On Friday, the Bundesliga returns from it's month long winter slumber with a huge match. League leaders Bayern Munich visit Borussia Park to face third place Borussia Mönchengladbach. While the Bavarians will undoubtedly qualify for next season's Champions League, Gladbach have more of a fight on their hands. Handing Bayern their first league loss in over a year would send a loud and clear message to everyone else that Gladbach would not be going away easily.
With Bayern likely without Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Javi Martinez, Gladbach will likely try to take the match somewhat to the Bavarians with the belief that they can take all three points. The key men for Bayern in the match will be the likely trio of Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, and Thiago Alcantara. If they can control the midfield battle, Bayern should be okay. Gladbach's attacks are likely coming down the wings from Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann, while Dante and Jerome Boateng have their hands full with Max Kruse. A victory for Gladbach isn't out of the question, but the Bavarians remain the favorites.
The other match taking place in North Rhine-Westphalia this weekend is Borussia Dortmund hosting the Hinrunde's surprise team FC Augsburg. There was probably no club that wanted or needed the winter break more than BVB, and they unfortunately start the Rückrunde with some of the same injury problems. The biggest loss for the side remains their midfield general İlkay Gündoğan. Until he returns to full fitness, BVB won't be able to put on some of the brilliant football that we saw from them last season. Augsburg will need to be at the top of their game to take all three points in Signal Iduna Park.
If we head north, Wolfsburg host Hannover on Saturday which by all accounts will be a pretty straightforward win for die Wölfe. Wolfsburg are just a better team than Hannover, and I expect to see a fantastic performance from the club with the addition of Kevin De Bruyne. Sunday's double header also takes place up north when Werder Bremen host bottom of the table Eintracht Braunschweig and the Imtech Arena sees Hamburg versus Schalke. A prediction for Werder and Braunschweig is difficult, when you think about how poor both sides really are. The most interesting match of the three takes place between Schalke and Hamburg, because if Schalke don't take all three points, you will see some calling once again for the job of Jens Keller.
We'll finally swing back down south for the bulk of Saturday's matches. Bayer Leverkusen visit Freiburg in what should be an easy victory for die Werkself coming out of the winter break. Leverkusen have remained pretty healthy so far this year with a not-so-deep squad, and they should maintain their place in the table if things stay that way. The big question that will continue to be asked until it happens is "When will Nürnberg pick up their first win of the season?" They have an opportunity when Hoffenheim come to town, but it may take three or four goals against the high-fliers from Sinsheim. Mainz have a wonderful opportunity to really separate themselves from the bottom half of the Bundesliga at the Mercedes Benz Arena against Stuttgart. Three points would put them a full eight points ahead of 10th place if certain results go their way. And, finally, Eintracht Frankfurt will hope to find some of that magic that they had last season against Hertha Berlin. The newly promoted side are already a full 13 points ahead of Frankfurt, and they have Champions League football in their crosshairs, while Frankfurt is trying to avoid a relegation battle.
Friday, January 24
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Bayern Munich
Saturday, January 25
Freiburg vs Bayer Leverkusen
Wolfsburg vs Hannover
Nürnberg vs Hoffenheim
Stuttgart vs Mainz
Borussia Dortmund vs Augsburg
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Hertha Berlin
Sunday, January 26
Werder Bremen vs Eintracht Braunschweig
Hamburg vs Schalke