new-look 3-5-2 formation.
2016/17 has started in much the same manner as last year for Gladbach – the Foals have been fearsome at home and pretty shabby away. Although Young Boys were crushed 9-2 on aggregate during Champions League qualifying and Leverkusen were beaten 2-1 in the Bundesliga opener, Schubert’s side were poor in a 3-1 defeat at newly-promoted Freiburg and at Manchester City in midweek.
When Gladbach click, they are wonderful to watch. Raffael and Lars Stindl are a clever front two, Kramer has boundless energy, and 20-year-old playmaker Mahmoud Dahoud is earning rave reviews. Former Chelsea player Thorgan Hazard has also impressed and back at Borussia-Park on Saturday, I expect the Foals to bounce back to form.
As hosts, last term, Gladbach won 13 times and scored an average of 2.73 goals-per-game in their final 15 outings. And over the past few campaigns, the hosts have returned an intimidating W25-D4-L5 when welcoming league opposition.
Taking results under Schubert-only, the Foals have W14-D1-L1 in the Bundesliga, beating Leverkusen (twice), Schalke, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich in that sample. Gladbach scored at least twice on 13 occasions, three times in nine encounters and won by at least two goals in nine matches.
Goals were prominent in Gladbach encounters during 2015/16 with a huge 25/34 (74%) featuring Over 2.5 Goals, 17/34 (50%) creeping over the Over 3.5 Goals line, whilst 20 (59%) games saw both sides score.
The loss of Xhaka has cost the Foals some bite in midfield, and the defence has been exposed as a result. The once-dependable defender Tony Jantschke has lost his way in the last year or so, and there's a lot of pressure on on-loan Chelsea centre-back Andreas Christensen, who is just 20.
Six of Gladbach's seven games in all competitions this season have featured at least three goals, as have 13/16 (81%) of home Bundesliga battles under Schubert.
Nine (56%) of that sample saw four or more goals scored which tallies nicely alongside Bremen – the visitors have seen 20/30 (67%) of their away days break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier and 14/30 (47%) overcome the three-goal hurdle with Victor Skripnik in charge.
Werder have had an awful start to the new season; dumped out of the DFB Pokal on the opening weekend to third-division Sportfreunde Lotte has been followed by thumping 6-0 defeat at Bayern and a tough-to-take home loss against Augsburg last weekend.
Head coach Skrypnyk is under intense pressure to turn the River Islanders around but his road record in charge of Bremen won’t inspire too much confidence from travelling supporters. Werder have lost 15 of their 30 away league contests under the Ukrainian’s watch with just two clean sheets kept.
Bremen have been beaten by at least a two-goal margin eight of those 15 losses with six arriving by three goals or more. Defensively the away side appear just as inept as last term and another heavy defeat could well be on the cards here.
The guests remain without last season’s top goalscorer Claudio Pizarro up front and they’ve now lost 11 of the 16 games he’s failed to start since 2015/16. Last season Werder were demolished 5-1 at Borussia-Park and a repeat wouldn’t be the biggest surprise of the weekend.
With that in mind plus the overwhelming evidence in our favour, I’ll snap up the 8/11 on offer for Gladbach to win and Over 1.5 Goals.
Hertha Berlin v Schalke | Sunday 16.30 | BT Sport Extra
Hertha Berlin occupied a Champions League position for the majority of last season but the capital club ran out of gas with the finishing line in sight, eventually finishing in seventh having taken just two points from their final 21 on offer.
The Berliners instead were given a Europa League qualifying berth but a false start saw Pal Dardai’s troops eliminated by Brondby before needing penalties to sneak past Jahn Regensburg of the 3.Bundesliga in the DFB Pokal.
Nevertheless, Hertha have regained their composure and collected a maximum six-point haul from their first two Bundesliga fixtures. However, the victory over Freiburg was unjust on their newly-promoted opponents and the Berliners’ limited game plan could come unstuck here.
Dardai’s success has been largely built around a defensive style with Hertha particularly effective in the capital. The hosts suffered just one defeat in their first 15 outings in Berlin last term and shipped just 15 goals at home all season.
But this weekend Hertha head into their contest against Schalke with centre-back John Brooks a major doubt and centre-midfielder Per Ciljan Skjelbred an injury concern plus Sebastian Langkamp and Peter Pekarik.
Since the start of 2014/15, Skjelbred has missed 14 games and the hosts have won just once without him (W1-D5-L8), scoring just three goals in their last 10. And Hertha have lost five of the last seven matches that Brooks has missed, while conceding at least twice in six.
There’s a wonderfully united feel to Hertha and the discipline instilled by Dardai always makes them a tough nut to crack but ever-improving Schalke should be capable of avoiding defeat in Berlin on Sunday.
I wrote the Royal Blues off for their Europa League tie at Nice but Markus Weinzierl's men were worthy winners. Having performed with distinction in defeat to Bayern Munich last Friday night, there are now encouraging signs that Schalke are ready to find their feet. T
he visitors finally look solid in defence thanks to Naldo and Matija Nastasic’s partnership whilst full-backs Rahman Baba and Benedict Howedes give the backline much-need balance and a bit of pace down the left too. In midfield, Nabil Bentaleb and Benjamin Stambouli add guile and bite whilst Leon Goretzka’s impressed further forward.
Weinzierl has plenty of options at his disposal and although Schalke’s away record is far from convincing, the guests have the tools to make it nine wins in 11 previous meetings with Hertha here.
With this selection we’ll make money should the visitors avoid defeat – a half-stakes win should the game end all-square and a full-stakes win should if Schalke succeed.