Borussia Dortmund vs. Hamburg SV
Friday, 2:30 PM, TV: ESPN3.com
There is no bigger game this weekend, and no better way to kick off Matchday 12 than this contest between high-flying leaders Dortmund and a Hamburg side that's coming into form. The hosts dismantled Hannover 96 last Sunday, winning 4-0 despite Nuri Sahin missing a penalty, and have looked nearly unstoppable since losing their opening match of the season. If they are not to win the meisterschaft this season (which becomes less and less likely by the week), it is surely games like this one that will undo them. Hamburg knocked off Mainz 05 at the Stadion am Bruchweg several weeks back, and will be looking to pull off a similar feat here. Though the odds seem to be stacked against such a result, HSV managed to come from behind against Hoffenheim last week and should prove rather more resolute opposition for Jürgen Klopp's charges than Hannover did.
FC Cologne vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Saturday, 9:30 AM
Bottom against second-bottom -- you can't find much more of a six-pointer than this. After a brief revival under new coach Frank Schaefer, Cologne were soundly and deservedly beaten 3-1 by Nuremburg last weekend, while 'Gladbach broke a long stretch of awful form by snatching a draw at home to Bayern Munich. However, the champions missed a penalty and still put three past the worst defence in the Bundesliga, snatching a late point through Philipp Lahm. This should be at least an entertaining contest; with the worst and third-worst defences in the league there should be quite a few goals. Both sides have some quality going forward, but a high-scoring draw that does neither side much good in the quest for safety may be on the cards.
Kaiserslautern vs. Stuttgart
Saturday, 9:30 AM
What to make of Stuttgart? They dished out another massive thrashing -- 6-0 against Werder Bremen -- and now have a positive goal difference, but still have all the marks of an inconsistent team. 'Lautern, too, have been a bit of an enigma; they've beaten some teams that they were expected to ('Gladbach), and some they weren't (FC Bayern), but haven't been playing consistently well. They went a goal up at the BayArena last week, but the hosts came roaring back to claim all three points in a 3-1 win. Stuttgart should be favourites here given the way they played last week, but a reversion to the form that has them in 14th place is quite possible.
St. Pauli vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Saturday, 9:30 AM
Jupp Heynckes and Bayer Leverkusen deserve a lot of credit for the way they have weathered some inconsistent form and serious injury problems in the opening part of the campaign. Despite their difficulties, Bayer are in third place, just three points in arrears of Mainz 05, and looking like title challengers. They face the second of the two promoted sides this week after coming from behind to beat 'Lautern last Sunday, and should be favourites against a St. Pauli side who have conceded six goals in their last two games. The hosts fell 3-0 to Schalke last Friday and created almost nothing going forward -- the same fate may befall them here. Leverkusen are in good form even without a number of key players, and will want to take over second before Mainz take on Hannover in the late kickoff.
Wolfsburg vs. Schalke 04
Saturday, 9:30 AM, TV: ESPN Deportes (late start), ESPN3.com
Both of these sides have the quality to be challenging for European football this season, but neither has been able to establish the consistency needed to push for a top-five place. Wolfsburg fell to high-flying Frankfurt last week, while Schalke chalked up their biggest win of the league season with a 3-0 victory over St. Pauli. While Schalke's performance was not quite convincing, they should have quite a good chance here given Wolfsburg's inconsistent home form. As a side note, this is another example of TV stations not knowing much about the games they pick - this is probably the least interesting of all the Saturday morning kickoffs.
Werder Bremen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
After their 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Stuttgart, the last thing that Werder Bremen need is to play a team that has scored three or more goals in four of their last five, but that's exactly the opposition that will be visiting the Weserstadion as Frankfurt come to town. Theofanis Gekas has scored six goals in his last three games, and he will be confident of adding to that tally against the second-worst defence in the Bundesliga. Torsten Frings missed a penalty that would have levelled the match against Stuttgart, but the defending for Bremen was simply not good enough, and unless their attacking players improve (Marko Marin and Aaron Hunt were peripheral figures) to get some goals, Bremen will struggle mightily this season. Their problems have been compounded by the news that Claudio Pizarro will be out for several weeks, and Frankfurt should consider this game extremely winnable given their excellent form.
Mainz 05 vs. Hannover 96
Saturday, 12:30 PM, TV: GOL TV (tape delay)
Mainz have gone off the boil since losing to Hamburg, winning just once and falling from first to four points behind Dortmund (and getting knocked out of the Pokal). Fortunately for them, Hannover, have also fallen off the pace after a strong start and have been very poor defensively. After being thrashed 4-0 by Hoffenheim two weeks ago, Dortmund inflicted another four-goal defeat on Mirko Slomka's team at home last weekend. Hannover may be inspired by the memory of Robert Enke, who committed suicide a year ago this past Wednesday, but they will need a significantly improved performance to beat Mainz, who will surely get back to winning ways after their poor spell.
Hoffenheim vs. SC Freiburg
Sunday, 9:30 AM
After seeing their role as the third horse in the title race taken away by Leverkusen last weekend (at least for the week) Hoffenheim will want to rebound against Freiburg, who have continued to perform beyond all expectations. A Sejad Salihovic penalty gave the hosts an early lead against Hamburg last week, but HSV roared back with a goal in first-half stoppage time and a winner from Mladen Petric seven minutes from time, and deserved their three points. Hoffenheim can fall into a defensive shell when they have the lead, but should be wary of that tact against the prolific Pappiss Demba Cissé, who has scored nine goals this season and is only second to Gekas in the top scorer charts. Freiburg pulled off another surprise win last week as they defeated Mainz by a single goal (a Cissé penalty), and though Hoffenheim will deserve to be favourites, it would be foolish to count out the visitors.
Bayern Munich vs. Nuremberg
Sunday, 11:30 AM, TV: GOL TV (tape delay)
It's not often that Nuremberg come into the Bavarian derby two points ahead of FC Bayern this deep into the season, but the visitors are ahead of reigning champions and will do whatever they can to extend that advantage against a Bayern side that is slowly getting some key players back from injury. The champions were held 3-3 in 'Gladbach last weekend, but threw away a halftime lead and Bastian Schweinsteiger missed a penalty. Nürnberg, by contrast, dismantled Köln in a 3-1 victory as Ilkay Gündogan scored his fourth goal in three league games. The visitors have the quality to make a good game of this and have only failed to score twice this season. Although Breno and Diego Contento are close to comebacks, Bayern's starting backline will probably be unchanged, and FCN should take heart from knowing that they will be facing Daniel Van Buyten and Martin Demichelis in central defence. On the positive side for Louis van Gaal's team, Nürnberg have yet to win at the Allianz Arena, and have only beaten FCB once in the past decade. Mario Gómez has scored five in the last three games in all competitions, and given Bayern's leaky defence, they will probably need him to get on the score-sheet again Sunday if the hosts are to keep up in the race for European spots.