Thursday, 31 December 2020 16:19

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The Bundesliga returns this weekend with defending champions FC Bayern München top of the table and hoping to keep at bay a chasing pack that includes Bayer 04 Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund.

FC Bayern beat VfL Wolfsburg and then Bayer 04 Leverkusen in their final two fixtures of 2020 to end the year two points clear of their closest rivals. The serial winners will resume on Matchday 14 – after a shortened winter break – determined to make it nine league titles in a row.

The final game of Matchday 14 sees Hansi Flick’s treble winners take on 1. FSV Mainz 05, who have interim coach Jan Siewert in charge for the first time, after Jan-Moritz Lichte was relieved of his duties. Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski already has 17 league goals this season, and the five-time Bundesliga top scorer will be out to fill his boots against a visiting side with just one win so far.

Also on Sunday, fifth meets fourth as Dortmund host Wolfsburg, where the hosts could be boosted by the return of star striker Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has been sensational since arriving in Germany last January, but there’s now a new kid on the block at BVB.

Youssoufa Moukoko created history in Dortmund’s last league match when he became the Bundesliga’s youngest ever goal scorer, netting against 1. FC Union Berlin at the age of just 16 years and 28 days.

Before Sunday’s matches, though, there are seven games to savour on Saturday. Leverkusen will be hoping to recover from a painful 2-1 loss to Bayern, and potentially return to the summit, should they win at Eintracht Frankfurt. Eintracht are the draw specialists this season, with eight ties from 13 matches so far.

If Leverkusen don’t pick up three points in Frankfurt, then third-placed Leipzig could go first with a win at VfB Stuttgart in Saturday’s late kick-off. Leipzig were frustrated by a goalless draw at home to 1. FC Köln last time out, while Stuttgart slipped to defeat in Wolfsburg after a run of just one loss in 10 games. Both sides bounced back to win in the DFB Cup before Christmas, however, with Leipzig seeing off FC Augsburg and Stuttgart beating SC Freiburg to seal their place in the last 16.

That match will be a case of master and apprentice, with two of Europe’s most exciting coaches reuniting. Still only 33, Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann has established himself as one of coaching’s household names. American Pellegrino Matarazzo, meanwhile - previously Nagelsmann’s assistant at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – has impressed by leading Stuttgart back to the top flight, where they lie seventh in the standings. 

Just above Stuttgart are Union Berlin, who signed off 2020 with another notable victory, this time over Dortmund. On Saturday, they visit Werder Bremen, who ended a four-game losing streak with a last-gasp success at Mainz in their last league outing. USA striker Josh Sargent then scored in a 3-0 cup win against second-tier Hannover, and Bremen will be keen to keep that form going into 2021.

The meetings of Hoffenheim and Freiburg, as well as Cologne and Augsburg remain all-important in the battle for league position, but there’s an even bigger game in the capital when fifth-bottom Hertha Berlin host Schalke. The visitors are at the foot of the table after going 29 Bundesliga matches without a win over the last two seasons, and now Schalke turn to former Stuttgart and Tottenham Hotspur boss Christian Gross to try to save them.

Third-bottom Arminia Bielefeld won at Schalke on Matchday 13 to ease their own relegation concerns, but a tough test awaits them on Saturday. They host Borussia Mönchengladbach, who – like Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig – have qualified for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and hope to push on in 2021. With fierce competition at the top and bottom, the Bundesliga remains the league to follow.