Top Game I
The group stages of the Champions League successfully negotiated and battling it out near the top on the home front - for a club that has announced an effective moratorium on incoming transfers, Schalke 04 have not been doing too badly at all so far in 2012/13. The Royal Blues have gone from strength to strength since "Coach of the Century" Huub Stevens returned for his second stint in Gelsenkirchen early last season. Hamburger SV aspire to similar heights, but getting there will likely be a longer-term process for one of just three German clubs, alongside FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, to have been crowned champions of Europe down the years. At any rate, the rebuilding project continues apace under Thorsten Fink and with HSV's own special returnee, Rafael van der Vaart, pulling the strings again in the middle of the park. The Red Shorts are the hosts for this one, and will be out to show that they already have what it takes to mix it with the best.
3 Minutes with...
...Lewis Holtby. He only recently turned 22, but Holtby has already been around the block on a path that has taken him to the very top of the German game. Released by Borussia Mönchengladbach at youth level, he made his professional breakthrough with Alemannia Aachen before being snapped up by Schalke 04 in 2009. The Royal Blues farmed him out on loan soon after, first to nearby VfL Bochum and subsequently, for the 2010/11 campaign, to 1. FSV Mainz 05. It was there, under Thomas Tuchel and alongside fellow "Bruchweg boys" Andre Schürrle and Adam Szalai, that the young attacking midfielder cemented his reputation as one of the country's outstanding prospects, earning his first senior call-up for Germany in the process. Now in his second season back in Gelsenkirchen, Holtby has established himself as an indispensable part of the Schalke set-up.
In Focus I
At the age of 35, Jens Langeneke is finally getting a taste of the big time. It has been a long wait, but the veteran central defender, who has been on the books at Fortuna Düsseldorf since 2006, following spells at Ahlen, Osnabrück, Oberhausen and SV Lippstadt, is savouring the experience all the more for it. An integral figure in Fortuna's remarkable rise through the ranks, Langeneke agreed a one-year extension with the club on his expiring contract in the summer - and has been an ever-present for them in the Bundesliga so far, slotting away a couple of penalties for good measure.
One of the most striking phenomena of the past couple of seasons has been the rapidly increasing presence of young Japanese players in the Bundesliga. If Shinji Kagawa paved the way, the now-departed Dortmund star has swiftly been replaced by a whole clutch of his up-and-coming compatriots, prominent among them Hoffenheim's on-loan Takashi Usami, Stuttgart duo Shinji Okazaki and Gotoku Sakai, Hiroshi Kiyotake of Nuremberg and new Eintracht Frankfurt dynamo Takashi Inui. Two German World Cup winners from 1990, Pierre Littbarski and Guido Buchwald, subsequently went on to gain extensive first-hand experience of the game in Japan. Who better to ask about this exciting new trend?
All this and more in this week's edition of GOAL! The Bundesliga Magazine.