As the first half of the Bundesliga season draws to a close, some, including Bayern Munich, will welcome the opportunity to allow injuries to heal. Matchday 17 starts with Huub Stevens returning to his longtime home.
The Dutch coach, who took over from Markus Gisdol in late October, would have hoped he would be returning to Schalke this Friday having already led Hoffenheim out of the relegation zone. Unfortunately, though, Hoffenheim are right where they were when Huub Stevens took over - in 17th place, just one point above his last club, Stuttgart. On the bright side he finally picked up his first win as Hoffenheim's bench boss at home to Hannover last weekend. A result in Schalke could signal a turnaround for the Dutchman, whose successor was named just hours after he took on his latest rescue mission. Recent history, though doesn't favor Hoffenheim, who have lost their last four games in Gelsenkirchen.
Pep's future in question.
With no truly "top game" on the schedule, much of the talk going into the last Bundesliga weekend of the season has been about the league's most successful coach. The Bayern Munich bosses, including head coach Pep Guardiola himself, probably wanted to keep it quiet until after Saturday's game at Hannover, but media reports suggest that the Spaniard has already decided to part company with the team.
This comes amid reports of tensions between Pep and the team doctor over Bayern's plethora of injury woes. Guardiola is said to have blamed Dr. Volker Braun for the fact that Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa, David Alaba, Mario Götze, Medhi Benatia, Juan Bernat and Franck Ribery are all on the disabled list. The doctor, though, is reported to have blamed Pep for bringing them back too quickly. Whatever the reason, it is particularly frustrating for Franck Ribery, who, after an absence of nearly nine months due to an ankle injury didn't even spend a full 90 minutes on the pitch before going down with a thigh problem. According to the "Kicker" sports magazine, that injury is worse than first thought and will keep him out for eight weeks.
While they haven't been dominant in their past couple of games, Bayern remain top of the table, five points ahead of Dortmund, who will be looking for a result in Cologne on Saturday to stay in touch.
Weary (?) Gladbach
The winter break should be welcome in Mönchengladbach, who have enjoyed a remarkable revival since Andre Schubert took over as head coach six games into the season - after Lucien Favre threw in the towel after losing the first five matches of the campaign. Gladbach have had a rough patch over the past 10 days, having lost 4-2 in the Champions League and getting crushed 5-0 in Leverkusen, before getting knocked out of the German Cup by Werder Bremen in mid-week (4-3). Eleven of the 13 goals conceded by the Foals in those contests came in the second half, a clear sign that some rest should do them good. They'll need to hang in there for 90 more minutes - against plucky Darmstadt on Sunday.
Finally firing on all cylinders?
Leverkusen, meanwhile, may be wishing the winter break wasn't on its way - at least not so soon. In a first half of the season, which by their standards has been suboptimal, you had the impression that Roger Schmidt's men weren't quite firing on all cylinders.
That changed against Gladbach on Matchday 16, when Schmidt finally played Chicarito and Stefan Kiessling together up front, something he had previously said could not work. Leverkusen's 5-0 win over Gladbach turned out to be a revelation, with Kiessling scoring two goals and setting up two of Chicharito's three. A result in Ingolstadt would keep the Champions League places within Leverkusen's reach.
Matchday 17 in the Bundesliga:
Friday, December 18
Schalke vs. Hoffenheim
Saturday, December 19
Cologne vs. Dortmund
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Bremen
Ingolstadt vs. Leverkusen
Hamburg vs. Augsburg
Hannover vs. Bayern Munich
Stuttgart vs. Wolfsburg
Sunday, December 20
Hertha Berlin vs. Mainz
Mönchengladbach vs. Darmstadt