Bundesliga Betting: Title chasers to make a searing start
The Bundesliga returns on Saturday, and our regular columnist Kevin Hatchard's been taking a look at the 14:30 kick-offs...
Red Bulls to trample visitors
RB Leipzig v Freiburg Saturday 16 May, 14:30 Live on Betfair Live Video and BT Sport
Although RB Leipzig shone in the Champions League just before the winter break, they were somewhat limping along when the curtain came down on the Bundesliga season. A run of two wins in seven league matches had seen the initiative handed to Bayern Munich in the title race. It's not a surprise that Leipzig haven't quite been able to fully focus on two different objectives - they are still adjusting what excellent young coach Julian Nagelsmann wants from them, and he's still finding out what his charges are capable of, like a driver pushing his flash new sports car to the limit.
The one thing Leipzig have excelled at this term is duffing up the chaff. They tend to beat the sides they are expected to vanquish, and when they win in the Bundesliga, they tend to win big. Of their 14 league victories this term, 12 have been by at least two goals.
Freiburg have once again outperformed expectations, and they are arguably just one win from safety. Qualification for the Europa League would be a huge bonus, but there were signs before the suspension of the league that the wheels on the Black Forest wagon were starting to fracture. SCF have lost six of their last 11 top-flight matches, and they failed to even score in five of those defeats. We're yet to see how home and away form will be affected by the lack of fans, but Freiburg have only won one of their last nine road matches at this level.
In-demand forward Timo Werner is fit and keen to add to his 21 league goals, and although key defender Dayot Upamecano is suspended, Ibrahima Konate could feature after a long battle with injury. I'll back the hosts to win by at least a couple of goals.
Bruno to avoid knockout blow
Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin Saturday 16 May, 14:30 Live on Betfair Live Video and BT Sport
If this season at Hertha Berlin had been made into a fly-on-the-wall documentary, it would have made for truly gripping drama. The Hertha man (Ante Covic) who got the dream job and blew it, the diva with the Californian twang (Jurgen Klinsmann) who came, achieved little, stomped his feet and left. The likeable underdog (Alex Nouri) who did his best but didn't quite hit the mark, and then the suave rescuer (Bruno Labbadia) who sweeps in and prepares to win the day. Yes, The Last Dance is great, but does it feature a giant bear (Herthinho) with a Brazilian name? I think not.
In Labbadia, Hertha finally have a coach who can organise them effectively (they had one last term in Pal Dardai, but needlessly jettisoned him) and who can get the best out of a talented squad. Matheus Cunha and Krzysztof Piatek can give the capital club the cutting edge they so desperately need, and Labbadia has a proven ability to smooth out defensive kinks.
You could combine the deductive powers of Hercules Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Jessica Fletcher, and you still wouldn't unravel the mystery that is Hoffenheim. At their best, they have beaten both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund this term, but the same squad with the same coach managed to lose 5-1 at home to a Mainz side that played the second half with ten men.
What we do know is that Hoffenheim went into the suspension with a five-match winless run, their worst sequence of the league campaign, and they struggle more at home than they do on the road. To make matters worse, Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric is out injured, and he is arguably TSG's most influential player.
You can back Hertha and the draw on the Double Chance market here at 1.79, and I think that's a sensible play.
Basement battle to entertain
Fortuna Dusseldorf v Paderborn Saturday 16 May, 14:30 Live on Betfair Live Video and BT Sport
With just nine games left, rock-bottom Paderborn are running out of chances to dig themselves out of trouble. Popular coach Steffen Baumgart, who took the club from the third tier to the first in just two seasons, has stuck to his attack-minded style. You could look at the bare numbers (17 defeats in 25 league games, and just 16 points) and declare the season a failure, but the fact that Paderborn still have a chance of staying up this deep into the season is a bit of a miracle. They have a miniscule playing budget, and the squad has very little experience of the top tier.
Fortuna started to get their act together under new coach Uwe Rosler before the enforced break. In attack, the likes of Erik Thommy and Kenan Karaman (who missed most of the season with pneumonia) began to sparkle, but the defence continues to spring leaks. The concession of a 3-0 lead in a 3-3 draw with Hertha Berlin showcased that there is still work to do.
Fortuna are in the playoff spot, six points better off than Paderborn, and I suspect both teams will see this as a rare chance to push for a win. 15 of Paderborn's 25 games in the league have featured at least three goals, a record mirrored by Fortuna.