Hoffenheim v Schalke, Bundesliga, August 21, 2009
If Schalke beat Hoffenheim on Friday night in the Bundesliga then the Royal Blues will have already opened up a seven-point lead on German powerhouse Bayern Munich by the time Louis van Gaal’s team next step onto the field. That, however, may be easier said than done.
For the first half of the 2008/09 seaso,n the major story dominating German football was the incredible and unpredictable rise of the Village Team. At the winter break, the then newly-promoted Hoffenheim - a team with no history in German football whatsoever - were sitting top of the Bundesliga. But, after some awful luck during the Christmas break including a season-ending injury to Vedad Ibisevic (11/2 to score first), manager Ralf Rangnick was helpless as his team slid down the table and eventually even out of a European-placed finish.
The summer brought major changes at the Rhein-Neckar Arena, particularly at the back.
Hoffenheim strengthened by snatching Karlsruhe’s highly-rated left-back Christian Eichner to mirror the hugely promising talent of Andreas Beck (12/1 to score) in the right-back position, together with signing vastly experienced Croatian centre-half Josep Simunic from Hertha. And it wasn’t so long ago that Timo Hildebrand joined to take up the post between the sticks. (Hoffenheim are 7/4 to keep a clean sheet.)
Further forward, the same names that stole the headlines last season remain available in the attack. Ibisevic, who netted 18 goals in 17 games before his injury last season, leads the line once more, supported by Demba Ba (2/1 to score), Chinedu Obasi (15/8 to score) and Wellington. Slightly further back in midfield Carlos Eduardo offers a constant outlet ball with his pace down the flanks, while Sejad Salihovic (4/1 to score) is responsible for pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
Yet, with all that said Hoffenheim have begun the new season on the back foot. After coming from behind to draw with Bayern Munich in their opening match of the season, the Village Team then lost 1-nil away at Bayer Leverkusen last weekend. Against Schalke, thus, the hosts will be looking to chalk up their first win of the season.
Winning has been no problem for Schalke this season, Felix Magath’s charges have recorded two from two (winning 2-1 away at Nurnburg and then turning over Bochum 3-0 at home) to place them on top of the Bundesliga at this early stage of the season.
Like Hoffenhiem, Schalke are a team who can boast a hugely talented defence. Between the sticks is reported Manchester United target Manuel Neuer, arguably the best young keeper in Europe. And the custodian is protected by a solid backline of Marcelo Bordon, Carlos Zambrano, Benedikt Hoewedes, and Rafinha (7/1 to score), while the likes of Heiko Westermann, Levan Kobiashvili, and the currently injured Christian Pander wait on the sidelines for their chance to shine.
But what of Schalke’s attack, particularly having regard to the fact that the Royal Blues disappointingly finished eight last term due to an inability to score heavily enough throughout the season.
New manager Felix Magath has so far sought to improve Schalke’s offence by ditching the old 4-3-3 Schalke formation for a fresh-faced 4-4-2 line-up. This has allowed Ivan Rakitic (4/1 to score) to play higher up the field in the hole behind the strikers, while hotshots Jefferson Farfan (7/1 to score first) and Kevin Kuranyi (11/2 to score first) lead the line up-top.
With both Hoffenheim and Schalke being teams who like to play on the break, this match has all the ingredients of being a thrilling contest with goals flying in at either end.
101predicts: Hoffenheim 2 - Schalke 3 (28/1)
Full match odds here.