Bundesliga: Round 16 - Testing times for the top three
League leaders Bayern Munich face a real challenge from an on-fire Freiburg, while RB Leipzig look to redeem themselves after last week's loss. Rounding out the top three, Leverkusen faces a serious challenge, and possible upset, from Union Berlin.
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Round 16 action
Last weekend might have been a huge turning point for Borussia Dortmund. First, on Friday night Borussia Monchengladbach beat Bayern Munich 3-2 to open up the Bundesliga title race. Then on Saturday Edin Terzic pulled off a surprise 3-1 win at RB Leipzig, the team most believed were best placed to challenge Bayern. Dortmund are now a mere five points off the top of the table.
Elsewhere, Freiburg’s exceptional form continued with a 5-0 win over FC Koln that made it five victories in a row ahead of their trip to the league leaders this weekend, although arguably the biggest story of the weekend was at the bottom of the table.
Schalke 04 have finally won a game, becoming the last first-division outfit in Europe to do so in 2020-21. It took them 15 matches, and yet remarkably their emphatic 4-0 win over Hoffenheim gives Schalke hope of survival. They are only six points behind Arminia Bielefeld in 15th.
Here are three previews of matches this weekend.
Bayern Munich v Freiburg
Freiburg are on fire. Their sharp counter-attacking philosophy has worked wonders in recent weeks as tired opponents fail to cope with their sturdy defence and ruthless attack. Christian Streich’s side - sitting eighth - are closing in on the Champions League places after five consecutive wins, with winger Vincenzo Grifo (seven goals, four assists) in particularly good form on the break.
That is a big worry for Bayern, a team wobbling again after their defeat to Monchengladbach. Freiburg will be very good at sitting deep to nullify the quicker, nimbler Bayern attackers like Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane, which might be enough to prevent the league leaders from scoring. Worse still for Hans-Dieter Flick, Bayern’s defence isn’t particularly strong at the moment.
Jonas Hofman and Lars Stindl were superb on the counter last weekend and Freiburg can use that as a model, buoyed by the fact that Bayern have conceded in each of their last five games, with eight in total scored past Manuel Neuer. Freiburg have every chance of an upset.
Wolfsburg v RB Leipzig
Sixth-placed Wolfsburg are certainly not in the best form at the moment, winning just two of their last six Bundesliga matches, and were beaten quite easily by Borussia Dortmund the last time they played one of the big clubs. Wolfsurg are huffing and puffing through the winter, their 4-2-3-1 having lost its counter-attacking pace, leaving them too flat.
That is good news for RB Leipzig, still sitting second, and keen to recover from defeat to Dortmund last weekend. Prior to the Dortmund game (an anomaly simply because Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, and Marco Reus were outstanding), Leipzig had recorded five consecutive clean sheets in all competitions. Consequently Julien Nagelsmann’s side should be able to comfortably keep Wolfsburg’s jaded attackers at arms’ length.
But there is a twist. Wolfsburg have only conceded 17 league goals this season, the third-fewest in the league, and their deep-lying formation could stunt Leipzig’s forwards. Nagelsmann’s side have scored just three goals in their last four Bundesliga games. A low-scoring game beckons.
Union Berlin v Bayer Leverkusen
Union’s superb season continues, and they are now fifth in the table after a commendable 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg, extending their unbeaten run to five. This certainly won’t be an easy game for third-placed Leverkusen, not least because the hosts are very tight defensively and play a frustrating style of long-ball football that should jar with the visitor’s desire to gegenpress.
What’s more, Leverkusen’s 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen extended their winless run to three, all but ending their hopes of challenging for the Bundesliga title. This gives Union an advantage, and in a low-scoring game they should be able to take the three points.
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