The Bundesliga returns for week 19, and there are some key things to keep an eye on.
Replacing Mario Götze
Borussia Dortmund announced this week that midfielder Mario Götze will be out until mid-March with a serious injury. The loss of Götze likely won't effect the club as much as one would think. Dortmund have an amazing amount of depth in the attacking midfield position. Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Großkreutz, Ivan Perisic, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and if necessary Antonio da Silva. Not many clubs can boast that amount of quality depth.
If you look at Dortmund's schedule through the middle of March, they manage to avoid their direct competitors for a Champions League place in Bayern Munich, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Schalke. Four of the eight matches in this period are against teams in the bottom half of the table. They should manage to maintain their position around the top of the table until they're back at full strength.
Kuba has continued to prove over the years that he is a quality player and can step in at any time and perform at a top level. His game against Hamburg last week was a prime example of this. I expect Jürgen Klopp will give Dortmund opponents a healthy dose of Kuba over the next copy of weeks.
Hoffenheim Begin Life Without Ibisevic
Bosnian international Vedad Ibisevic was sold by Hoffenheim to Stuttgart this week. Ibisevic wore the Hoffenheim jersey since the 2007-2008 when the club was in the 2.Bundesliga, and he has been the club's best player ever since. This season Ibisevic has 5 goals through only 11 games and is the club's leading goalscorer.
It's no secret that Hoffenheim has struggled to find the back of the net this season. Only lowly Kaiserslautern and Augsburg have scored less than The Hoff this season. To make matters worse, those goals have only been scored by four different players: Ibisevic, Robert Firmino, Ryan Babel, and Sejad Salihović.
They've been rather stout defensively so far this season with only Bayern, Dortmund, and Gladbach conceding less. For Hoffenheim to maintain their mid-table position, they're going to have to find another goalscorer and find him quick.
Will The Empire Strike Back?
Bayern suffered a thorough beating at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach last week. Manuel Neuer put in his worst performance of the season, and the offense seemed to have no idea how to break down a solid Gladbach defense.
Adding to their misery, starting centerback Daniel Van Buyten fractured a metatarsal and is expected to be out of action for six weeks. They're expected to move Jerome Boateng to centerback and start Rafinha at right back. Van Buyten was excellent for the first half of this season and replacing him will not be easy.
Bastian Schweinsteiger's return to the first eleven in a competitive fixture was always going to take some adjusting, but the midfielder showed flashes of his world class ability last week. I expect we'll see him begin to be even more dynamic this week. Jupp Heynckes will need to figure out what to do with Toni Kroos this week. The young German international was playing excellent in Schweinsteiger's absence earlier this year, and he's too important a piece to relegate to the bench.
I really wouldn't want to be Felix Magath's side this weekend.
Friday, January 27
Hannover 96 vs Nürnberg
Saturday, January 28
Bayern Munich vs Wolfsburg
Werder Bremen vs Bayer Leverkusen
Hertha Berlin vs Hamburg
Augsburg vs Kaiserslautern
Borussia Dortmund vs Hoffenheim
Köln vs Schalke
Sunday, January 29
Mainz vs Freiburg
Stuttgart vs Borussia Mönchengladbach