Sinsheim - The Bundesliga gets back underway following the international break with Friday evening's Matchday 9 opener between 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayer 04 Leverkusen (kick-off 20:30 CEST).
Form and history on Bayer's side
A win for Bayer against their mid-table hosts would take them to the top of the standings overnight, two points ahead of FC Bayern München and three clear of Borussia Dortmund, both of whom are in action on Saturday afternoon. And at first glance, die Werkself look to have every chance of departing with a maximum haul in the bag.
For starters, Sami Hyypiä's men are clearly in fine fettle going into the contest at the Rhein-Neckar Arena, with a 2-0 loss at FC Schalke 04 their only league setback of the season so far. Last time out, despite being comprehensively outplayed, they showed impressive resilience to hang on for a share of the points in the table-topping encounter with FC Bayern. On past form, meanwhile, Bayer are on a singularly solid footing for this particular head-to-head; of the sides' ten top-flight meetings to date, they have won nine and drawn the other.
As far as Hyypiä is concerned, however, all of the above is peripheral to the game-by-game focus by which the team have done so well by thus far. "I don't care what position we're in after the game," the 40-year-old Finn stressed at Thursday's pre-match press conference. "There are no prizes for being top in October. Earning three points on Friday is all that matters."
Kießling and Leno back in training
To that end, and having expressed his relief at having a full complement of fit and healthy returnees from national team duty, Hyypiä laid out the general plan of action. "Hoffenheim play a high-pressure game. We need to adapt our own build-up play to that and give our forwards some precise service. That's where we've been very dangerous this season."
The most prolific of those forwards, Stefan Kießling, has been back in team training since Wednesday after having stitches removed after a foot injury he picked up against Bayern. Keeper Bernd Leno, who had to pull out of the Germany U-21 squad with a muscle problem, is also back in training and should be fit to start on Friday.
Gisdol expects tough contest
Markus Gisdol has meanwhile been "training intensively on both an individual and a group basis" with those of his players not on national duty over the past couple of weeks. The Hoffenheim coach has placed special emphasis on working to regain possession against opponents who "have cemented their position among Germany's top three teams. Up front, in particular, they've got huge quality in [Sidney] Sam, [Heung-Min] Son and Kießling."
Accordingly, and despite the rampant form of his own side's frontline Gisdol views Hoffenheim as the underdogs on Friday. "Hardly anyone expects us to take anything from this one, but obviously we'll be doing everything in our power to get a result," he said. As to that skewed historical balance, he continued, "Bayer aren't our bogey team. We've changed things around here, and so have they." What the 44-year-old is in no doubt about, however, is that, "We're going to have to be on absolute top form. Otherwise, we're in trouble."
Hoffenheim: Casteels - Beck, Abraham, Vestergaard, Toljan - Polanski, Salihovic - Volland, Roberto Firmino, Elyounoussi - Modeste
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Boenisch - Castro, Reinartz, Rolfes - Sam, Kießling, Son
Click here to relive how Leverkusen escaped with a point against FC Bayern on Matchday 8, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: