The Bundesliga returns from its traditional winter break and we have nine intriguing match-ups to enjoy this weekend. Bayer Leverkusen will be hoping to carry on where they left off in the Hinrunde, while the chasing pack will be looking to put the pressure on. At the other end of the table, those at the bottom will want to make a positive start to 2024 to begin their recoveries.
Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim
Bayern Munich will kick-off the weekend action by trying to close the gap on Bayer Leverkusen and put some early pressure on the current league leaders. They entertain Hoffenheim on Friday night at the Allianz Arena looking to maintain their near-perfect home record this season (only Leverkusen have taken a point from them.
Bayern still have a game in hand over the Werkself due to their match with Union being postponed due to snow. The arrival of Hoffenheim however will see the Rekordmeister on their toes with memories of last season’s 1-1 draw on matchday 28 still fresh and a 2-1 home loss in 2019 in the back of their minds.
The match promises to be an extremely emotive occasion, coming as it does just days after the death of club and German legend Franz Beckenbauer.
Hoffenheim finished the Hinrunde in a respectable seventh place in the table, but with the third best away record in the Bundesliga.
RB Leipzig v Eintracht Frankfurt
After beating Bayern in the Supercup Leipzig were seen as one of the major contenders to challenge for the title this season, but have been a little off the pace finishing fourth and nine points behind Leverkusen. The winter break interrupted an impressive four-game unbeaten run (three wins) and Marco Rose will want to start the year on a positive note to reconfirm RB’s intention to compete for the Meisterschale this season.
Club stalwart Emil Forsberg has departed for New York, but his loss has already been compensated by the signing of Eljif Elmas from Napoli. Leipzig are unbeaten at home against Frankfurt in their seven previous encounters (four wins, three draws).
The Adler were the only side to beat Bayern in the Hinrunde, but were too often inconsistent and unable to put a long winning run together. Dino Toppmöller’s side remain on the fringes of the top five and have already added midfielder Donny van de Beek and striker Sasa Kalajdzic to their ranks. It will be interesting to see which Frankfurt turns up at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday.
Freiburg v Union Berlin
Two of the European qualifiers meet at the Europa Park with Freiburg hosting Union Berlin. Three successive wins in December (all with clean sheets) helped push the Breisgauer nearer to the top six, but a defeat to Heidenheim on matchday 16 saw the year end on a loss (thanks to an injury time own goal).
Last season’s fixture in Freiburg saw the hosts enjoy a 4-1 win, but Union have won twice on their four visits to the Black Forest in the Bundesliga.
Die Eisernen’s tough decision to part company with Urs Fischer did bring about a reaction with new coach Nenad Bejelica achieving two wins out of three, but they are by no means out of the woods and a positive start is a must this weekend if they are to begin their climb back up the table.
Mainz v VfL Wolfsburg
With just one solitary win achieved in the Hinrunde, Mainz more than most need to get the New Year off to a winning start, Firstly it would give their long-suffering fans something to cheer, but it would also help them start to extricate themselves from the relegation zone.
Jan Siewert has been given the trainer post on a permanent basis so at least there is a bit of continuity going forwards, but the new coach needs his forwards to start scoring goals with a measly 13 scored in the Hinrunde.
Wolfsburg are right bang in the middle of the table,, but having lost nine games in the first half of the season, they will be looking to start with a positive result at a struggling Mainz. They began the season in fine form winning three of their first four games, but they dropped off and couldn’t get a run of results together.
Köln v Heidenheim
New Köln trainer Timo Schultz begins his reign at the Rhein Energie Stadion with a home game against Heidenheim. The Billy Goats endured a very disappointing Hinrunde finishing 17th and only kept off the bottom of the pile on goal difference. They had the league’s bluntest attack with a meagre ten goals scored, so that will be an area he needs to improve right from the off.
The transfer embargo confirmed against the club means that he cannot add players and must make do with what he has. Another injury blow to Mark Uth hasn’t helped, and he may have to delve into the club’s pool of young talent.
Heidenheim will be very pleased with the way they settled into life in the Bundesliga and are mixing it in the top half of the table. Nobody will be getting over confident though as a few bad results could see them dragged down amongst the relegation battlers.
Augsburg v Bayer Leverkusen
The next team in front of the Leverkusen steamroller is Augsburg and the Fuggerstädter have the unenviable task of being the first side to inflict defeat on the Werkself this season. They themselves had an upturn in fortunes when Jess Thorup succeeded Enrico Maaßen, but they will need another step up in quality to emerge with anything this weekend.
Xabi Alonso faces his first test without his key players Odilon Kossounou, Edmond Tapsoba, Victor Boniface and Amine Adli this weekend and will have to rejig his starting XI as a result. Luckily for him Patrik Schick looks like he is returning to full fitness and form just at the right time. The trip to Augsburg will be a good indicator as to whether it will be business as usual for Leverkusen.
Darmstadt v Borussia Dortmund
Bottom side Darmstadt host Borussia Dortmund in the late game on Saturday looking to start their New Year’s recovery. The Hinrunde was a real eye-opener for die Lilien with just ten points gained, but they are at home, and you never know what BVB side will show up so they will be hopeful that they can start 2024 with a surprise.
Dortmund enjoyed a fantastic Rückrunde last season which set them up for their push towards the Meisterschale, but they have struggled to replicate that form so far this season and finished fifth going into the winter break. The pressure is mounting on Edin Terzic and the minimum requirement will be three points from their trip to the Böllenfalltor.
Nobody will be expecting Darmstadt to topple Dortmund, which may give Torsten Lieberknecht and his side a bit of an edge. They will use their home advantage to try and catch their visitors cold and a positive result would be the ideal boost to start the second half of the season and put the Hinrunde firmly behind them. If ever there was a banana skin, this would be it.
VfL Bochum v Werder Bremen
Both teams finished the Hinrunde on 16 points and therefore have a six-point cushion over the bottom three, but neither will be totally satisfied at this stage of the season. Bochum achieved two of their three wins in December and will be looking to bring that form into the New Year.
Werder also ended the year quite well with three unbeaten games (one win) and achieved a morale-boosting 1-1 draw at home to RB Leipzig on matchday 17. Coach Ole Werner has called for new signings. Which may give the existing players a kick up the backside as they look to keep their places.
Borussia Mönchengladbach v VfB Stuttgart
The final match of the weekend sees high-flying Stuttgart travel to Mönchengladbach looking to carry on the stunning form that saw them finish third in the table behind title favourites Leverkusen and Bayern.
The big question is whether Sebastian Hoeneß’ side can maintain their impressive form and whether the club can cope without the goals of Serhou Guirassy while he is away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations.
Gladbach are very much still in transition under Gerardo Seoane, but will be disappointed to have finished the Hinrunde in the bottom half of the table. They will need to make home advantage count against the Swabians, who have greatly improved their effectiveness on their travels this season.