The big games in the Bundesliga this weekend take place in Gelsenkirchen and Wolfsburg. Friday features Schalke hosting Mainz at the Veltins Arena. Saturday's showcase has Bayer Leverkusen visiting the Volkswagen Arena to face Wolfsburg.
Schalke will be targeting their fifth straight win to start the Rückrunde when Mainz come to town on Friday evening. Somehow... Someway... Jens Keller has figured out how to put things together on the field and the team is producing as a result. One of the biggest positives has been the return of Klaas Jan Huntelaar to the lineup. The Dutchman has evolved his game somewhat since returning and is focusing more on his hold up play and distribution rather than being the old battering ram that he used to be. Huntelaar's return allowed Kevin Prince Boateng to drop deeper into the midfield. The young midfield trio of Julian Draxler, Maxi Meyer, and Leon Goretzka have continued to come into their own, and Meyer's development is making it more and more likely that Schake will be "okay" if Draxler departs this summer.
However, one can't ignore the change in goal. Keller dropped Timo Hildebrand in favor of Ralf Fährmann, and the team's improvement has coincided with this move. Fährmann isn't a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he commands the backline and gives the defense a confidence that Hildebrand never seemed able to give them.
Mainz have three wins and one loss since returning from the winter break, but that one loss was a 0-3 drubbing at the hands of Wolfsburg. Though, Thomas Tuchel has kept the team focused, and they remain only one point back of Borussia Mönchengladbach for the final Europa League spot.
Knowing when the pull the trigger on a substitute is a great aspect for a coach to have. Tuchel has done well in recent weeks in mastering it. Last week, he brought off Park Joo-Ho for Maxim Choupo-Moting, and the Cameroonian delivered with a goal into stoppage time to secure a victory over Hannover. With the number of attacking players at Tuchel's disposal, being able to get the correct guys out there is an improving aspect to his coaching game.
In Wolfsburg, Leverkusen will be looking to get out of the funk that's bogged them down since returning from the winter break. They've only managed two wins out of six, and this includes crashing out of the DFB Pokal against the 2.Bundesliga's Kaiserslautern and being thrashed midweek in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain.
Die Wölfe, on the other hand, has three wins out of four since returning for the Rückrunde. Dieter Hecking has them poised to qualify for European football for next season, and that's not necessarily something that most would've thought possible at the beginning of the season. Plus, if certain results go their way this weekend, they can find themselves one point out of a Champions League place this weekend.
Friday, February 21
Schalke vs Mainz
Saturday, February 22
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Hoffenheim
Freiburg vs Augsburg
Nürnberg vs Eintracht Braunschweig
Hamburg vs Borussia Dortmund
Stuttgart vs Hertha Berlin
Wolfsburg vs Bayer Leverkusen
Sunday, February 23
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Werder Bremen
Hannover vs Bayern Munich