BERLIN - The Bundesliga returns to action this week after the international break, with several intriguing clashes to look forward to. Here are five things to consider ahead of the first game on Friday evening.
Bayern stars return to squad
There was good news for injury plagued Bayern Munich this week, as Thomas Mueller, Jerome Boateng and Franck Ribery all returned to team training. None of the three are expected to start against Augsburg on Saturday.
While Mueller and Boateng are set to return to the bench, Ribery is unlikely to be named in the squad after six weeks out with a knee injury. Augsburg have won just one of their last five games, and will be hoping that the return of Alfred Finnbogason can help them return to form in time to face a rampant Bayern outfit.
Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be left out of Borussia Dortmund's squad for Friday's visit to Stuttgart. Both Aubameyang and his team are currently in a miserable run of form. The striker has not scored, and Dortmund have not won, in any of his last five appearances.
"He has been scoring a lot of goals, but unfortunately only in training," joked coach Peter Bosz. On Thursday, Dortmund confirmed that Aubameyang would not travel to Stuttgart, in what Kicker magazine reported to be a "disciplinary measure". Bosz himself is under pressure, and nothing less than a win will do when Dortmund travel to Stuttgart.
"There is always pressure when you are not winning," said Bosz. "The challenge is turning things around again, and we will do that."
Schalke missing midfield stars
With Dortmund struggling, fourth-placed Schalke have a chance to overtake their old rivals when they host Hamburg on Sunday.
Unbeaten in their last five games, Schalke will be without the injured Nabil Bentaleb, while midfield star Leon Goretzka is also a doubt after a recent bone problem. "We hope that (Goretzka) is able to play against Hamburg," said coach Domenico Tedesco, "but we will not take any unnecessary risks."
Hamburg, meanwhile, are expected to give a second Bundesliga start to 17-year-old Jann Fiete-Arp.
Leipzig welcome back World Cup heroes
Attention turns back to the Bundesliga title race after a highly successful international break for RB Leipzig's stars. Striker Timo Werner got on the scoresheet for Germany against France, while Marcel Halstenberg made his international debut against England. Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg, meanwhile, celebrated World Cup qualification with Denmark and Sweden respectively.
All four players will be in the starting eleven when Leipzig travel to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, as they look to emulate last season’s 3-2 victory at the BayArena. Four points behind Bayern in second place, RB may need a repeat performance to keep their title hopes alive.
Friends reunited in Bremen
Hanover’s visit to Werder Bremen on Sunday will pit old friends Martin Harnik and Max Kruse against each other. The two strikers played together for 11 years at youth level, and will be on opposite sides of a crucial northern derby on Sunday.
Bremen’s Kruse cannot afford to be friendly, however, with his side five points adrift of safety and desperately in need of a first season victory. "There is a lot at stake for Bremen and for us," Harnik told Bild. "On the pitch, there will be more important things than our friendship."
Friday - VfB Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund
Saturday - Bayern Munich v Augsburg, Hoffenheim v Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen v RB Leipzig, Mainz v Cologne, Wolfsburg v Freiburg, Hertha Berlin v Borussia Moenchengladbach
Sunday - Schalke v Hamburg (1430), Werder Bremen v Hanover 96