By Nate Williams, dpa
Berlin (dpa) – The race to the Bundesliga title resumes after the league’s winter break on Friday as champions Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Moenchengladbach are among those aiming to close the gap on leaders RB Leipzig.
Leipzig are top on 37 points followed closely by Moenchengladbach in second on 35; Marco Rose’s Gladbach side open the weekend programme as they travel to Schalke.
With victory at fifth-placed Schalke, “die Fohlen” (the Foals) will overtake Leipzig and Rose says the team will fight to stay there.
“We will try our best to stay at the top. But I also know that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich will both be raring to go,” Rose said.
“I think it’s great how tight it is at the moment in the Bundesliga, especially because we’re in and amongst it as well. I imagine it will go down to the wire.”
Timo Werner, Leipzig’s top scorer with 18 goals said the club’s leading position is “very exciting,” but coach Julian Nagelsmann believes the Red Bulls have been fortunate due to other teams underperforming.
“We’re not good enough to be champions,” he told Bild. “At the moment, we need to develop.”
Champions Munich are third on 33 points, but their title rivals will be aware of how good they are at chasing leads after closing a six-point gap to overtake Dortmund and lift their seventh consecutive title last season.
“We want to be German champions again, and we must catch up again for that,” said Bayern defender Joshua Kimmich, who will miss Sunday’s game against Hertha Berlin after picking up five yellow cards.
Hertha will be led by former Bayern player and coach Juergen Klinsmann, although questions were raised about the validity of his coaching licence this week.
Bayern opposite number Hansi Flick will be without Serge Gnabry, who picked up an achilles injury at their training camp in Doha, and has several other players missing through injury but there is some positive news on star striker Robert Lewandowski.
The Polish international, who is the Bundesliga’s leading scorer with 19 goals, has returned to full training following successful groin surgery.
“We have a good team, even if there are currently fewer players (available). We still have enormous quality to be able to win in Berlin,” Flick said.
Dortmund play Augsburg on Saturday against a side who ended a run of six unbeaten away matches for the Black and Yellow with a 2-1 home win at the WWK Arena last March.
History is in favour of Dortmund though as that was only their second loss to Augsburg in 17 league meetings.
Coach Lucien Favre says he won’t rush to start Dortmund’s new signing Erling Haarland after acquiring the 19-year-old Norwegian striker from Salzburg in a four-and-a-half year deal.
“He hasn’t been training long, so we’re being cautious about how we bring him into the team,” the Swiss coach said. “We’ll integrate him into our system gradually, but when he’s fit there’s no doubt he’ll bring us a lot of joy.”
Werder Bremen go up against Fortuna Dusseldorf Saturday in a crucial relegation clash as they sit second from bottom on 14 points in the two-team drop zone. Dusseldorf are one point ahead in 16th.
Bremen will hope to introduce defender Kevin Vogt, who joined on loan from Hoffenheim until the end of the season. Vogt said he is “raring to go,” and “knows what is expected.”
In Saturday’s other games, Hoffenheim host Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg travel to Mainz and Wolfsburg play Cologne.
On Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen have a trip to bottom-side Paderborn but will be without winter signing Exequiel Palacios for the next three games.
The Argentine winger received a red card in the previous game for his former club River Plate, and the ban was carried over from the Argentine FA as per FIFA regulations.