Summary

  • Second-placed Leipzig have only dropped two points at home all season.
  • Hoffenheim are the only unbeaten side in Europe's major leagues.
  • The two teams drew 2-2 in Leipzig's first ever Bundesliga outing.

The standout fixture of Matchday 18 sees second-placed RB Leipzig – unbeaten at home – entertain third-placed TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – unbeaten full stop. Hold on to your hats.

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RB Leipzig's great Bundesliga adventure began on 28 August 2016, as the newcomers travelled to Hoffenheim's WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena for their maiden top-flight outing. It didn't disappoint.

On the one hand, a Leipzig side taking a leap into the unknown, having worked their way up from the German fifth division to the Bundesliga over the course of just seven years. On the other, a Hoffenheim team who had just avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, after putting their faith in a 28-year-old coach, Julian Nagelsmann.

Watch: Hoffenheim and Leipzig's thrilling Matchday 1 encounter:

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In a frantic second half, the two sides traded blows. Lukas Rupp put Hoffenheim ahead, only for Dominik Kaiser to level the scores almost immediately and earn himself a place in history, as Leipzig's first ever Bundesliga goalscorer. Mark Uth thought he had won it for Die Kraichgauer, but Marcel Sabitzer popped up with a dramatic last-minute equaliser for Leipzig, to ensure that both sides had something to show for their first outing of the season.

Fast forward five months, to the start of the Rückrunde – and both sides' campaigns have defied all expectations since that opening day. As Leipzig prepare to host the side who welcomed them into the Bundesliga, they are sitting second in the table, just three points behind record champions FC Bayern München – and eight points ahead of Hoffenheim in third.

Leipzig lost for the first time this season against Ingolstadt, who were bottom of the league at the time.

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The 2-2 draw with TSG marked the start of a dizzying 13-game unbeaten run for Ralph Hasenhüttl's side, which included 10 victories. That would be rare for one of the Bundesliga's big guns. For a promoted side – let alone a promoted side playing in their maiden campaign – it was simply unheard of. By the time they were finally beaten – by bottom side FC Ingolstadt 04, ironically enough – Leipzig had spent three weeks on top of the Bundesliga, establishing a new record for the best ever start by a promoted team.

After bouncing back against Hertha Berlin, they faced their sternest test yet, travelling to face Bayern at the Allianz Arena. There was to be no upset. The Bavarian giants were 2-0 up when Emil Forsberg was shown a straight red card, and there was simply no way back for Hasenhüttl's men. The game finished 3-0, and Leipzig went into the winter break three points behind the champions.

Sandro Wagner has been in fine form for Hoffenheim this term, and is the club's top scorer with ten goals.

Meanwhile, Hoffenheim had also set about making it a memorable first half of the season, even if it took them a little longer to slip through the gears. After starting the campaign with a run of four draws, the Sinsheim club clocked up five straight wins, claiming the scalps of FC Schalke 04, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin. It quickly became apparent that they would be tough nuts to crack.

Bayern tried. So did Dortmund. Mainz came closest on Matchday 2. But neither they, nor any of the Bundesliga's other 14 teams, could figure out a way to beat Hoffenheim. And so they made it through the Hinrunde as the only undefeated team in the German top flight – or indeed, in any of Europe's major leagues. 

It was a distinction they shared with Real Madrid CF until 15 January, when the Spanish side were beaten by Sevilla FC in La Liga. Would being the last unbeaten side in Europe have a psychological impact on Hoffenheim, six days before resuming their Bundesliga campaign against FC Augsburg? Hardly – or if so, it was positive. Sandro Wagner and Andrej Kramaric were on target as TSG eased to a 2-0 win, to extend their incredible record to 17 matches.

Watch: Highlights of Hoffenheim's 2-0 victory over Augsburg last weekend:

Leipzig also kicked off 2017 in style. Having put the Bayern defeat firmly behind them, the promoted side swept aside 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt, keeping pace with the leaders and extending their superb run at the Red Bull Arena. They have now won seven of eight home outings this season, including the last six, and only dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

So, what will happen when the unstoppable force of RB Leipzig meets the immovable object that is TSG 1899 Hoffenheim? All will be revealed on Saturday – and you'd be mad to miss it.

Key duels: Where Leipzig versus Hoffenheim will be won and lost

Andy Smith