There are six Bundesliga teams still fighting in the knockout stages of European competition, and as domestic form is a decent indicator of team strength (Borussia Dortmund, notwithstanding), Susie Schaaf delves into just how this group of Germans have been faring of late.
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Champions League Round of 16
Shaktar Donetsk v Bayern Munich
Though die Roten began the second half of their season sluggishly – losing to Wolfsburg 4-1, drawing with Schalke 04 1-1, and a ho-hum victory over VfB Stuttgart 2-0 – any slight misgivings of a ‘crisis’ were dispelled quickly as Bayern showed no love for Hamburger SV on Valentine’s Day, crushing them 8-0.
Questions surround the suitability of Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger as a midfield partnership, with some likening the duo to England’s Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – two gifted men that could never quite figure out how to play together. The match sample size is too small, currently, to correctly make that assessment.
The first tie in Lviv might be closer than one would expect, but Munich can be fairly confident of going through to the quarter-finals.
Schalke 04 v Real Madrid
Former Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo took the Schalke job last October and is gradually impressing his 2012 Champions League-winning style on the Royal Blues XI. An ultra-defensive 5-4-1 formation may not be very exciting to watch for the neutrals, but it is stultifying effective.
Since the beginning of the Rueckrunde, Schalke narrowly beat mid-table Hannover 1-0, drew with ten-man Bayern 1-1, grabbed an early winner over Borussia Moenchengladbach, before dropping three points to Eintracht Frankfurt, 1-0.
Not many (if any) give Schalke a shot going forward against Madrid, but if they can steal a result at home, anything can happen.
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Juventus v Borussia Dortmund
If there were ever a puzzle to figure out, Dortmund would be it. After topping Group D, they’ve only lately – finally! – climbed out of the Bundesliga relegation zone. Their domestic form has been at odds with their European form, to say the least.
Juergen Klopp’s men have enjoyed two victories on the bounce – a 3-0 win over SC Freiburg, and a 4-2 victory against Mainz 05. The healthy-again central midfield pairing of Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Guendogan have injected creativity that was sorely lacking, along with winter signing Kevin Kampl.
The pairing of Juventus and Dortmund may be the toughest one to pick in the Champions League bunch. It all depends on which BvB shows up.
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid
The luster may have worn out for some as coach Roger Schmidt has tactically overhauled Leverkusen this season. They’re the latest Bundesliga side to full-press, but it’s been an unsteady set of results. Schmidt flirted with a 4-4-2 (double pivot) against Bayern and Dortmund, but that only got Bayer a loss and a scoreless draw.
The Pharmaceuticals current form is a bit troubling – losing 2-1 to Werder Bremen and 5-4 against Wolfsburg – an absolute heartbreaker. Bayer haven’t quite figured out how to press for a full 90 minutes but the talented roster has kept them within sniffing distance of the top four.
Atletico have looked imperious at times, especially against Real Madrid. Over two legs it would be difficult to see Leverkusen going through.
Europa League Round of 32
Sevilla v Borussia Moenchengladbach
‘Gladbach started the season strongly, with some thinking that they might be the ones to challenge a rampant Bayern for the Bundesliga title.
Lucien Favre’s team suffered a mini-crisis towards the end of the first half of the season, but now have rather quietly moved back into the league’s third spot.
With just 28 goals scored over 21 matches, they boast the second-strongest defence, giving up just 17 – thanks in no small part to the excellent goalkeeping of Yann Sommer.
Favre has done an excellent job keeping his club in European competition, despite losing his best players every season. If Sommer can string together a couple more fine performances, the Foals just might see the Round of 16.
Wolfsburg v Sporting CP
There isn’t a hotter team in the league right now than Wolfsburg. They got the world’s attention after crushing Bayern Munich 4-1 to kick off the second half of the season, and have not looked back.
A slight hiccup – drawing to Frankfurt – followed, but a win over 1899 Hoffenheim and a last-gasp victory over Leverkusen (easily the most entertaining match in the league this season), keeps Dieter Hecking’s side squarely in second place.
If not for the excellence of Munich’s Arjen Robben, Kevin de Bruyne would certainly be the Bundesliga’s best player. With 15 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, the former Chelsea midfielder complements a strong attack.
Right now, you could stack almost anyone against Wolfsburg and come out a loser. If the Wolves can keep their pace up, they just might win the competition.
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