BERLIN - Bayern Munich will be looking to end the year in style when they travel to VfB Stuttgart on Saturday, with the champions intent on carrying their nine-point lead into the winter break.
The Bavarians, who face Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup last 16 next week in their last competitive game of the year, are on course for a record-extending sixth straight Bundesliga crown.
Revitalised after Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti two months ago, Bayern have had to cope with injuries to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and then his replacement Sven Ulreich, which forced 36-year-old Tom Starke out of retirement.
The absence of Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara due to injury has also hindered them up front, with Bayern having more than 75 percent possession against bottom club Cologne on Wednesday but missing a hatful of chances in a 1-0 win.
"We already have a busy schedule behind us and still got two big matches coming up," Heynckes said in explaining his team's lacklustre performance on Wednesday.
The coach, who led Bayern to a treble in 2013 including the Champions League, said his players were missing their usual spark and precision, while his defence was a step too slow.
"After taking the lead the team knew very well that there are still two more matches left this year," said Bayern's Thomas Muelller. "We do not have 100 percent left in the reserve tank at this point."
But it was still enough to send Bayern nine points clear of second-placed Schalke 04, who are on 29 points.
Schalke, unbeaten in their last 10 league matches, travel to in-form Eintracht Frankfurt, who have only two losses in their previous 10 Bundesliga games.
Borussia Dortmund, who notched their first win since September on the debut of new coach Peter Stoeger on Tuesday to move into sixth on 25 points, will be hoping their recovery will continue against visitors Hoffenheim on Saturday.
Bayer Leverkusen, fourth on 27, have quietly climbed up the table on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run and face Hanover on Sunday.