What Julian Nagelsmann does after the season is up in the air, but right now he's trying to restore Hoffenheim's form. He'll be hoping to end its up-and-down year on a high note in Dortmund.
Julian Nagelsmann (pictured above) is perhaps the hottest young coaching commodity in all of Europe.
He is just 30 years old and led Hoffenheim to its best-ever Bundesliga campaign last season. Moreover, the contract extension he signed until 2021 at the end of last season reportedly has a buyout clause at the end of next season.
But Nagelsman's second full season in charge of the Sinsheim-based club has been much rockier, the extra burden of European competition has weighed heavy. Hoffenheim missed out on the Champions League after losing a qualifier against Liverpool 6-3 on aggregate, before failing to qualify for the knockout stages in the Europa League. But they're still fifth in the Bundesliga table, thanks to two wins from their last three. This upswing was needed, they had won just one in seven beforehand.
Nagelsmann's frustrating first half of the season is probably best exemplified by the Rhein-Neckar-Arena spectator he hit with the water bottle he threw in frustration after his side relinquished a 1-0 lead against Borussia Mönchengladbach at the end of October. Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes went so far as to suggest to local newspaper Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung in October that the young coach should gain more experience at Hoffenheim before making a move.
The coaching prodigy's last test of 2017 is a big one: Hoffenheim are visiting Borussia Dortmund.
Tough acts to follow
Nagelsmann's lot was not improved when his two best players from last season, defender Niklas Süle and midfielder Sebastian Rudy, moved to Bayern Munich in the summer. Both were integral parts of his system, and their replacements have not filled their shoes.
The German coach has gotten the most out of Dennis Geiger in place of Rudy, but the 19-year-old midfielder's inexperience his prevalent — Geiger picked up his fifth yellow card against Stuttgart on Wednesday and will therefore be suspended against Dortmund. Florian Grillitsch, a 21-year-old midfielder purchased from Werder Bremen pre-season, has shown promise but still appears to be a work in progress.
Hoffenheim also brought two new defenders, Norwegian international Havard Nordtveit and academy product Stefan Posch, into the fold before the season to replace Süle, but both have struggled. Hoffenheim's defense, which has conceded 20 in its first 16 league games, remains above-average by Bundesliga standards, but can't match their own record of letting in 16 in their first 16 last season.
Sandro Wagner (pictured) might join former teammates Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy at Bayern Munich
German daily newspaper Bild reported earlier this week that Dortmund have an agreement in place to make Nagelsmann their next coach. He is also reportedly one of the favorites to succeed Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich, the club he supported growing up.
But the young coach still has much to prove in terms of consistency, especially after Hoffenheim's poor showing in European competition. Additionally, Dortmund's new coach Peter Stöger has a way of making life difficult for his opponents. A victory for Nagelsmann in Dortmund would be some consolation for a rocky end to 2017.
Elsewhere on Matchday 17
— Schalke, looking to maintain second place over the winter break, face a tough trip to Frankfurt.
— Hertha Berlin and the red-hot Salomon Kalou (three goals in his last two games) visit RB Leipzig, who are missing key center-back Dayot Upamecano.
— Bayer Leverkusen will try to extend their 11-game unbeaten run against Hannover, who have only lost once at home this season.
Matchday 17 fixtures
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Hamburg (Friday, 8:30 p.m. CET)
Bayern Munich vs. Stuttgart (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Cologne vs. Wolfsburg
Werder Bremen vs. Mainz
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke
Augsburg vs. Freiburg
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.)
Hannover vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
RB Leipzig vs. Hertha Berlin (Sunday, 6:00 p.m.)