Bundesliga Preview, Week 26: Werder Bremen Face Borussia Mönchengladbach In Crucial Six-Pointer

BREMEN GERMANY - JANUARY 15: Torsten Frings of Bremen (R) celebrates the second and decision goal with Clemens Fritz (L) during the Bundesliga match between SV Werder Bremen and 1899 Hoffenheim at Weser Stadium on January 15 2011 in Bremen Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The battle for Europe got slightly less competitive last weekend with wins for Mainz 05 and Hannover 96 that may keep the current top five in those places for the remainder of the season.  However, things have gotten even more interesting at the bottom end of the table, where Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart look capable of escaping the drop after wins last weekend.  'Gladbach travel to Weserstadion this weekend to take on Bremen and St. Pauli host Stuttgart in a pair of six-pointers that could go a long way towards determining who goes down this season.  Further up the table, Bayern Munich look to get back to winning ways against Hamburg, and FC Nürnberg can move level on poiints with their Bavarian rivals as they take on another relegation-threatened side, VfL Wolfsburg.

FC Cologne vs. Hannover 96

Friday, 2:30 PM

Cologne start the weekend off for the second matchday in succession with this Friday kickoff against surging Hannover.  The hosts fell to Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion last week, but only lost by a single goal and will want to build on that at home against Mirko Slomka's side, who beat Bayern Munich convincingly last weekend to cement their claim for third place, the final Champions League spot.  Despite Cologne's good form so far in the second half of the season, they are still just four points above the relegation play-off place, and will want at least a draw in this game to avoid slipping back to their poor form from the first half of the campaign.

Bayern Munich vs. Hamburg SV

Saturday, 9:30 AM, TV: ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com

After Bayern Munich's crushing loss to Hannover 96 last week (their third in eight days), it looked as though Louis van Gaal and his awesome rapping skills would not be gracing the Allianz Arena any more.  However, van Gaal was spared the axe and will continue to manage the Bavarian side until the end of the season.  Now in fifth, five points behind Hannover for the final Champions League place, Bayern desperately need a revival -- and fast.  Hamburg, who held FCB to a 0-0 in the match between these two sides at the Imtech Arena last fall, need a win just as much as their hosts, because defeat to Mainz last week left them five points behind the final European place, which is now occupied by their Bavarian opponents.  Bayern have been very good at the Allianz Arena (with the exception of their games against Dortmund and Schalke) this season, and with the pressure just about as high as it can be, they need a win this weekend and will probably get one.

FC Kaiserslautern vs. SC Freiburg

Saturday, 9:30 AM

A scoreless draw with Frankfurt last week meant that Kaiserslautern have dropped down into seventeenth but remain just a point from safety, while Freiburg's 3-1 defeat against Werder Bremen may have ended their hopes of European football next season.  It was the first time since Week 10 that Freiburg had conceded three goals, and their first home defeat since November.  Both sides need a result here, but 'Lautern are certainly under more pressure as they look for their first victory of 2011.

Schalke 04 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Defeat after an early Zdravko Kuzmanovic penalty faded into insignificance for Schalke as they came back from a goal down at home in midweek to beat Valencia 3-1 and advance to the Champions League quarterfinals.  Eintracht Frankfurt should be quite pleased that they're facing a side with almost nothing to play for in the league, as they still have yet to find the back of the net in 2011 and are now just three points above the drop zone.  Schalke are only two points ahead of Frankfurt in the table, but should be favourites here because of the visitors' terrible form.

TSG Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Let's be honest: this game doesn't matter much.  The only potentially significant point is that Dortmund are still on course to break the Bundesliga points and wins records, and look very much like succeeding on both counts.  Hoffenheim are safely mid-table, and their only sources of motivation will be playing in front of their home crowd and the chance to spoil Dortmund's shot at those records.  Unfortunately for Hoffe, BVB are good, really good, so they'll probably win comfortably.

VfL Wolfsburg vs. FC Nürnberg

Saturday, 9:30 AM

Nürnberg have had a fantastic 2011 so far; they're unbeaten in seven, they've scored thirteen goals in their last four games, and just beat St. Pauli 5-0 last week with Christian Eigler scoring four goals.  Wolfsburg are at the opposite end of the form table with just one win in their last six after a 3-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen.  FCN also have the added motivation that they are within three points of Bayern Munich for the last European place, so the Bavarians should fancy themselves in spite of their poor away record.

Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach

Saturday, 12:30 PM, TV: ESPN3.com

The main event of the weekend is this relegation six-pointer between fourteenth-placed Bremen and last-placed Mönchengladbach.  These sides, the two worst defences in the Bundesliga (110 goals conceded between them), are separated by six points in the table, with 'Gladbach three points from safety and Bremen three above the drop zone after a big win away to SC Freiburg last week.  Borussia also picked up a win on Matchday 25, winning 2-0 against Hoffenheim with a pair of goals in five minutes from Filip Daems (from the penalty spot) and Igor De Camargo.  Bremen have a good chance here and will take heart from their win last week and the 4-1 defeat they inflicted upon 'Gladbach at Borussia-Park back in October.

Mainz 05 vs. Bayer Leverkusen

Sunday, 10:30 AM, TV: GOL TV

Saturday's late kickoff is key in the relegation battle, but this game will probably have a bigger effect on the race for Europe than that match will in the fight against the drop.  Bayer are in second, two points ahead of Hannover 96, while Mainz's come-from-behind victory last weekend over Hamburg SV moved them ahead of Bayern Munich and into fourth.  Victory for die Nullfunfer would move them to within three points of Bayer, but the visitors have been extremely good on their travels and will want to put their midweek defeat to Villareal behind them with a win that would move them closer to next season's Champions League group stage.

St. Pauli vs. VfB Stuttgart

Sunday, 12:30 PM

Although not quite as crucial as Saturday's six-pointer, this game could have significant implications for the relegation battle as well.  St. Pauli are three points ahead of Stuttgart, who are a single point from the safety of fifteenth place after a narrow win over Schalke last weekend.  The hosts, by contrast, were torn apart by Nürnberg in a 5-0 defeat, their third in succession.  St. Pauli also have the second-weakest attack in the league and failed to score in any of those three defeats, while Stuttgart have kept clean sheets in their last two matches.  Form favours the visitors, who have won two of their last three away games after failing to win on the road this season before February, and they could well grab a crucial victory here.

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