BERLIN, Germany, Dec 16 – Bayern Munich need a win at bottom-side Darmstadt on Sunday to be sure of finishing the weekend top of the Bundesliga ahead of their pre-Christmas showdown against second-placed RB Leipzig.
Bayern’s 5-0 hammering of Wolfsburg last Saturday allowed them to regain top spot on goal difference from Leipzig, who suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at strugglers Ingolstadt, ending RB’s three-week run as leaders.
Both Leipzig and Bayern have 33 points and meet at Munich’s Allianz Arena next Wednesday in a mouth-watering clash before the Bundesliga breaks for the winter.
Having tied up the services of striker Robert Lewandowski, who has signed a two-year extension to keep him in Munich until 2021, Bayern have Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara doubtful with a bruised knee.
Mats Hummels has returned to training after missing the win over Wolfsburg with illness while centre-back partner Jerome Boateng is back after a shoulder injury.
Darmstadt have Ramon Berndroth as caretaker coach after sacking Norbert Meier last week.
The club last claimed a league point against Bayern in 1978 and have lost all of their last six league games this season.
– Leipzig’s test –
Leipzig host third-placed Hertha Berlin on Saturday in the first of back-to-back games against the teams either side of them in the table with Bayern to follow five days later.
“It is the phase in which we will see how good we really are and where we can place ourselves,” said Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl.
The Austrian has had right-back Bernardo back in first-team training, but defenders Marvin Compper, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Lukas Klostermann are still injured.
Both Hertha and Leipzig are looking to bounce back from shock defeats.
Berlin crashed to a 1-0 loss at home to Werder Bremen last Saturday and head coach Pal Dardai has both first-choice centre-backs John Anthony Brooks and Sebastian Langkamp injured.
There is another key clash on Friday as hosts Hoffenheim or visitors Borussia Dortmund could climb to third with a victory.
Alongside Real Madrid, fourth-placed Hoffenheim are the only other unbeaten club in Europe’s top leagues.
Their coach Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest in the Bundesliga’s history, is up against his ex-mentor Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel.
Nagelsmann is waiting on the fitness of key players Kerem Demirbay and Sebastian Rudy, while Dortmund are set to include Portugal’s Raphael Guerreiro, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Goetze.
Mid-table Augsburg host Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday with caretaker coach Manuel Baum, 37, in charge after Dirk Schuster was surprisingly sacked on Wednesday after just six months in charge.
Baum has inherited a squad decimated by injuries with Brazilian midfielder Caiuby, Iceland striker Alfred Finnbogason and Raul Bobadilla all out injured.
Midfielder Dominik Kohr was sent off in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Hamburg and is suspended.
Having broken their eight-match winless streak in the league by poaching a 1-0 win over Mainz last Sunday, ‘Gladbach coach Andre Schubert will be without injured US international Fabian Johnson.
Josip Drmic and Thorgan Hazard are options up front to boost a forward line which has scored just three times on the road this season.
Having stunned Leipzig, Ingolstadt can clam another big scalp on Sunday at Bayer Leverkusen, whose winger Kevin Kampl has had a quick return from a foot injury, after being fined dancing in a club last weekend.
Fixtures (all times 5:30pm unless stated)
Hoffenheim v Borussia Dortmund (10:30pm)
Schalke 04 v Freiburg, Mainz v Hamburg, Augsburg v Gladbach, Werder Bremen v Cologne, RB Leipzig v Hertha Berlin, VfL Wolfsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt (8:30pm)
Darmstadt v Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen v Ingolstadt (7:30pm)