The second half of the Bundesliga campaign officially starts now, but how will the Rückrunde begin for sides battling each other for glory at the top, for salvation at the bottom and local bragging rights?
All that and much more to look out for on Matchday 18! bundesliga.com takes a look at the five things you have to know as the Bundesliga reaches the halfway mark and begins to turn for home.
At the start of the season some may have seen this tie as being a relegation scrap, but instead it sees second host third with two unbeaten records on the line at the Red Bull Arena. RB Leipzig dispatched Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 17 to extend their almost perfect home record in the Bundesliga: In eight matches so far on home soil, the Saxony club have dropped points just once in a 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 4. The Bundesliga newcomers now put that record on the line when they host the only unbeaten side in Europe’s top five divisions – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. The Sinsheim club make their first competitive visit to the city of Leipzig to face their former head coach, and current RBL sporting director, Ralf Rangnick, who orchestrated their own march through the leagues during a five-year spell in charge. This fixture also sees the season’s highest-scoring Germans meet, with Leipzig’s Timo Werner and TSG’s Sandro Wagner both on ten goals in 2016/17.
Watch: Highlights of Leipzig's dramatic Bundesliga debut against Hoffenheim:
Top scorer race
The German duo of Werner and Wagner are currently fourth in the race for the Bundesliga’s Torjägerkanone, six goals behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who returns to Bundesliga action following Gabon’s elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations. Aubameyang currently leads the way on 16 goals, but Robert Lewandowski made up ground in his absence with a brace against SC Freiburg. His two strikes moved him into second, ahead of 1. FC Köln’s Anthony Modeste, and also into outright second on the list of foreign goalscorers in the history of the Bundesliga. The Pole is now only behind SV Werder Bremen and former FC Bayern München forward Claudio Pizarro. Lewandowski may still be 55 goals short of Peru’s Pizarro, but has played half as many games as the Bundesliga veteran. Bayern’s No9 will be hopeful of making up ground on Pizarro and also Aubameyang this Matchday with a game against Bremen – against whom he scored a hat-trick on the opening day of the season.
Watch: The race for Bundesliga top scorer is well and truly on in the second half of the season.
Matchday 18 will be an emotional one for Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel as he returns to 1. FSV Mainz 05 – the club where the 43-year-old spent five years as head coach and one in charge of the U19s, who he guided to a league title in 2008/09. During his time with the first team, Tuchel’s side set a then-Bundesliga record for winning the opening seven games of the 2010/11 campaign. Mainz won the fifth-most amount of points in the league in that timeframe, giving rise to the locally-famed “Tuchel Table”, which demonstrated Mainz’s consistent performances under Tuchel compared to the more traditional giants of Bayern, Dortmund, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04. The current Schwarzgelben coach, however, cannot afford to be too sentimental, with BVB in need of points and a Mainz record on the line: His successor Martin Schmidt (1.39 points per game) would overtake Tuchel (1.41) as the 05ers’ most successful Bundesliga coach and move to an average of 1.42 points per game with a win on Matchday 18.
Watch: Hear from Dortmund coach Tuchel as he prepares for the second half of the Bundesliga campaign:
It may only be the start of the second half of the campaign, but Hamburger SV’s visit to FC Ingolstadt 04 is already a relegation six-pointer. Both clubs are in desperate need of a win at the bottom, with 16th-placed HSV currently three points off Bremen in 15th and safety, and Die Schanzer a further point behind in the automatic relegation places. It means a draw suits neither team greatly, but it’s also a clash neither side dare lose. And it’s tough to see where a winner might come from: Ingolstadt have the division’s worst home record this season (5 points), Die Rothosen have the third-worst away record (also 5 points), and both have the third-worst attacks in the league with just 14 goals each. Both clubs have changed coaches since the 1-1 draw on the opening day, will that see a change in fortunes for this fixture?
Watch: Get ready for the Rückrunde to really kick off on Matchday 18:
The Rhine Derby
Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach began the season in the Champions League and with aspirations of a possible title challenge. The latter has failed to materialise and Gladbach find themselves out of Europe after the group stage. Bar Die Werkself’s European progress, it has been a disappointing campaign for both sides, and they will now both be looking to get their seasons back on track. Leverkusen are seeking consistency and back-to-back home wins for the first time this campaign, whilst Borussia have started from scratch with the appointment of new coach Dieter Hecking. Die Fohlenelf do have history in this fixture, winning three of the last four meetings, but Bayer 04 did once go 26 Bundesliga games without defeat against Gladbach. Moreover, Mexico’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández has fond memories of facing Borussia after scoring his first-ever Bundesliga hat-trick in a 5-0 win in December 2015.
Watch: Chicharito and his teammates on their desire to improve for the second part of the season: