Dortmund casting for managers, a Champions League play-off in France, and Benevento's prospects of a first win have James Horncastle's attention this week, as he brings us his regular preview of the key European action...
"Saturday evening’s game in Dortmund is another chance for Nagelsmann to impress his potential employers."
Nagelsmann's Dortmund audition
Some observers were baffled by Dortmund's decision to replace Peter Bosz with a manager who bottom club Cologne sacked only a week earlier. But the board judged the job Peter Stoger did there in its entirety.
He was on their shortlist in the summer, winning admiration not only for achieving promotion and qualifying Cologne for Europe, but bringing stability to a yo-yo club in a football-mad town. The 51-year-old is understandably grateful for the opportunity and has the skillset Dortmund need at the moment. Stoger knows how to organise a defence and make a team hard to beat. All things that had started to elude Bosz.
His impact has been instant. On Tuesday, Dortmund got a win and a clean sheet in Mainz. Things are already looking up. This weekend they play Hoffenheim at Signal Iduna Park, which is being portrayed in some quarters as a job interview for Julian Nagelsmann. He is the favourite to be Dortmund manager next season. Stoger's deal is only until the end of the current campaign [with an option to extend should he continue to impress].
Hoffenheim are ahead of Dortmund by a point in the Bundesliga and hope to compete for another shot at Champions League qualification. The Hoff missed out in the preliminaries this year, losing to Liverpool, and there is a sense Nagelsmann has some unfinished business before taking the next step in his career.
Once the leading candidate to replace Jupp Heynckes at Bayern, the board now seem undecided on Germany's coaching wunderkind. Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness can't agree on the matter. Dortmund on the other hand are in no doubt and the wholeheartedness of their belief in Nagelsmann is expected to end with him accepting an offer from them.
Saturday evening's game in Dortmund is another chance for him to impress his potential employers. Hoffenheim have been poor on the road this year, winning just twice. But then you wonder if they might be able to catch out a Dortmund side that will still be getting used to Stoger. Hoffenheim are [2.84] on Double Chance.
Champions League play-off in France
With the title race all but over in France, the principal interest lies in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
Lyon, Marseille and Monaco are all tied on 35 points at the moment although it would be very surprising if they're still neck-and-neck come the end of this weekend. That's because two members of this tightly packed trio go head-to-head at the Parc OL on Sunday night in what should be a great game.
Both Lyon and Marseille need a pick-me-up after going out of the Coupe de la Ligue in midweek. A lacklustre, second string Lyon side was humiliated 4-1 by Montpellier while Marseille ended up losing on penalties to Rennes. No positives could be taken from a Lyon point of view. As for Marseille, though, it was a different story.
Their much-maligned strikers Kostas Mitroglou and Valerie Germain got on the scoresheet and Clinton N'Jie set up both goals. So dependent on Florian Thauvin this season, the signs of Marseille's attack finally clicking was a welcome and timely development with Lyon nearing on the horizon.
Unbeaten in 12 league games, Rudi Garcia's side are in better form than the Lille side that won at the Parc OL at the end of November. They have scored in every game on the road this season in Ligue 1 and Thauvin is at his best on the counter-attack. Lyon have been inconsistent in recent weeks. Bruno Genesio wants to find a place for the very talented Tanguy Ndombele. However, striking the right balance is proving quite the conundrum.
It's an issue for Lyon, just as the tiredness Marseille accumulated in midweek is for them. The draw looks appetising at @ [3.55].
A Witches' Brew
After claiming their first point of the season a fortnight ago with a stoppage time equaliser against AC Milan from goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli, surely the time has come for Benevento to clinch a first ever top flight win.
They've been desperately unlucky at times. Defeats against Sassuolo and Cagliari arrived after the 90th minute, nine of their 16 losses have been by just a single goal and injuries to key players like Amato Ciciretti and Marco D'Alessandro have held them back.
This weekend The Witches face fellow promoted side SPAL at the Ciro Vigorito and Benevento absolutely have to get something out of this game if they are to keep their already feint hopes of survival alive in Serie A.
Cadetto champions SPAL are third bottom but can go 14 points clear of their opponents with a first win of the season on the road. It was their 110th birthday last weekend and Verona very nearly made them cry. Two-nil down at the Mazza, Leonardo Semplici's side came roaring back and grabbed what turned out to be a precious point particularly with Crotone losing to Sassuolo.
Although Benevento lost in Udine they showed plenty of heart. The 20 shots they attempted was a club record this season and there is a sense Roberto de Zerbi's side have been emboldened by the performance against Milan.
Benevento beat SPAL here 2-0 last season with goals from Ciciretti and George Puscas. You can back them to claim a first victory of the campaign just before Christmas @ [2.82] on the Exchange.