In his final Bundesliga preview of the season, Kevin Hatchard examines the relegation battle and the race for Champions League qualification.
"Hoffenheim's problem has been their chaotic defending. They've shipped 66 goals in 33 games, and have the worst away record in the Bundesliga."
Borussia Dortmund vs Hoffenheim, Sat 14:30 BST
Match Odds: Dortmund [1.48], Hoffe [6.8], the draw [5.4]
At the halfway stage of the 2008-2009 Bundesliga season, Hoffenheim were top of the table after a stunning start to their first ever top-flight campaign. A huge cash injection from software tycoon Dietmar Hopp had elevated the club from the fifth tier of German football to the pinnacle of the domestic game. Those days now seem a long way away, with the Sinsheim-based club now looking set to drop out of the Bundesliga. Hopp had predicted a Champions League qualification push at the start of the current campaign - how painfully wide of the mark he was.
So where did it all go wrong? My suspicion is that Hoffenheim never recovered from the acrimonious departure of inspirational coach Ralf Rangnick, who had steered the club from the third tier to the first. Rangnick quit in January 2011 after midfield lynchpin Luis Gustavo was sold to Bayern Munich against his express wishes. Since his departure, Hoffe have had six different coaches (four permanent bosses and two caretakers) and none of them have lived up to Hopp's expectations.
Hopes were high at the start of this campaign, with Markus Babbel in charge of a seemingly strong squad that had been boosted by the arrival of German international keeper Tim Wiese, Bayer Leverkusen striker Eren Derdiyok, promising Real Madrid forward Joselu and Stuttgart defender Mathieu Delpierre. The campaign got off to a disastrous start, as Hoffe were battered 4-0 by Regionalliga Nord outfit Berliner AK 07 in the German Cup. Things got worse in the league, as TSG lost their first three league games. Babbel was sacked in December, but his replacement Marco Kurz also failed to make a suitable impact.
Hoffenheim's biggest problem has been their chaotic defending. I have never seen a Bundesliga team that defends set-pieces so badly, and Wiese's confidence was soon shot to pieces. Opta tell us Hoffe have conceded a league-high 66 goals, an average of two per game. No-one in the division has a worse away record (two wins, three draws, 11 defeats), and Hoffe must win at Borussia Dortmund to have any chance of avoiding the drop.
Anyone who thinks BVB will ease up ahead of the Champions League final has another thing coming. Coach Jurgen Klopp has indicated he will play his strongest side to keep them sharp ahead of the Wembley showdown with Bayern, and there is a desire within the squad to help Robert Lewandowski finish top of the goalscoring charts. The Pole has 23 Bundesliga goals, one fewer than current leader Stefan Kiessling of Bayer Leverkusen.
BVB have won eight of their last nine home games in all competitions, and seven of those wins were by two goals or more. It's hard to see them showing Hoffe any mercy, so backing Dortmund -1.5 on the Asian Handicap looks sensible at [2.0].
Hannover 96 vs Fortuna Dusseldorf, Sat 14:30 BST
Match Odds: Hannover [2.74], Fortuna [2.62], the draw [3.8]
Regular readers will know I have been opposing Fortuna for weeks now, as Norbert Meier's men desperately struggle to escape the relegation dogfight. Fortuna are two points above the automatic dropzone, and only out of the relegation playoff spot on goal difference. They have lost eight of their last 11 matches, conceding 25 goals in that period, and their confidence is at rock-bottom.
Hannover have slipped into mid-table obscurity with a run of one win six matches, and a mixture of injuries and Europa League fatigue has seen Mirko Slomka's men run out of steam. That said, there is absolutely no way they should be a bigger price than Fortuna to win this match, as they have won eight home games and lost just three.
Freiburg vs Schalke, Sat 14:30 BST
Match Odds: Freiburg [2.94], Schalke [2.5], the draw [3.75]
Barring a miraculously big win for Eintracht Frankfurt against Wolfsburg, the final Champions League qualification slot will be filled by either Freiburg or Schalke, who are set for a nailbiting end to the campaign. Freiburg must win to leapfrog the visitors and claim a place in the top four. Schalke fluffed their lines last week as they suffered a shock 2-1 home defeat to Stuttgart, while Christian Streich's Black Forest battlers won 2-1 at Greuther Furth.
The market expects goals, with Under 2.5 Goals trading at a startling [2.58], and No in the Both Teams to Score market available at [2.92]. I suspect this could be a much more tense and tight affair than people think. Streich likes to keep things tight, and his side have conceded just 16 goals at home all season - only Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen have conceded fewer goals on their own patch. Freiburg have also kept nine clean sheets in their last 13 home games. It's also worth considering that backing No in the BTTS market has paid out in each of Schalke's last four away games.