Some of the Bundesliga's best-known stars are set to return from injury in the early part of 2018. bundesliga.com has duly pieced together a dream XI of expectant comeback kids...
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
His comeback from a broken foot might still be a little while off, but even Sven Ulreich's impressive performances have not stopped Bayern Munich fans pining after their captain Manuel Neuer. Fortunately, the Bayern No.1 very much intends to be back for the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League (should his side get there) and be fighting fit for the FIFA World Cup 2018, and is well on the way to reaching that aim, having recently been pictured up and running on the treadmill.
Watch: Manuel Neuer is giving back to the children of hometown Gelsenkirchen
Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
If Bayern fans are desperate to see Neuer back in action, just imagine how Borussia Dortmund fans must be feeling at the sight of Lukasz Piszczek being back in training after knee ligament damage. With the Pole in the side, BVB are unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season; without him, Die Schwarzgelben have only won two of 10 games. Peter Stöger will be delighted to welcome him back for the visit of Wolfsburg on Matchday 18.
Marc-Oliver Kempf (Freiburg)
Another who is expected to return on Matchday 18 – when Freiburg travel to Eintracht Frankfurt – Marc-Olver Kempf has been restricted to four Bundesliga outings this term due to successive muscle injuries. A winner of the UEFA European Championships at both Under-21 and Under-19 level, the 22-year-old's defensive nous will come in very handy indeed as the Black Forest side battle to beat the drop.
Jonas Hector (Cologne)
Another defender expected to slot right back in on Matchday 18 – when his beloved Cologne welcome local rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach – Jonas Hector has been a big miss for the Billy Goats since injuring his ankle in the UEFA Europa League against Arsenal in September. With Cologne nine points adrift at the bottom of the standings and embarking upon the toughest survival mission in Bundesliga history, the 35-time Germany international will be thrown in at the deep end.
Watch: Jonas Hector has become part of the furniture at Cologne
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
A bout of sciatica deprived Bayern of Arjen Robben's services at a crucial time during the Hinrunde, but – back in action at the club's winter training camp in Doha, Qatar – the flying Dutchman is primed for a return against Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 18. In 11 top-flight appearances this term, Robben has scored three times and picked up two assists.
Watch: Eight years and counting for Arjen Robben at Bayern
Thiago (Bayern Munich)
Another Bayern midfielder who picked up an injury at a crucial stage of the season, Thiago is expected to be fit and firing in February following a muscle injury. The Spaniard had been at his mesmeric best prior to the injury, and although the Bavarians are well stocked in central midfield, players combining the Spaniard's quality and experience are few and far between.
Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
Just as he was returning to his best following a metabolic disorder, Mario Götze picked up an ankle ligament injury in Dortmund's helter-skelter 4-4 draw against Schalke in November. Prior to the knock, the FIFA World Cup winner had returned one goal and three assists in 10 games; BVB looked a lot less fluent without the 25-year-old.
Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Neck problems kept Frankfurt's Marco Fabian out of the whole pre-season programme and the entirety of the Hinrunde. That was a real blow for the Eagles, who – despite climbing as high as eighth – have left the impression that a dash of the Mexican's creativity (seven goals and four assists in 2016/17) would not go amiss.
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig)
RB Leipzig's best player this season, Marcel Sabitzer missed the final five Bundesliga gams of the first half of the season with a shoulder injury, suffered in the UEFA Champions League win at Monaco. The Easterners' top provider with four assists, the 23-year-old was recently voted Austria's Player of the Year, breaking David Alaba's six-year stranglehold on the award.
Alex Meier (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Absent since last season's DFB Cup final defeat to Dortmund, Frankfurt's Alex Meier is back up and running after a foot injury, although it remains unclear as to when the Bundesliga's two-time top scorer will be back in first-team action.
Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
It is much to Dortmund's delight that Marco Reus is back in training and soon to be available again (although there has been no date set by the club, so as not to put pressure on the attacking midfielder). One of Germany's most talented players, Reus is aiming to end the season on a high with BVB and force himself into Germany's World Cup squad after missing the 2014 triumph with injury.
Watch: Marco Reus' top three Bundesliga goals in 2016/17