Munich - Some of the Bundesliga's most prolific strikers take centre stage on Saturday afternoon as the battle for both the European places and Bundesliga survival prepares to go into overdrive (kick-offs 15:30 CET).
Hannover 96 - Hamburger SV
VfB Stuttgart's has lain dormant for far too long by his standards, but it's been business as usual and then some for Hamburger SV's , VfL Wolfsburg striker and FC Augsburg's Sascha Mölders since the Bundesliga reopened its doors after the winter break.
The hosts may only have had two days' rest after bowing out of the last 32 of the Europa League against Russian side FC Anji Makhachkala on Thursday, but they are confident of picking up a positive result on home soil, where they have won their last four league matches.
“The disappointment of the last game [against Anji] is not something we can dwell on," said defender Christian Schulz. "We have to concentrate on the next match.” Newly-recruited Belgian left-back Sebastien Pocognoli is likely to start having served his three-game suspension.
Keen to build on their back-to-back victories against the Borussias of Mönchengladbach and Dortmund, Hamburg's Dutch midfield maestro is hoping his side "can get a little run going." The 103-time international is under no illusions regarding the difficulty of the task ahead, however: "Hannover are a very tight unit, very confident on the ball."
The visitors will be pinning their hopes on striking pair and Rudnevs, who have scored 19 of the Red Shorts' 27 goals between them.
Mainz 05 - VfL Wolfsburg
Thomas Tuchel's Mainz are firmly in the thick of things in the battle for the European places, just two points behind sixth-placed Hamburger SV and with only five to make up on Eintracht Frankfurt in fourth, despite a run of three games without a win.
"We're trying to keep the intensity in check, that's all," stated assistant coach Arno Michels in the absence of the flu-stricken Tuchel. Michels insisted this match was the priority, despite the little matter of the club's DFB Cup quarter-final meeting with SC Freiburg. "That's still a way away," he said of Tuesday evening's encounter.
Tuchel is expected to return for the visit of the 15th-placed Wolves, with the Mainz players so far avoiding the same fate that has kept their head coach sidelined virtually all week. "There are just so many people around who are sick, we're worried that players could come down with it," said Michels.
Mainz will have more to worry about come kick-off, though, namely Wolfsburg striker Dost. "My goal count is pretty ordinary," said the modest 23-year-old of his eight Bundesliga goals, six of which have come away from the comforts of the VW-Arena. "I want to score at least 15 this season."
VfB Stuttgart - 1. FC Nuremberg
Perhaps surprisingly, Stuttgart go into the game chasing back-to-back Bundesliga wins for only the third time of what's been a rather topsy-turvy season for a side far more accustomed to challenging for the European places, and a leading scorer without a goal since Matchday 16 in Ibisevic.
"I was very surprised to see Stuttgart losing the first few games of 2013," said Nuremberg defender Per Nilsson of the Swabians' toils. "Beforehand, I thought VfB were a very stable side. More recently that didn’t look the case at all but having now beaten Hoffenheim and Genk, they will have their confidence back."
Only two points separate the two sides in the standings, with 14th-placed Nuremberg still some way off the magical safety barrier with eleven games left on the Bundesliga calendar this term. "The only thing important to us is reaching the 40-point mark as quickly as possible. That makes this a very important game," explained Nilsson.
Yet there's no reason why either side can't achieve much more, with Hamburg only six points better off than the Bundesliga's remaining torchbearer in this season's UEFA Europa League, Stuttgart. "VfB are finally in the Round of 16 again after a ten-year wait [... That's] encouraging going into Saturday’s game,” declared head coach Bruno Labbadia.
FC Augsburg - 1899 Hoffenheim
The Bundesliga's 17th and 16th-placed clubs have endured similar perils for much of the campaign so far, but while Augsburg's fortunes have picked up somewhat since the winter break, Hoffenheim have done little to suggest they'll be ending the season away from the bottom three.
"We’ve got to work together and work harder than our opponents, run more and remain composed in the defining moments," said Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland. "This is a key match about character, and a win would put four points between us and Augsburg. That's massively important."
Wins, though, are a scarce commodity for the Sinsheim club, who've picked up only two in their last 12 Bundesliga outings, and Volland for one is under no illusion as to the difficulty of the task facing his struggling side this weekend: "Augsburg will be extremely aggressive on Saturday and will look to hurt us."
Indeed, with the eight-goal Mölders leading the march, Markus Weinzierl's improving side have already taken points off Fortuna Dusseldorf, Schalke, Wolfsburg and Mainz in 2013, with defeat to high-flying Bayer 04 Leverkusen last weekend their first of the year. "Hoffenheim are direct competitors for us," Weinzierl explained. "It's a game that can make a lot of difference."