Bundesliga: Bayern Munich with early chance to turn up heat on Dortmund | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 17.01.2019
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Bundesliga: Bayern Munich with early chance to turn up heat on Dortmund

The Bundesliga returns from its winter break on Friday night, with the champions looking to heap pressure on the contenders. Bayern Munich stumbled in the first half of 2018-19, but their coach sees plenty to build on.

The season-opener between Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim bore all the hallmarks of the side that had won six straight titles: periods of utter dominance, a critical decision going their way, a goal from Robert Lewandowski and an important strike in the dying stages.

But that 3-1 win also saw Kingsley Coman limp off early, Bayern's defense creak under Hoffenheim's pressure and the pace of Julian Nagelsmann's side unsettle the Bavarians.

After Niko Kovac won his first seven games, these looked to be minor flaws rather than serious cracks in the foundations. But a dreadful spell between late September and early December sees Bayern six points behind Borussia Dortmund entering the Rückrunde (second half of the season) with those cracks still only papered over while the foundations are relaid. But Kovac saw enough towards the end of last year to encourage him.

"We want to build on our final five games of 2018 and try to take that positive experience with us so we can keep winning games and build up the necessary confidence,” the Croatian boss said.

“We’re six points off the lead, and we want to and have to make that up,” the 47-year-old continued. “The game against Hoffenheim is very, very important and we’re looking forward to it.”

While the chance to cut Dortmund's lead to three points ahead of their high-profile clash with Leipzig is a major opportunity for Bayern, Sinsheim hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Bayern of late, with the hosts having won their last two home games against their Bavarian visitors. Coach Julian Nagelsmann has built a side who are rarely dull, with an attacking verve sometimes negated by a defensive naivety that undermined them in the Champions League. But he's not for changing.

"It's important that you don't always surrender when you play against Bayern," he said. "It'll be a tough battle. We'll try to attack Bayern and to not let them leave with any points.

"It'll largely be down to us how we perform. We need to perform in the same way we did in the second half of our first meeting earlier this season." 

Coman didn't return from his matchday 1 injury until last month and still hasn't completed 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this term. But the French winger's importance has increased of late, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery both set to miss out on Friday night and Corentin Tolisso a long-term absentee.

The hosts have their own share of injury issues, with Dennis Geiger, Nadiem Amiri and Lukas Rupp certain to miss out and question marks over Kerem Demirbay, Ermin Bicakcic and Havard Nordtveit.

Elsewhere on matchday 19

Peter Bosz takes charge of Leverkusen for the first time on Saturday (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Becker)

Peter Bosz takes charge of Leverkusen for the first time on Saturday

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach

- Former Dortmund coach Peter Bosz takes charge of his first match as Bayer Leverkusen boss on Saturday, when third-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach travel to the Bay Arena. Bosz' tenure at Dortmund saw an attacking style undone by a leaky backline and the Dutchman has said he "can't repeat the mistakes that I made at Dortmund in Leverkusen." A win on Saturday would put Leverkusen six points behind their opponents and, with four of the top seven playing each other, re-ignite a European challenge that faded badly under Heiko Herrlich.

RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund

- Leaders Borussia Dortmund travel to fourth-placed RB Leipzig in Saturday's late game. The reverse fixture on matchday 1 saw the Red Bulls take a first minute lead before Dortmund roared back to win 4-1, a scoreline that slightly flattered them. BVB's lead could be cut to three points by the time they kick off, and how they handle a game that has seen several on and off pitch flashpoints in recent years could prove an early guide as to how they cope with the pressure of frontrunning.

Matchday 18 fixtures

Hoffenheim vs. Bayern Munich (Friday, 20:30 CET)
Augsburg vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf (Saturday ,15:30)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach 
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Freiburg
Hannover vs. Werder Bremen
Stuttgart vs. Mainz
RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 18:30)
Nuremberg vs. Hertha Berlin (Sunday, 15:30)
Schalke vs. Wolfsburg (Sunday, 18:00)

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