VfL Wolfsburg - Bayern Munich
The Bundesliga springs back into action with a meeting between the top two. The issue for the division's title race is that there's 11 points between Wolfsburg and Bayern heading into the Rückrunde, AKA the second half of the season.
Bayern will be without long term absentees Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez and Thiago along with Franck Ribéry and Rafinha who were both injured in training on Wednesday. It'd still be a surprise if Bayern didn't still overpower Wolfsburg at 1.44.
Above all though, it’s set to be an emotional occasion with this being Wolfsburg's first Bundesliga game since the death of their 20-year-old midfielder Junior Malanda in the winter break.
Schalke 04 - Hannover 96
Only Bayern ended the Hinrunde in better form than Schalke - a fillip for coach Roberto Di Matteo which needs to continue. They will be missing goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann who has excelled since becoming the club’s first choice 15 months ago. Fabian Giefer will deputise for the injured no.1 on Saturday whilst top scorer Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting will be back in time from the African Cup of Nations – the only question is whether he’ll be fit enough to start.
Encouragingly for Schalke, Hannover were leaky towards the end of 2014 as their final six games saw them ship 15 goals. The signing of full back Joao Pereira on Thursday from Valencia should aid the defensive effort. Up front, Didier Ya Konan has returned to the club too and is back in training. Schalke though are still likely to outscore Hannover on Saturday, with a win for the home side at 1.90.
VfB Stuttgart - Borussia Mönchengladbach
The image of Vedad Ibisevic trying to land a punch on Martin Harnik at the club's training camp in Portugal may not seem positive but the (literal) fight shown may encourage VfB fans. The supporters need something to go on anyway given that Stuttgart haven’t scored in their last four home games.
Worst of all, their first game of 2015 is one that should suit visitors Gladbach. Just under a year ago, André Hahn scored twice at Stuttgart as Augsburg ran riot. Given the way his current side break with such speed and such effectiveness, it's difficult to look past an away win on Saturday with Gladbach at 2.50.
FSV Mainz 05 - SC Paderborn
Mainz and Paderborn are two sides who start 2015 looking nervously over their shoulders in the table. Mainz are just a point ahead of the relegation playoff spot whilst Paderborn find themselves only a single point in front of their hosts on Saturday.
The most welcome news for Mainz is the return of Dortmund loanee Jonas Hofmann. They haven’t won since he sustained a knee ligament injury in their victory over Augsburg in October. Paderborn’s last victory was a while back too, at the beginning of November. Both sides need the points then and it may bring a few goals at the Coface Arena, with over 3.5 priced at 3.05.
Hamburger SV - FC Köln
Hamburg have scored the least in Europe’s top 5 divisions so far this season. However, in one of the more unexpected transfers of the window though, Wolfsburg’s 35-year-old top scorer Ivica Olic is set to return to HSV. That should help improve on the club’s goal total of nine but injuries to Lewis Holtby and Valon Behrami along with the departure of Tolgay Arslan to Besiktas have left Hamburg looking a little short in midfield.
Cologne travel to Hamburg in good spirits after victory in the oh so prestigious Florida Cup. They were actually the second best side away from home in the Hinrunde and are capable of taking advantage of HSV’s midfield shortcomings. They’re 3.30 to win.
SC Freiburg - Eintracht Frankfurt
Freiburg are a side that usually improve in the second half of the season and that needs to be the case again this year, with coach Christian Streich voicing the need for his squad to pull together. They're bottom of the table but still only four points off 10th. They were the second lowest scorers in the Hinrunde but Eintracht’s Alex Meier wasn’t far off Freiburg’s total of 17 himself.
The man referred to in Frankfurt as "Fußballgott" (football god) is the league's top scorer with 13 to date. He looks to have shaken off a thigh injury to make the trip to the Black Forest. Another injury boost is the return of club captain and first choice goalkeeper Kevin Trapp. It may not stem the flow of goals though - Eintracht were the best value for them in the Hinrunde and for a few more at the Schwarzwald Stadion on Saturday, it’s 2.48 for over 3.5 goals.
Bayer Leverkusen - Borussia Dortmund
For the first time in 30 years, Borussia Dortmund find themselves in a relegation spot at the halfway stage. "To finish the first half of the season in 17th feels like having a holiday on a bed of nails," were Jürgen Klopp's words but after six weeks to work with his squad, need it be said that it would be a real shock if results still didn't improve.
As Leverkusen showed in their opening day victory, they're not the side to give Dortmund peace. Their goal after nine seconds epitomised the furious speed they try to play at. That Roger Schmidt's side have had a chance to recharge is perhaps the most worrying element for Dortmund. Marco Reus returns from injury for BVB but this one will be tight - a draw looks the most likely possibility at 3.45.