Bayern top as Bundesliga resumes with plenty to play for
Leaders Bayern Munich restart the Bundesliga away to Bayer Leverkusen on Friday while below them in the table plenty of teams resume playing for high stakes.
Bayern begin the 17-game second half of the league season with an 11-point advantage – and could realistically be excused for considering a record-extending sixth consecutive title won.
But they will be determined to start sharply as another potential treble including the German Cup and Champions League comes into focus.
Second-placed Schalke resume with a cracker away to RB Leipzig late Saturday, just four points ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt in eighth in a tight top half.
At the other end, bottom club Cologne looked doomed on only six points, nine adrift of safety, but everyone from Wolfsburg, in 12th, down will be concerned about relegation.
Above them only three teams – Augsburg, Hertha Berlin and Hanover – seem set for the relative anonymity of midtable.
Due to the World Cup in summer, the clubs have had to deal with a shortened winter break but Bayern have still been able to nurture Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski back to fitness.
If Lewandowski is not risked, new signing Sandro Wagner could be given the chance to debut in Leverkusen.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Wagner told the club homepage. “Everyone’s worked well and been committed,” “No one’s thinking about the lead, so no one’s holding back at all.”
Leverkusen are unbeaten in a dozen top flight games and ranked fourth, one of four sides currently on the 28-point mark, and could go second with a win – at least until Schalke, back from training in Benidorm, take to the field.
“We had everything we needed available to us to help us work hard and intensively,” coach Domenico Tedesco told the team website. “And that’s what we did.
“Offensively I thought we made progress. So I am looking forward to the start of the second half of the season.”
Schalke’s local rivals Borussia Dortmund are only two points behind in third despite a turbulent first half of the season which started brilliantly and cumulated in coach Peter Bosz being dismissed.
Peter Stoeger steadied the ship and will aim to seize the chance of being in place until the end of the season, starting at home to Wolfsburg on Sunday.
“It was a successful cold start for him, he has managed to make us more defensively stable,” sport director Michael Zorc told the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper.
That match concludes the weekend after Borussia Moenchengladbach, yet another European hopeful, travel to Cologne in an intense local derby the home coach called “the first of 17 finals” as his men dream of a survival miracle.
Directly above them, SV Hamburg are yet again struggling to protect their record of being the last original Bundesliga side not to be relegated. They resume away to Augsburg Saturday.
Werder Bremen, in the play-off place, start at home to Hoffenheim, Freiburg head to Frankfurt and Hanover host Mainz.
VfB Stuttgart meanwhile welcome Hertha Berlin having failed to score in their last four league games of 2017 and another blank would give them an unwanted club record as they try to avoid an immediate return to the second division.
“It’s a massive strain, you don’t play with the same ease as you do when you are further up the table,” returning striker Mario Gomez said of fighting relegation.
“I am, however, convinced that the team and whole club, with its surroundings, is strong enough to achieve the goals we have set ourselves – regardless of how massive a challenge that is.”