Bundesliga matchday 18 preview: Back from the break

This winter break has been the shortest one in the history of the league but with the Premier League going crazy it always feels like it has been months when league football does return.

Leverkusen and Bayern kick things off at Friday (8.30 CET) in what tends to be a close and intense match that often ends with a draw and considering how close the league is right now and with virtually every other team but Gladbach losing against Bayern a point would be quite the achievement. Leverkusen go into this with no noteworthy injuries whilst Bayern have to play without both Robert Lewandowski and Thiago giving Sandro Wagner an early chance to prove why Bayern spent 13 million to let him return to his youth club. All in all, Bayern are clear favourites but this sort of game has always been good for a surprise in recent history.

One thing that every Bundesliga fan was craving for during the winter break are the 3.30 matches on Saturday. There is no clear highlight that should be watched on this 3.30 plate but there is a clear theme of upper-half teams playing against teams in the relegation zone. Frankfurt – who are proving why they made it all the way to the cup final last year – are playing against in-form Freiburg who won ten points from their last five in what promises to be the most exciting game. Bremen try to start the Rückrunde well against a Hoffenheim that just lost Sandro Wagner and is suffering from an injury crisis. Hamburg travels all the way down to Bavaria to face up against the positive surprise of this season’s Bundesliga Augsburg. Hannover is also hosting relegation-troubled Mainz and Stuttgart is playing Hertha.

The highlight of the whole matchday undoubtedly is the 6.30 game on Saturday. 5th placed Leipzig has the chance to overtake 2nd placed Schalke with a win but on the other end Schalke could also put five points between them and in a league that is as tight as the Bundesliga five points are a lot. Last season this fixture marked the end of a long unbeaten run that Schalke had at the time and they’ll try their best to not have that happen again. Last time around this fixture also featured Timo Werner’s infamous dive that still gives him a bad reputation with some fans. This game is undoubtedly one of the biggest tests for Tedesco and his team so far but playing Leipzig should suit a team that has repeatedly shown that they know how to set up a functioning narrow defense.

Sunday starts at 3.30 with what would normally be a fascinating derby between Köln and Gladbach. But with Köln being all but relegated by now and still suffering from an injury crisis, this should be a Gladbach win. The only thing that can give Köln fans some hope is the return of their best player Jonas Hector. But they would still need an incredible run to even have the chance of jumping to 16th – very unlikely.

Matchday action gets concluded at 6.00 when Dortmund and Wolfsburg meet. Wolfsburg has always lost by several goals against Dortmund in recent history and with their resurgence under the leadership of Peter Stöger this is unlikely to change this Sunday. If it does, Dortmund fans are going feel like they are right back in the dark November of 2017 again.