The Bundesliga returns from the long, cold, and boring winter break when Schalke hosts Hannover on Friday.
The winter break is finally over, and the clubs in Germany's top flight return the pitch starting on Friday. The big news so far in the transfer window involves the biggest clubs. Bayern Munich stole the headlines of the football world this week with the announcement that former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola would be taking over the club starting this summer. Borussia Dortmund was able to announce extensions for Neven Subotic and Sven Bender in addition to the announcement that Nuri Sahin would be returning to the club on loan from Real Madrid. Schalke received a mixed bag of news. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar signed a contract extension, but Lewis Holtby signed a pre-contract with Tottenham and will be leaving the club this summer.
Let's get to the weekend's matches.
Friday, January 18
Schalke vs Hannover - 20:30 CET / 2:30 PM EST
Schalke ended the first half season on a disastrous run that included five losses out of eight games. They'll start 2013 with a tough match as Hannover comes to Gelsenkirchen. If Schalke will be looking to get any points in the contest, they'll have to do so without four starters. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jermaine Jones will miss the contest due to suspension while Marco Höger, Ibrahim Afellay, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos will miss the match due to injury. Hannover will be without captain Steve Cherundolo due to a knee injury. However, you know that I'm a huge fan of Mame Biram Diouf. He'll be involved in the goals in a big way.
Prediction: Schalke 1 - 2 Hannover
Saturday, January 19
These were two of the most impressive sides in the first half of the Bundesliga season without a doubt. Bayer Leverkusen were solid the length of the season and found themselves second place in the table, but nine full points behind Bayern Munich. Eintracht Frankfurt were a big surprise as the newly promoted side managed to remain at the top of the table. This match will be very entertaining and will likely be the match of the weekend.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 3 - 2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Hoffenheim vs Borussia Mönchengladbach - 15:30 CET / 9:30 AM EST
Hoffenheim leaked goals like a sieve in the first half of the season, and new manager Marco Kurz has a responsibility to get things back on the right track and save Hoffenheim from relegation. They're a mess defensively, and it's tough to see a way for them to shore up that back line. Borussia Mönchengladbach have the players that can break down this Hoffenheim backline. Juan Arango is a star and doesn't get enough publicity for his amazing skill.
Prediction: Hoffenheim 1 - 2 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Wolfsburg vs Stuttgart - 15:30 CET / 9:30 AM EST
Wolfsburg really struggled to start the season, and it led to the firing of head coach Felix Magath. They put together a nice run at the end of the season under interim manager Lorenz-Günther Köstner. Dieter Hecking left Nürnberg to take over Wolfsburg during the winter break. Ivan Perisic joined the club from Borussia Dortmund, and adds another dimension to what should be a fairly decent attack. Stuttgart was floating around in mediocrity for the first half of the season, and you know that I thought they would be much better. I expect more from them, but I also think Wolfsburg will be improved with Hecking in charge now.
Prediction: Wolfsburg 1 - 1 Stuttgart
Mainz vs Freiburg - 15:30 CET / 9:30 AM EST
Both clubs pulled into the last two Europa League positions on Matchday 17, just ahead of more established clubs like Schalke, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Stuttgart. Thomas Tuchel and Christian Streich have done fantastic jobs navigating their clubs through the first half of the season and deserve all the praise being thrown their way. I'm giving you two players to watch in this match. Mainz's Adam Szalai has been in an elite class so far this season, and he has nine goals to his name. Freiburg's Jan Rosenthal didn't see any serious minutes until the middle of November, but he came on strong as the first half of the season came to an end. His two goals against Schalke helped Mainz win, and he likely put the final nail in Huub Stevens coffin as Schalke manager.
Prediction: Mainz 1 - 1 Freiburg
Bayern Munich vs Greuther Fürth - 15:30 CET / 9:30 AM EST
Bayern Munich announced the on Wednesday that Pep Guardiola would be taking over this summer after Jupp Heynckes rides off into the sunset. In the meantime, Bayern have some games to win. They start the second half of the season with a home match against bottom-of-the-table Greuther Fürth on Saturday. Bayern couldn't have asked for a better way to start the season.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3 - 0 Greuther Fürth
Werder Bremen vs Borussia Dortmund - 18:30 CET / 12:30 PM EST
Borussia Dortmund will look to get their second half started on the right foot, but they'll have their work cut out for them with a trip to Werder Bremen. Thomas Schaaf's guys will be up to the challenge, and they have the players in the attacking side to press the BVB defense. Bremen will push BVB early in the match, but the biggest difference in the two teams is the world class players on BVB. Marco Reus and Mario Götze can create something out of nothing and will do enough to take all three points.
Prediction: Werder Bremen 1 - 2 Borussia Dortmund
Sunday, January 20
Nürnberg vs Hamburg - 15:30 CET / 9:30 AM EST
Hamburg does have more ability than what they showed in the first part of the season, but they need to figure out a way to score more goals. They're going to come out guns blazing with Artjoms Rudnevs and Heung-Min Son up top and Rafael Van der Vaart sitting behind them. A quick goal could throw Nürnberg behind the eight ball and force them to come out searching for goals.
Prediction: Nürnberg 0 - 2 Hamburg
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs Augsburg - 17:30 CET / 11:30 AM EST
Fortuna Düsseldorf put on an excellent first half performance for a newly promoted side to the Bundesliga accruing 21 points. They're nine points ahead of 16th place Hoffenheim and twelve points ahead of 17th place Augsburg. Düsseldorf's defense was excellent in the first half, and if they can keep up the same defensive pressure in the second half of the season, they should secure their place in the Bundesliga for next season. It's going to be a very uphill struggle for Augsburg to remain in the Bundesliga at the end of this season. They have to be looking at this match as "A point is the minimum that we'll accept.".
Prediction: Fortuna Düsseldorf 1 - 0 Augsburg