MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from the opening weekend of Bundesliga action.
Koln v Darmstadt | Saturday 14.30
Following back-to-back promotions Darmstadt returned to the Bundesliga for the first time in over 30 years last season as relegation favourites.
But a cracking start saw Dirk Schuster’s side settle into mid-table before eventually sliding towards the bottom-three, surviving with two points to spare. However, that success story has come at a cost.
Schuster’s been pinched by Augsburg with Norbert Meier arriving in the hot-seat – this is the man who’s last two Bundesliga campaigns have both ended in relegation.
As well as Schuster’s departure, Darmstadt have seen top goalscorer Sandro Wagner move to Hoffenheim, first-choice goalkeeper Christian Mathenia and ever-present centre-back Luca Caldirola have also concluded their stays with the club and so it’s no great surprise to see the visitors chalked up as relegation favourites again.
Plenty of players have arrived to plug the gaps but the club have relied on loans and free transfers as attracting new signings to commit permanently has proven troublesome. So it’s difficult to see the side matching their 2015/16 achievements, especially in their opener at Koln on Saturday.
Skipper Aytac Sulu remains out so Alexander Milosevic, Immanuel Hohn and Artem Fedetskyy could all make their debuts in a new-look back-four and so I’m happy to oppose the guests here with Marathon offering 4/5 on a home win.
Darmstadt were excellent W7-D5-L5 performers on their travels last term, only failing to score twice on the road but under Meier’s watch and with last season’s key cogs no longer about, I can only see a struggle ensuring.
Koln made solid but unspectacular progress in their second campaign back in the Bundesliga but and have largely held their squad together again.
Peter Stoger’s troops thrashed Darmstadt 4-1 when they last met at RheinEnergieStadion in April and will be keen to continue their consistent performances for 2015/16 by following suit on Saturday.
The Billy Goats were league’s lowest scoring top-10 side but their outstanding defence ensured they were tough opposition. Koln only shipped more than two goals on four occasions and the club were given a boost when left-back Jonas Hector opted to stay for another season along with cat Timo Horn.
Yannick Gerhardt’s departure deprives them of one of their more creative midfielders but Sehrou Guirassy arrives from Lille to fill that void and star striker Anthony Modeste will continue to be a nuisance when leading the line.
For a hunkier price, back Koln to win and Under 2.5 Goals at 23/10 (Sportingbet) – 12/17 (71%) of the Billy Goats’ games at home to bottom-half dwellers under Stoger have delivered fewer than three goals with seven of their last nine against the bottom-six featuring Under 1.5 Goals.
Interestingly, Meier spent last season in charge of Arminia Bielefeld in the 2.Bundesliga and their fixtures featured 21/34 (61%) Under 2.5 Goals winners.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen | Saturday 17.30 | BT Sport Europe
The highlight of week one in German is without doubt the Saturday night showdown between last season’s third and fourth-placed finishers. Both Gladbach and Leverkusen are amongst the best sides going forward in the Bundesliga and this contest should provide plenty of goalmouth action.
Gladbach started 2015/16 appallingly but recovered superbly under attack-minded Andre Schubert and the Foals offensive approach should continue this season. The hosts hammered Young Boys in the Champions League qualifiers and crucially now have competitive match action under their belts.
Key central midfielder and skipper Granit Xhaka left for Arsenal in the summer and although the side have lost six of the 10 matches he failed to start since 2014/15, Christoph Kramer has returned from a fruitful loan spell at Leverkusen to take his place. Elsewhere, Tobias Strobl is an able replacement for now West Ham player Havard Nordtveit.
Jannik Vestergaard has joined Gladbach to bolster their centre-back options in their new-look 3-5-2 formation and having dropped points at home on only four occasions last season, I fancy the Foals to kick-off their league campaign with a strong performance.
At Borussia-Park 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.
Goals were also prominent in Gladbach encounters. A huge 25/34 featured Over 2.5 Goals, 17/34 (50%) creeping over the Over 3.5 Goals line, whilst 20 games saw both sides score. With that in mind, I’m keen to grab a bite of the 16/5 from 888 on a home win alongside Both Teams To Score.
Gladbach have beaten five of their past eight top-five visitors but failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their four fixtures last term whilst Leverkusen returned W2-D1-L9 at top-five opposition since 2013/14, scoring in seven games. In fact, Bayer have delivered Over 2.5 Goals profit in all bar one of their previous eight trips to the top-six.
Die Werkself make the journey without hitman Javier Hernandez – he broke a bone in his hand when falling down the stairs at home. Kevin Volland’s an excellent attacking addition and in Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi there’s most definitely goals in this team.
Roger Schmidt’s side have developed a reputation for high-energy pressing and that led to Over 2.5 Goals being profitable last season with 21/34 (62%) fixtures breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, while the visitors have themselves averaged 1.74 goals-per-game across the last two campaigns.
Hoffenheim v RB Leipzig | Sunday 16.30 | BT Sport 1
On the 10th February, Huub Stevens resigned as manager of Hoffenheim on health grounds – Hoffe were only off the bottom of the Bundesliga on goal difference and five points adrift of 16-placed Werder Bremen.
Dour Dutchman Stevens was only brought to the club in late October having replaced the axed Markus Gisdol. Under Gisdol, Hoffenheim favoured a handbrake off, gung-ho approach and unsurprisingly the goals used to flow. Under Stevens, TSG were dull as dishwater and sleepwalking their way to relegation.
The Sinsheim side had hit the headlines earlier in the season when confirming that 28-year-old kid Julian Nagelsmann would take over the head coach’s role for the 2016/17 campaign. But Stevens’ sudden departure saw the youngster parachuted into the role early. Yes, at just 28!
But bloody hell, what an impact Nagelsmann’s made at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Only Bayern Munich (35), Dortmund (33) and Leverkusen (28) claimed more points than Hoffenheim (23) since he’s been calling the shots as Hoffe signed off 2015/16 with W7-D2-L5 to finish above the drop zone.
The hosts lost just three of their final 15 home fixtures but it was the swashbuckling style of the side that really caught the eye. Total goals were as high as 3.21 goals-per-game under the “Mini-Mourinho” as Hoffenheim only failed to score 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 dam 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 side a bit more clout in attacking areas. And I’m keen to continue the Hoffenheim adventure by backing them to win here, as they did in five of their last seven outings at 8/5 with William Hill.
Visitors RB Leipzig, bankrolled by energy drink giant Red Bull have few friends in Germany but the newcomers are planning on a long stay in the German top-flight.
Ralf Rangnick has been replaced by Ralph Hasenhuttl, who did such an amazing job with Ingolstadt in recent years, and the visitors will be hoping to show the same steel as Hasenhuttl’s charges displayed during a memorable 2015/16 campaign.
Leipzig splashed more than £20m on impressive young midfielder Naby Keita and German U21 international Timo Werner this summer but have built a solid squad with plenty of promise.
The guests have been talking a good game for years but when push comes to shove on Sunday, I want the hosts on my side, in more ways than one.
Koln v Darmstadt – Koln to win (4/5 Marathon)
Koln v Darmstadt – Koln to win and Under 2.5 Goals (23/10 Sportingbet)
Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen – Borussia Monchengladbach to win and Both Teams To Score (16/5 888)
Hoffenheim v RB Leipzig – Hoffenheim to win (8/5 William Hill)