Alongside special previews of the Friday re-opener between Schalke 04 and Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen's tussle with champs Borussia Dortmund, we take a look ahead to the meeting of the table-toppers and cellar dwellers, as FC Bayern Munich entertain SpVgg Greuther Fürth on Saturday. There is no doubting the competitive nature of the Bundesliga, but this is one of those fixtures in which the dice seem incontrovertibly loaded in the home team's favour. The records have been tumbling one after the other this season as Bayern set a pace too hot seemingly even for their biggest rivals to handle and they show no inclination to ease off any time soon. And yet...top-flight newbies Fürth are no pushovers. The 3-0 loss to Bayern on the opening matchday proved to be their heaviest of the first season-half. Mike Büskens' men can battle and they can play football – but can they pull off the surprise of the 2012/13 campaign in Munich? In northern Bavaria meanwhile, 1. FC Nuremberg begin the post-Hecking era with a home game against Hamburger SV, four places and as many points in front of them in lower mid-table. Former U-23 coach Michael Wiesinger is the new man in charge at der Club and he could have hoped for an easier introduction to life in the Bundesliga than a meeting with a resurgent HSV side now eyeing a possible return to the European stage. For Fortuna Düsseldorf and FC Augsburg meanwhile, Bundesliga survival is the promised land this season and while top-flight returnees Düsseldorf have a solid 21-point base to work from going into 2013, second-bottom Augsburg, level on nine points with Fürth, three behind Hoffenheim and ten down on Wolfsburg outside the relegation zone, look like they are in for a gruelling few months.
For FC Bayern Munich it was a case of no change is as good as a rest as they once again opted for Doha in Qatar as their winter training camp base. The record champions were already in fine fettle ahead of the trip on the back of a barnstorming first season-half and their week-long sojourn in optimal conditions on the balmy Persian Gulf was just the ticket as Jupp Heynckes' star ensemble seek to get up to working temperature again for the challenging months ahead. Nine points clear at the head of the Bundesliga and still going strong in both the Champions League and DFB Cup, Bayern are trebly determined not to settle for second-best this time around.
These are uncertain times for Schalke 04. When they beat Olympiacos at home in late November to secure, as group stage winners, a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, the Royal Blues were second in the Bundesliga standings. That would prove as good as it got for them in 2012 however and in the wake of the 3-1 home loss to SC Freiburg on Matchday 17, head coach Huub Stevens paid the ultimate price for the ongoing form slump and parted company with the club for the second time. His successor Jens Keller, given a shotgun promotion from the U-17s, is tasked with getting the Gelsenkirchen club back in the groove on the home front in good time for February's Champions League head-to-head with Galatasaray and as skipper Benedikt Höwedes noted at the winter training camp in Doha, there has been an almost palpable sense of turnaround in the air as the players gear up for the restart.
3 Minutes with...
...Franz Beckenbauer. One of only two players, alongside Brazil's Mario Zagallo, to win the World Cup as both a player and coach, he is widely regarded as one of the game's all-time greats. The archetypal modern sweeper, Beckenbauer skippered the great Bayern Munich side who racked up three European Cup titles in the mid-1970s. Until recently the president of FC Bayern, whom he also coached to victory in the Bundesliga and UEFA Cup, the 103-time Germany international remains an ambassador for the record champions and an influential figure on the domestic and international football stages in like measure. GOAL! shoots the breeze with der Kaiser on the unfolding Bundesliga season and the general resurgence of the German game.