Bundesliga Preview: Leaders Bayern and Wolfsburg kick off Ruckrunde
The second half of the Bundesliga season begins on Friday as Bayern Munich look to move closer to a third consecutive league title against second-placed Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena.
An impressive campaign from Dieter Hecking's side has seen them assume the mantle of Bayern's nearest challengers, but even a run of one defeat in 12 has only been enough to move to within 11 points of the champions.
If Bayern can record a ninth consecutive victory in all competitions against Friday's hosts they will take another big step towards defending their crown, and forward Thomas Muller sees no reason why his side cannot extend their lead.
"There's no reason to suggest that we won't have a good game on Friday," he told reporters this week.
"It's nice to be back under way. We immediately have the chance to extend our lead. We have a good cushion, but are not mathematically ensured the championship."
The visit of Borussia Dortmund to Bayer Leverkusen would normally be a top-of-the-table contest also, but, due to the former's struggles, Saturday's meeting will take on altogether different dynamic.
Jurgen Klopp's side sit second bottom and in need of points to salvage anything from their season, with the coach recently describing his mid-season break as like "going on holiday on a bed of nails" due to their dismal recent form.
"We have to win back some credit. Our position is clear, we are four points behind the area where we want to be at the end of the season," he added in an interview with Die Welt.
Leverkusen could slip out of the top four with defeat to Dortmund as fifth-placed Schalke host Hannover, while Augsburg meet Hoffenheim on Sunday.
The sides, in sixth and seventh, are separated by just a point and the hosts will be able to give a debut to Bayern Munich loanee Pierre Hojbjerg at the SGL Arena.
Strugglers Stuttgart travel to Borussia Monchengladbach, while goal-shy Hamburg welcome Cologne with work still to do to surpass Tasmania Berlin's all-time low of 15 Bundesliga goals in 1966.
Hamburg - who have nine top-flight goals to their name this term - will be without the injured Lewis Holtby (collarbone) while Nicolas Castillo could make his Mainz debut against Paderborn.
Freiburg go in search of their first win in the league since November against Eintracht Frankfurt, while Werder Bremen welcome a Hertha Berlin side who have taken just five points on the road this term.