After a midweek where four of the Bundesliga’s top six set their sights on Europe, domestic affairs take center stage this weekend. A repeat of this season’s most talked about match tops the matchday 23 bill.
Wolfsburg and Bayern have already played each other three times this season, but only one fixture comes to mind: September 22. Wolfsburg, unbeaten at the time, had the temerity to take the lead in Bayern’s backyard. Enter Robert Lewandowski, who came on at half-time and bagged five goals in a scarcely-believable nine minute frenzy, breaking all sorts of records in the process.
Wolfsburg host the Bavarians on Saturday in the reverse of that fixture, and the home side need to start picking up points if they are to have any hope of competing in the Champions League next year.
While Wolfsburg didn’t play in Europe this week, Bayern dominated the opening stages of their last 16 tie against Juventus in Turin on Tuesday, before the hosts staged a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw.
Young Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich struggled out of position at center back on Tuesday, and Wolfsburg will hope to capitalise on Bayern’s lack of central defenders. However, Mehdi Benatia did make an appearance from the bench on Tuesday and will be in contention for Saturday’s match.
While the Bavarian club may have lacked a little fluency at times since the winter break, they’ve still picked up 13 from an available 15 points in the league. In contrast, Wolfsburg have picked up just five points in the same time and last season’s runners up sit in eighth position, four points behind Bayer Leverkusen in fourth.
Wolfsburg have injury problems of their own, with stand-in goalkeeper Koen Casteels reportedly struggling with flu. First choice keeper Diego Benaglio is still out injured. However, former Bayern man Dante said the home side have no excuses.
"There is no point in complaining about the number of absentees,” he said. “You've also got to enjoy games like this, get stuck into every challenge and ensure every pass arrives at its destination."
Can Hertha find their mojo?
Hertha Berlin will be keeping an eye on the Wolfsburg-Bayern, but they have their own tough fixture ahead of them. They will have to travel to Cologne on Friday, hoping to get another result that keeps them in third place.
After an unexpectedly excellent first half of the season, built mainly on organization, a particularly stingy defence and a clinical attack, Hertha's bubble is in danger of bursting due to a poor run following the winter break. They’ve yet to win in the league in 2016 and only lowly Hannover have taken less points this year.
That being said, Hertha have only lost one of those games (the other four were draws) and have booked a DFB Pokal semifinal date with Borussia Dortmund. They also boast an impressive recent record in Cologne - Hertha haven’t lost there since 2012 and are unbeaten against the "Billy Goats" in their last five games in all competitions.
Peter Stöger's side have become the definition of mid-table this season. They’ve won seven, lost seven and drawn eight, leaving them ninth. After an impressive 3-1 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt in matchday 21, they lost 1-0 to Borusssia Monchengladbach, summing up their campaign so far. The Cologne boss said his side, who have midfielder Marcel Risse available after injury, are improving but not as quickly as their opponents.
“I have a great deal of respect for them,” he told his club’s website. “They have been playing a tremendous season, even if they have hit a difficult phase at the moment. They are organized, aggressive, and have real quality in attack. Classic strikers. Although it is difficult to compare the two sides, I would say they have developed slightly better than us so far.”
Matchday 23 fixtures:
Cologne vs. Hertha Berlin (Friday)
Werder Bremen vs. Darmstadt (Saturday)
Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich
Stuttgart vs. Hannover
Hamburg v Ingolstadt
Augsburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday afternoon)
Mainz vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sunday evening)
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke (Sunday night)