Bundesliga Preview, Week 23: Bayern Munich Visit Mainz 05 In Battle For Champions League Places

MUNICH GERMANY - FEBRUARY 12: Bastian Schweinsteiger (R) of Muenchen battles for the ball with Andreas Ibertsberger of Hoffenheim during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and 1899 Hoffenheim at Allianz Arena at Allianz Arena on February 12 2011 in Munich Germany. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Bongarts/Getty Images)

FC Nürnberg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Friday, 2:30 PM, TV: ESPN Derportes, ESPN3.com

Eintracht Frankfurt are in free-fall; last week's 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen was their fourth in five games since the winter break, and they haven't scored a Bundesliga goal in 2011.  At the other end of the form table, Nürnberg have been on a strong run recently, with three wins from their last three, including a 4-1 victory away to VfB Stuttgart last week.  The hosts will definitely feel that they are favourites here -- not only are Frankfurt on a very poor run of results, but Nürnberg have re-established their strong home form with victories and clean sheets against Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg SV in their last two games at the EasyCredit Stadion.

Borussia Dortmund vs. St. Pauli

Saturday, 9:30 AM, TV: GOL TV

For the first time in the 2010-11 season, Borussia Dortmund have dropped points in two consecutive games.  They looked to have snatched a late winner in Kaiserslautern through Sven Bender's first goal of the season, but Jan Morávek scored in the final minute of normal time to deny BVB a record eleventh away win of the season.  St. Pauli are unbeaten in 2011, and wins last weekend against Borussia Mönchengladbach and in the rescheduled Hamburg derby midweek have moved them five points clear of the relegation zone in eleventh place.  This won't be an easy game for Dortmund, mainly because of St. Pauli's strong form, but BVB should be able to get back on track in front of the boisterous home crowd at the Westfalenstadion.

Hamburg SV vs. Werder Bremen

Saturday, 9:30 AM

This is the second derby in a week for Hamburg SV after they fell 1-0 to St. Pauli in the Hamburg Derby on Wednesday.  That defeat has made it much harder for them to qualify for European football next season, as they are now four points behind Mainz 05, who occupy the final Europa League place.  Bremen came out on top in the first Nordderby of the season, winning a crazy match 3-2 thanks to a late goal by Hugo Almeida after HSV had come back from 2-0 down, and Werder battled to a draw at home against Hannover last week.  However, they are only two points above the relegation play-off place and haven't won in four games (albeit against some good opponents), making a win for Hamburg doubly sweet -- not only could they get back into the European race, they could also drop their rivals into the bottom three.  Bremen simply need to tighten up at the back or relegation will be a very realistic possibility.

Hannover 96 vs. FC Kaiserslautern

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Didier Ya Konan's eleventh goal of the season wasn't enough for Hannover to claim victory at the Weserstadion last week; his first-half strike was canceled out by a goal from Per Mertesacker after the interval, and Bremen survived to claim a point and keep Hannover from retaking third place.  Kaiserslautern will be in considerably more positive spirits; they are in the relegation play-off place, but only goal difference separates them from safety after a fantastic equalizer from Jan Morávek rescued a point against Dortmund in the ninetieth minute.  Hannover should prove a fairly robust challenge for 'Lautern, who are still without a win in 2011.

SC Freiburg vs. VfL Wolfsburg

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Freiburg fell to defeat last week at the Veltins Arena, but because Mainz also lost they are still just three points behind die Nullfunfer for the last European spot.  The goals seem to have dried up for Freiburg; they've scored just twice in their last four games and talismanic striker Papiss Cissé is scoreless in his last three matches.  Wolfsburg are in considerably more trouble after their defeat at home to Hamburg; the 2009 champions are above the relegation zone by just one goal.  Freiburg have been doing far better than anyone has expected, and while a European place looks to be slipping away, they should be able to beat a disjointed and impotent Wolfsburg.

TSG Hoffenheim vs. FC Cologne

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Cologne have found their shooting boots -- seven goals in the last two games have brought six very valuable points and a two-point buffer with the relegation zone, while Hoffenheim have made an indifferent start to the second half of the season and were thrashed at the Allianz Arena by Bayern Munich last week.  They haven't kept a clean sheet at home since October, and have won just one of their last five games at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.  Cologne have built some momentum and will certainly give their hosts a stern test here.

Mainz 05 vs. Bayern Munich

Saturday, 12:30 PM, TV: ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes (tape delay)

Bayern Munich bounced back with a 4-0 win last week over Hoffenheim, which was enough to re-claim third place as Mainz lost 4-2 in Cologne and Hannover dropped two points.  Mainz look distinctly like a team in slow collapse; they are far from the team that pressed FCB relentlessly on the way inflicting Bayern's only defeat at the Allianz Arena all season.  Of course the Bavarians are a very different side on their travels, and while they have improved, the 3-2 defeat against Cologne two weeks ago was a stark reminder that they are still vulnerable away from the Allianz Arena.  Bayern should be slight favourites, but another collapse on the road is not out of the question.

Bayer Leverkusen vs. VfB Stuttgart

Sunday, 9:30 AM, TV: GOL TV

This could hardly have been a better week for Bayer Leverkusen; after beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0, they traveled to the frigid climes of Kharkiv and ripped Metalist apart in a 4-0 first leg victory that means they are nearly through to the Europa League Round of 16.  Stuttgart have not been as fortunate.  Nürnberg thrashed them last weekend, and although they took the lead away to Benfica in midweek, two goals in the final twenty minutes meant that their hosts will take a one-goal lead into the second leg.  Stuttgart are now four points from safety, and every defeat makes relegation look more probable.  They have the second-worst home defence in the league, while Leverkusen have the second-best attack on their travels; Bayer certainly should (and probably will) win this game.

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Schalke 04

Sunday, 11:30 AM

Schalke haven't been scoring many goals, but they have made sure those strikes count.  A 1-0 win last week against Freiburg kept them in tenth place, and a vital away goal by Raúl (his seventieth in Europe, tying Filippo Inzaghi's record for the most in European competitions) earned die Königsblauen a 1-1 draw with Valencia.  Borussia Mönchengladbach had been taking the first steps of a great escape out of the relegation zone, but consecutive defeats in six-pointers have left them a daunting seven points from safety, and the little improvement 'Glabach showed defensively in their first few games of 2011 has disappeared as they conceded three in each of their last two games.  Schalke haven't been great on their travels this season and have had particular problems in front of goal, but 'Gladbach are pathetic at the back, so Felix Magath should have a pleasant Facebook status by Sunday evening (if you're confused, read this).

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