Munich - The focus turns to the wrong end of the Bundesliga on Saturday afternoon (kick-offs 15:30 CET), with the bottom four all facing tricky ties against teams with completely contrasting agendas.
FC Augsburg and Greuther Fürth travel to sides who traditionally harbour European ambitions, while 1899 Hoffenheim face-off with SC Freiburg in a Baden derby. Meanwhile Fortuna Düsseldorf and VfB Stuttgart both look to get their first points on the board in 2013.
Michel Bastos is set to make his Bundesliga entrance on Saturday as part of the FC Schalke 04 side which plays host to Greuther Fürth. The Brazil international joined the Royal Blues this week following the departure of Lewis Holtby and can hardly wait to savour the atmosphere of the Veltins Arena this weekend.
"I played in the Champions League for Olympique Lyonnais against Schalke and we lost 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen," he said on his new club's website. "I can still remember how incredible the atmosphere was in the Arena. There were 60,000 fans there and, apart from the result, it was a very pleasant experience."
Bastos has set his sights on more UEFA Champions League action over the remainder of his 18-month loan deal with the Royal Blues, which is why victory on Saturday is paramount. "Schalke are a big club and they belong in the Champions League," he said. "That's precisely where I want to be spending the next one and a half years with this club. I will give all I have got, and then we'll have to see what happens.
Schalke can expect to face opponents who give it everything they have got too, inspired by their coach and former Royal Blue Mike Büskens, and one-time Gelsenkirchen terrace hero Gerald Asamoah. "I think that Mike and Gerald are really looking forward to their return to the Arena," said Schalke's sporting director Horst Heldt. "They are going to want to frustrate us on our own ground. Mike will prepare his side as best he can and try to hurt us." Given Fürth's predicament, though, three points are more important for their own cause than getting one over on Schalke.
Schalke: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Fuchs - Neustädter, Jones, Farfan, Draxler, Michel Bastos - Huntelaar
Fürth: Hesl - Zimmermann, Kleine, Sobiech, Baba - Klaus, Nehrig, Petsos, Stieber - Djurdjic, Azemi
FC Augsburg have started 2013 like a side with a point to prove and their coach Markus Weinzierl's declaration that people were wrong to write them off is not lost on his side's next opponents, VfL Wolfsburg.“You could see in their game against Schalke that our opponents are facing up to their battle for survival,” said new Wolves' pack leader Dieter Hecking.
“I saw them live in the stadium two weeks ago in Düsseldorf and they surprised me with their attacking play. They've certainly been buouyed by their good start to the second half of the season. Augsburg are going to try all they can to maintain that short run of form here.”
One of the secrets to that form has been the partnership swiftly forged by South Korean duo Ja-Cheol Koo and Dong-Won Ji. Ji has been in fine form since arriving from Sunderland AFC, while Koo is showing why he made such a name for himself during the second half of last season. He is currently struggling with a knock however and is still doubtful for Saturday.
Not that Weinzierl is going to alter his side's philosophy, with or without the midfielder whi himself is currenty on an extended loan spell from Wolfsburg. “After picking up four points from our first two games after the winter break, we want to take something in Wolfsburg too,” he said. “We aim to build on our performances and carry on picking up points, even if we know Wolfsburg have a great deal of individual quality.”
Wolfsburg: Benaglio - Fagner, Naldo, Kjaer, Schäfer - Träsch, Polak - Vieirinha, Diego, Perisic - Dost
Augsburg: Manninger - Philp, Callsen-Bracker, Klavan, Ostrzolek - Baier - Koo, Moravek, Ji, Werner - Mölders
Several new faces could take to the field at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena on Saturday as Hoffenheim exploited the winter transfer window to strengthen their side. After dropping into the bottom two last weekend, the club decided action was needed and Heurelho Gomes and Eugen Polanski were hastily brought on board, taking the January draft up to six.
Polanski played against Saturday's opponents Freiburg just before the winter break for his former club FSV Mainz 05 and Hoffenheim can tap into that recent experience to prepare as well as possible for a crucial clash. "It's going to be a rough game, like it was for Mainz," said the new arrival, "but we'll have our chances."
“Three points are hugely important,” said coach Marco Kurz, who is yet to celebrate victory since taking charge of the club during the winter break. To help in achieving that objective, a third new face can be expected to spearhead the attack in Igor de Camargo, who arrived from league rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach. "We expect more potency in our attack with Igor," said Hoffenheim general manager Andreas Müller.
Given the many changes to the home personnel, Freiburg coach Christian Streich is really not sure what to expect. "Looking at the Hoffenheim squad, they're a bit like a lucky dip bag," he said. “They have so many alternatives. Hoffenheim have a very good Bundesliga team when you look at the individuals they have got.” Streich meanwhile has another alternative of his own with Cedric Makiadi back in town following DR Congo's elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations.
Hoffenheim: Gomes - Beck, Delpierre, Vestergaard, Johnson - Weis, Polanski - Roberto Firmino, Volland, Usami - de Camargo
Freiburg: Baumann - Hedenstad, Krmas, Diagne, Sorg - Schuster, Flum - Schmid, Caligiuri - Rosenthal, Kruse
Düsseldorf and Stuttgart have both been left in the blocks at the start of 2013 with two defeats each since the turn of the year. The Swabians have an "obligation" to pick up their first points of the calendar year, according to midfielder Christian Gentner, who displayed his commitment to the club by signing a new contract before Christmas. Coach Bruno Labbadia has now followed suit, signing a new deal through to 2015.
Once they get through this rough patch, Labbadia is convinced the future will be a rosy one for VfB: "I can see the potential of this club and the opportunity to push even further forward. Something is growing here in Stuttgart and of course I'm delighted to be able to see it grow as coach. It may take a while, but we'll be more successful in the long run.”
Labbadia's decision to extend his contract has "been no big deal within the team", according to skipper Serdar Tasci, who added that the players were "focused on Düsseldorf anyway. But it's still important for the team, it's a sign tha the coach wants to carry on along this path with us and that can certainly give us a boost for this game."
Fortuna are also in the need of a boost, in the form of three points. "We're not going to pin the team against the wall just because we've lost two in a row," said coach Norbert Meier. "Everybody is prepared to do everything for success. We will discuss the mistakes internally and try to do better. I can still remember how we were the number one relegation candidates before the season started so we're not going to be afraid now."
Fortuna: Giefer - Balogun, Latka, Malezas, van den Bergh - Tesche, Bodzek - Reisinger, Kruse, Bellinghausen - Schahin
Stuttgart:Ulreich - Rüdiger, Tasci, Niedermeier, Sakai - Gentner, Kvist, Holzhauser - Okazaki, Ibisevic, Traore