Freiburg - SC Freiburg have the chance to overhaul fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt when this season's two biggest surprise packages meet in the opening game of Matchday 23 on Friday (kick-off: 20:30 CET).
Neither side was tipped to be anywhere in the vicinity of the top end of the table at the season start, but with two and five points respectively separating the clubs from seventh-placed 1. FSV Mainz 05, a place in Europe now seems an eminently achievable target for both.
Frankfurt will be looking to bounce back from last week's 3-0 defeat to champions Borussia Dortmund at Freiburg's MAGE SOLAR Stadion, where Armin Veh will have to do without the services of influential Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui, who is suspsended, and injured Croatian winter-recruit Srdjan Lakic, who has impressed with two goals in three appearances for the Eagles since joining from Bundesliga rivals VfL Wolfsburg. Former Freiburg man Karim Matmour and Olivier Occean are the players most likely to step in for that duo.
Despite his team's current three-point advantage, Eintracht's head coach iterated at the pre-match press conference that he expects "a battle of equals," stressing that Freiburg's fifth place in the table has not come out of the blue: "They have a few really good players who could easily play for bigger Bundesliga teams."
Much will depend on Alexander Meier getting back to his best on Friday. Frankfurt's twelve-goal top scorer has yet to find the net this year, that four-game goalless streak being the 30-year-old attacking midfielder's longest barren spell of the current season. In that same period, incidentally, Frankfurt's points-per-game average has dropped from 1.71 to 1.4.
Seeking to build on their last week's impressive 3-2 victory away to Werder Bremen and the previous home win against Fortuna Düsseldorf, Freiburg at the same time aim to make good on last September's 2-1 loss at Frankfurt, where Meier netted both goals for the hosts. "I hope we can put in another good performance," said coach Christian Streich, before warning that taking three points would be anything but straightforward against a team who have "a number of players of great individual quality."
Freiburg: Baumann - Sorg, Ginter, Diagne, Günther - Schmid, Schuster, Makiadi, Caliguri - Rosenthal, Kruse
Frankfurt: Trapp - Jung, Zambrano, Anderson, Oczipka - Schwegler, Rode - Aigner, Meier, Matmour - Occean