The Bundesliga’s finest will again be jostling for position this weekend, but as ever there is more bubbling away beneath the surface than meets the eye.
bundesliga.com outlines what to look out for ahead of this weekend’s headline fixtures.
Valentine's Day tryst?
Sunday may be Valentine's Day, but there will be no love lost between local neighbours FC Augsburg and FC Bayern München when they meet at the WWK Arena to round out the Matchday 21 fixtures. Just 30 kilometres separate the two sides, and while Bayern are always favourites to take the points, the hosts will fancy their chances of causing an upset after beating their neighbours twice in the last four encounters. Augsburg's most recent win was in May last year, when striker Raul Bobadilla secured all three points with a cheeky back-heeled goal in a narrow 1-0 success in Munich. A repeat result on Sunday would doubtless be well received by FCA coach Markus Weinzierl as he looks to steer his side further clear of the relegation zone.
Dortmund look to return to winning ways
Borussia Dortmund have struggled uncharacteristically in their last two Bundesliga matches. Die Schwarz-Gelben eventually found a way past FC Ingolstadt 04 on Matchday 19, but drew a first domestic blank of the season in a 0-0 draw against Hertha Berlin last time out. A 3-1 DFB Cup quarter-final victory against VfB Stuttgart in midweek brought a return of the free-flowing Dortmund from earlier this campaign, and coach Thomas Tuchel will hope that his side are back in the groove ahead of a busy run of fixtures which includes next week's visit of FC Porto in the UEFA Europa League. First up on Saturday, though, BVB welcome rock-bottom Hannover 96 to the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK. The Lower Saxony outfit have lost the last six on the spin in the top-flight, with the winter appointment of Thomas Schaaf as head coach yet to have the desired effect. The 96ers have only scored 19 goals this season - one fewer than top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who continued his remarkable form in Stuttgart by scoring once and setting up both other goals. The Gabon international will miss Saturday's clash through injury, however.
Will the Wolves bare their teeth?
VfL Wolfsburg have only sporadically hinted at what they are capable of this season, but need to find their rhythm again sooner rather than later if they are to make a sustained push for a top-four finish. Aside from bottom club Hannover, Dieter Hecking’s charges are the most off-form side in the Bundesliga: the Wolves last won on Matchday 13 and have drawn three and lost four of their subsequent league fixtures. With the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie with KAA Gent coming up next, Wolfsburg must show a reaction at home to FC Ingolstadt 04 on Saturday.
Xhaka's return vital for Gladbach in Hamburg
While Borussia Mönchengladbach's 5-1 victory over SV Werder Bremen last time out - the club's first win of the Rückrunde - was crucial in getting the Foals' top-four push back on track, the return of Granit Xhaka against Hamburger SV this weekend could prove even more important. The Switzerland international will be back at the Volksparkstadion on Sunday afternoon after a three-match ban and it is hardly a surprise that Gladbach’s first real drop in form since Andre Schubert took the reins in September coincided with the holding midfielder's absence. Returning alongside Xhaka could be club captain Martin Stranzl, who made a comeback from injury as a late substitute against Bremen on Matchday 20. The Austrian brings years of top-flight know-how and will shore up a Gladbach defence which has only kept two clean sheets since Schubert took over.
Leverkusen reshuffle in Chicharito's absence
Having played in every Bundesliga game for Bayer 04 Leverkusen since joining the club at the end of August last year, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez's absence this weekend will be felt especially keenly by Die Werkself. The Mexican has scored 13 times in those 17 league outings, so Saturday's opposition SV Darmstadt 98 – incidentally the first team Chicharito played against after moving to Germany – will be relieved to see that the forward has been sidelined with a gluteal injury sustained in the DFB Cup on Tuesday. Admir Mehmedi and Julian Brandt are vying for his starting berth as Leverkusen look to extend their unbeaten run to six Bundesliga matches.
New kid on the block
Having been fast-tracked into the hotseat at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim following Huub Stevens' resignation as head coach, 28-year-old Julian Nagelsmann finds himself in the Bundesliga spotlight for the first time in his fledging career. The former Hoffenheim Under-19s coach was due to take charge of first-team affairs in the summer, but is now the man charged with keeping second-bottom Hoffenheim in the division - nothing more, nothing less. The youngest head coach in Bundesliga history has 14 games of the regulation season left to do so, starting with Saturday's trip to SV Werder Bremen - a club currently five points better off than TSG in the relegation/ promotion play-off spot. Talk about baptism of fire.