Hoffenheim travel to Schalke for the second Bundesliga clash of two of the league's young coaching stars. Both teams remain in the running for Europe, while all eyes will be on soon-to-depart Hoffenheim striker Mark Uth.
This is certainly not the first time a player will turn out for his current team in a key contest against the one he has already agreed to join after the next transfer window – and it certainly won't be the last.
Still, Mark Uth is bound to come under close scrutiny on Saturday evening, not just from the media but from both sets of fans. The striker, who has found the back of the net 10 times in his 20 Bundesliga appearances this season, recently agreed to join Schalke on a free transfer in the summer.
However, both his current coach, Julian Nagelsmann, 30, and his future boss, Domenic Tedesco, 32, told their prematch press conferences they had no doubt about his professionalism.
"I know Mark Uth well enough to know that he'll be giving 100 percent for us," Nagelsmann said. "He will also want to show his new employer what he is capable of."
For his part, Tedesco said he was sure that his future striker wouldn't be doing Schalke any favors at the Veltins Arena.
"Mark Uth has scored key goals for Hoffenheim, and he will be focused on his own job," said Tedesco, who is no stranger to his future striker's current club, having spent a year and a half coaching in their youth ranks. "Of course, we'd like him to have one of his quieter days on Saturday," he added.
However, Nagelsmann also indicated that Uth could start the match on the bench.
Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco know each other well from when the Schalke coach was still at Hoffenheim
"Judging by his performance in training, he still requires a few days before he is 100 percent. However, a player with his quality and threat in front of goal, is always considered when deciding lineups," Nagelsmann said.
Gunning for Europe
Beyond the novelty of having a star player taking to the field in front of his future fans, Saturday's contest is an important one for the two teams, both of which are determined to qualify for European football next season.
Sixth-placed Schalke are struggling a bit to right the ship, having fallen from second place since the second half of the season began. The Royal Blues have had a couple of disappointing results in the past few matches, but they came up with a strong performance at the Allianz Arena last weekend, despite falling 2-1 to league leaders Bayern, who are running away with the Bundesliga title again this season.
However, Tedesco will likely have to improvise with his lineup due to fitness concerns. Yevhen Konoplyanka hadn't returned to training by Thursday's presser, while Amine Harit also missed practice, as he wasn't 100 percent.
Pablo Insua is sick, while loan-signing Marko Pjaca is laboring with a knee problem. Alessandro Schöpf, who has just penned a contract extension, could slide into defensive midfield as a replacement for the banned Max Meyer.
Nabil Bentaleb, who has been out of favor recently, also appears to be an option. "We don't hold grudges, it is down to him," Tedesco said.
As for Tedesco's friend from their time together at Hoffenheim, Nagelsmann has personnel issues of his own to wrestle with as he hopes to draw level on points with Schalke.
"Dennis Geiger probably won't be available, Serge Gnabry will probably be out, Nico Schulz will probably be out," Nagelsmann said.
While Geiger and Schulz both have thigh problems, Gnabry has come down with the flu and Kerem Demirbay suffered an ankle injury during Hoffenheim's 1-1 draw in Berlin on Matchday 21.
Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim won the first match between these two teams back in September, beating Tedesco and Schalke 2-0. That match was on Hoffenheim's home patch, however, and Schalke will be looking for revenge.
Elsewhere on Matchday 23:
· Freiburg host Werder Bremen in what is a relegation battle, despite the fact that Christian Streich's club remain in 12th, five points above the drop zone. Bremen have shown signs of life recently, but remain just three points above Mainz in 16th, the relegation playoff spot.
· The two Borussias face off in Gladbach, with the mid-table Foals looking to keep their hopes of qualifying for Europe alive. Third-placed Dortmund, with their impressive short-term replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Michy Batshuayi, will want to put more distance between themselves and the Europa League places. Batashuayi has scored five goals in three games for Dortmund, including a brace to give Dortmund a 3-1 victory over Atalanta in the Europa League.
· Fan protests are expected in Germany's banking capital as Eintracht Frankfurt host their first-ever Monday-night Bundesliga match. Monday matches, a new feature in the Bundesliga this season, are extremely unpopular with the fans. Opponents Leipzig are coming off an impressive 3-1 come-from-behind win over Napoli in the Europa League.
Matchday 23 fixtures:
Hertha Berlin 0–2 Mainz (Friday, 8:30 p.m. CET)
Cologne 1–1 Hannover (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Freiburg 1–0 Bremen
Hamburg 1–2 Leverkusen
Wolfsburg 1–2 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2–1 Hoffenheim (6:30 p.m.)
Augsburg 0–1 Stuttgart (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
Mönchengladbach – Dortmund (6:00 p.m.)
Frankfurt –Leipzig (Monday, 8:30 p.m.)