With Germany's ticket to the Brazil 2014 World Cup safely stamped and delivered, players and fans can return to the pressing matter of the Bundesliga this weekend. Here's a preview of all the games on Match Day 9.
If there's ever a chance for league minnows to hunt down the bigger fish, it's after an international break, especially one full of climactic and exhausting World Cup qualifiers. What better time to swoop on Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund's star-studded squads - as they shake flights from their weary legs, gather their thoughts, and try to focus again on the routine of domestic football?
Of the Bundesliga's two giants, Dortmund ostensibly face the tougher task, hosting fifth-placed Hannover on Saturday (10-19-2013). But Hannover's lofty position is based exclusively on their unbeaten home form - they are yet to pick up a single point away from the HDI-Arena this season. Dortmund, meanwhile, will be out to prove a point after suffering their first league defeat two weeks ago against Borussia Mönchengladbach. And the interminable saga of Robert Lewandowski's transfer won't please Jürgen Klopp. The Pole claimed this week that his promise to sign for Bayern in January - clearing the path to joining the Bavarians in the summer - had all been a "misunderstanding." The revelation has stirred excitement among the football press in England and Spain.
Tough times for Mainz
Bayern Munich face the relatively simple task of dismantling 11th-placed Mainz at home, whose last win happened over a month ago, on match day 3. A string of four defeats and a draw since then (a friendly victory over Gladbach last weekend notwithstanding) won't be the best confidence-booster when they step in front of the Bayern juggernaut.
Mainz's sporting director Christian Heidel neatly summed up the Siege mentality that Mainz intend to adopt in the Allianz Arena: "We begin. It's 0-0. So we have one point, and we're going to start by defending that with everything we've got," he told the Rhein Zeitung newspaper. But Bayern might not have it all their own way, for they will have to make do without Xherdan Shaqiri for six to seven weeks. The midfielder suffered a muscle tear on his sojourn with the Swiss national team.
Leverkusen to go top?
By virtue of kicking off on Friday evening, Bayer Leverkusen have a chance to leapfrog both Bayern and Dortmund and top the table for overnight. The "Werkself" travel to Hoffenheim, where they must fancy their chances of winning, given that Stefan Kiessling - last season's Bundesliga top scorer - will return to the side after suffering a foot injury in thedraw against Bayern two weeks ago. Tenth-placed Hoffenheim are stuck in a torrid period, with two draws and a loss in their last three games. Goals, though, are guaranteed: Hoffenheim have conceded more goals than any other club so far this season (20), and - improbably enough - have scored more goals than any other except Dortmund (also 20).
Freiburg, meanwhile, face a daunting trip to Werder Bremen on Saturday. Then again pretty much everything is daunting for the southern German side at the moment, who are stuck at the wrong end of the table and still win-less after eight games. Their only consolation at the moment is their excellent financial stability - Freiburg announced record turnover this week. That is more than can be said for Werder, who started an ugly squabble with their former sporting director Klaus Allofs on Tuesday over the club's recent misfortunes. Chief executive Klaus-Dieter Fischer blamed Bremen's mid-table mediocrity and financial struggles on Allofs' transfer policy. With just three wins so far this season, Bremen are still getting used to the post-Allofs-and-Thomas Schaaf era.
Of Germany's representatives in the Champions League, Schalke have been suffering the most. The Royal Blues have been stricken with injuries to their entire front-line and slumped to eighth in the table. Already missing Jefferson Farfan and Kevin-Prince Boateng, on Monday coach Jens Keller had to watch Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar re-injure the knee that has kept him out since August 17. The extent of Schalke's squad impasse was underlined by the sight of veteran Gerald Asamoah (officially in the reserve team) training with the first team again. Even so, Schalke should have enough to beat bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig, who are still waiting for their first home win.
Eintracht Frankfurt's clash with Nuremberg, meanwhile, could be a somewhat depressing affair for the Franconians, who are still winless this season and now coach-less after the dismissal of Michael Wiesingerfollowing an eye-watering 5-0 defeat to Hamburg on the last match day. Their opponents Frankfurt seem to have to steadied their ship, which floundered in the first month of the season with three defeats in four games. But they are now undefeated in the last four matches. As if to rub it in to their flailing opponents, coach Armin Veh indicated last Sunday that he was considering signing a long term contract with Frankfurt in the winter break.
Saturday's late game could well be the tie of the weekend, with fourth-placed and in-form Mönchengladbach are traveling to the capital to take on sixth-placed Hertha Berlin. The Berliners have been resurgent since their re-entry into the top tier, but the architect of their rise - coach Jos Luhukay - complained this week that he has been forced to prepare for the crunch match with five regulars away on international duty. Gladbach have been unsettled too - by rumors that their goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has popped up on Barcelona's wish list - but they will take some confidence from their defeat of Dortmund two weeks ago.
Hamburg have had one of the more chaotic league campaigns so far: since opening the season with a rousing 3-3 draw against Schalke, they've shipped six goals to Dortmund, got rid of coach Thorsten Fink, and spanked five past Nuremberg. Sunday's game against Stuttgart marks the home debut of new coach Bert van Marwijk, a man with a standing to match HSV's ambitions. Seventh-placed Stuttgart are tough opponents though - undefeated in their last five games, they have conceded only twice in the last four.
In the final tie of the weekend on Sunday, twelfth-place Augsburg host Wolfsburg, two places and one point below them. Augsburg have made a solid enough start to the season, and seem to be on the way to establishing themselves in the top tier after flirting with disaster for much of last season. Wolfsburg, on the other hand, are going rapidly in the other direction - and may have reached a new low in their last game, when they handed Braunschweig their first Bundesliga win.
And yet, all in all, the middle of the Bundesliga remains a free-for-all, with a four-point margin separating Wolfsburg, in fourteenth, and Mönchengladbach, in fourth. Expect the pack to be thoroughly shuffled by Monday.