Coming up on this week's Bundesliga Preview Show…
FC Bayern München are chasing another win towards the defence of their title when TSG 1899 Hoffenheim come calling on Saturday. It is an intriguing encounter not only in terms of the standings, with the visitors taking to the pitch fifth in the table. That is confirmation in itself of their remarkable ongoing upswing under Markus Gisdol, whose first weeks in the job the season before last were spent steering them clear of relegation by way of the play-off. Having now complemented their dazzling forward play with a much improved defence - Matchday 11's 4-3 home loss to 1. FC Köln notwithstanding - Gisdol's troops have the look of viable contenders for a European berth for the first time since the club's sensational debut top-flight campaign in 2008/09. Back then, Hoffenheim went into the winter break top of the table and their first trip to Bayern was one of the most highly anticipated games of the season, which duly lived up to its billing.
It's derby time with a difference in North Rhine-Westphalia, far from the bustle of the Ruhr district in provincial Paderborn, with the eponymous SC playing host to mighty Borussia Dortmund. Not that the heavyweight guests have any particular grounds for being mightily satisfied with their domestic campaign to date, although a 1-0 home win against Mönchengladbach last time out did at least put the brakes on a five-game losing streak that saw them tumble to the very bottom of the table. Paderborn, by contrast, have perhaps even surprised themselves with a more than solid start to their maiden Bundesliga season; four wins and three draws from the opening eleven games leaves them solidly mid-table, five points and six places ahead of Jürgen Klopp's side. And now they have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that Germany's traditional football heartland has a new force to be reckoned with.
A long and distinguished playing career at Borussia Dortmund is due to close out for Sebastian Kehl at the end of the season but until then, the nostalgia is on hold for the 34-year-old midfielder as he tries to help die Schwarz-Gelben back up to more familiar Bundesliga heights. Dortmund have only just put a stop to their longest losing sequence under Jürgen Klopp and although they did dominate a number of those games, despite having to cover for the absence of a glut of creative talents, Kehl is not one to be dwelling on mitigating circumstances. Instead, his and the team's energies are very much focused on the brighter times soon on the way - of that much, they are confident.
In terms of sheer ambition, if not the actual standings, there is little doubt as to the big head-to-head of Matchday 12, with FC Schalke 04 entertaining VfL Wolfsburg at the Veltins Arena. While all is going very much to plan for the visitors, second in the table just four points behind FC Bayern, the Royal Blues are still treading water mid-table. New coach Roberto Di Matteo's tenure has so far delivered two wins at home and two defeats on the road, the most recent at struggling Freiburg. Already nine points down on the Wolves, Schalke can scarcely afford to let a putative rival for a UEFA Champions League berth pull even further clear of them at this still relatively early juncture. It promises to be a nail-biting afternoon in Gelsenkirchen.
When Juan Bernat arrived at FC Bayern from Valencia this summer, there was a degree of head-scratching among pundits as to where exactly the Spain Under-21 international might fit into a championship-winning team. In fact, Bernat has played a part in every Bundesliga game so far for the champions, eight of them from the start - usually in combination with the currently injured David Alaba. Extremely composed in possession and with a grand total of four fouls to his name in over 800 minutes of action, the attack-minded 21-year-old full-back took a further step up the career ladder last month when he scored on his senior debut for Spain in their Euro 2016 qualifier against Luxembourg.