Cologne - There could hardly be a greater contrast in form for four sides meeting in the Bundesliga this Saturday (kick-off 15:30 CET / 14:30 GMT).
SV Werder Bremen - FC Augsburg
At one end of the spectrum, SV Werder Bremen and FC Augsburg are both riding on the crest of the wave ahead of their Weser-Stadion meeting while, right down at the other end, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and VfB Stuttgart both want to put their first points on the board this year. In between, meanwhile, Borussia Mönchengladbach host 1. FC Köln in a Rhineland derby that never fails to disappoint. bundesliga.com takes a look at the Matchday 21 action…
A look at the Bundesliga form guide would make SV Werder Bremen's clash with FC Augsburg on Saturday worthy of top billing, with both sides having hit the ground running coming into the new year.
Bremen's recent resurgence has seen them leave their relegation worries behind and, for the first time since the very early days of the season, move closer to the top six and Europe than the bottom three. The form of Franco Di Santo has helped fuel that rise, and he is fighting to be fit this weekend, while his partnership with 20-year-old Davie Selke has had fans harking back to the Miroslav Klose-Ivan Klasnic dream attack of a decade ago.
"We had a clear plan, and it's worked a dream," said Bremen's sporting director Thomas Eichin of Selke. "You can't imagine Bremen's squad without him now." Selke, inspirational for Germany's under-19s in their European Championship triumph last summer, scored his first professional goal in the reverse fixture in Augsburg back in September, and four more have followed since.
With such firepower to face, Augsburg could probably have done without the news that their captain Paul Verhaegh is going to miss the next few weeks with a calf injury. Markus Weinzierl's men have enough going for them up front too, though, with Raul Bobadilla and Halil Altintop having started the year confidently.
Borussia Mönchengladbach - 1. FC Köln
Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Lucien Favre reaches a landmark this weekend when he completes four full years of loyal and successful service to the Foals with a local derby against Köln.
Since taking up the reins at a side staring relegation in the face, he has transformed Gladbach into a club who, like in the 1970s, are now expected to be in the mix when European berths are dished out in May. He has done so without compromising on quality, boasting a side which plays some of the most attractive, attacking football in the league, with the likes of Patrick Herrmann, Andre Hahn, Max Kruse and Ibrahima Traore.
That quartet is a prospect that can ruin any kind of party, not least Carnival in Cologne. The 'fifth annual season' is now in full swing in the Carnival stronghold, and the fact it coincides with one of the biggest fixtures on the Billy Goats' football calendar just creates even more of a buzz around the city.
As well as Carnival, however, derby fever has also gipped the Rhineland. "I think local derbies are something special for everybody," said Gladbach winger Herrmann. "It's certainly going to be a special game for both sides. You can really feel how the anticipation is rising in both camps. Even if the atmosphere in Borussia Park is always very good, you do feel how much this game means to the fans."
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - VfB Stuttgart
Stuttgart will be bidding to end their wait for a first win in 2015, and their first goal since mid-December, when they travel to local rivals Hoffenheim. Two defeats and a goalless draw in Cologne have seen the Swabians slump to the foot of the table, and after hitting rock bottom, their coach Huub Stevens hopes they will now bounce back.
"Our time to score goals will come again," said the Dutchman, who might be able to count on the services of new recruit Geoffroy Serey Die, fresh from victory in the Africa Cup of Nations with Cote d'Ivoire. Those title celebrations mean he may have arrived a few days later than planned, but Stevens is happy for the 30-year-old to integrate himself gradually at his new club. "I wasn't going to disturb him while he celebrated," Stevens said. "He deserved it."
Hoffenheim have not had much to smile about either since the turn of the year, with three straight defeats and eight in their last 11 seeing them drop off the pace behind the top six. "It's that little something that's been lacking for us to get the ball across the line," bemoaned their coach Markus Gisdol.
They are not letting it get them down, though, according to former Stuttgart full-back Andreas Beck. "We've had setbacks before, but they never knocked us down in the past and that shouldn’t be the case now either," said the nine-time Germany international. "One win and all that confidence will come pouring back."