Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland is expected to make an eagerly awaited return from injury as his side look to battle back into the Bundesliga top four with a win over high-fliers Wolfsburg on Sunday.
The prolific Norwegian prodigy has missed the last four league games and the last seven in all competitions after picking up a hamstring injury in early December.
Yet the 20-year-old returned to team training this week, and Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc confirmed that he would be back in action this weekend.
“Erling’s recovery has gone well. We are working on the assumption that he can play against Wolfsburg,” said Zorc.
Haaland’s return is timely, with his side in desperate need of a win after a miserable run of form before Christmas saw them drop to fifth in the table, eight points behind leaders Bayern Munich and two behind Sunday’s opponents Wolfsburg.
Dortmund sacked coach Lucien Favre after they were thrashed by promoted side Stuttgart in mid-December, before suffering a shock away defeat to minnows Union Berlin in their second game under caretaker boss Edin Terzic.
Defeat to Wolfsburg would see Dortmund lose four home league games in a row for the first time in 20 years.
“The most important thing is that we start well and end well,” said Haaland, who has scored 17 goals in 14 games in all competitions this season.
In a season squashed by the coronavirus pandemic, many Bundesliga clubs have had just a week off in the shortest winter break in the league’s history.
Yet after their pre-Christmas cup tie was postponed until January, champions Bayern have had an extra week to recover and are expected to waltz past struggling Mainz on Sunday and defend their two-point lead at the top of the table.
Second from bottom and without a win in six games, Mainz parted ways with both their coach and sporting director over Christmas. Huddersfield boss Jan Siewert will take the reins as interim coach against Bayern.
There has also been a changing of the guard at bottom club Schalke, where new coach Christian Gross will take charge of his first game away to Hertha Berlin on Saturday.
Former Tottenham and Stuttgart coach Gross has been charged with leading Schalke out of danger and ending their miserable winless streak of 29 games.
Having not won since last January, the seven-time German champions are now just two games away from equalling Tasmania Berlin’s unwanted record of 31 games without a win, set back in 1966.
One to watch: Manuel Neuer
Fresh from his coronation as the world’s best goalkeeper, the Bayern stopper is just one game away from equalling Oliver Kahn’s club record of 196 Bundesliga clean sheets, a milestone he has been chasing in vain for more than two months.
If he fails again to reach Kahn’s mark against Mainz, Neuer will have gone nine league games without a clean sheet for only the second time in his Bayern career.
150 – RB Leipzig will celebrate their 150th Bundesliga game when they take on Stuttgart on Saturday. They have won 80 of them so far, more than any other German club at the same milestone.
50 – Weeks since Schalke’s last Bundesliga win in January last year. The league’s bottom club are just two games away from equalling Tasmania Berlin’s unwanted record of 31 games without a win.
10 – Goals Erling Braut Haaland has scored in his eight league games for Borussia Dortmund this season. The Norwegian is set to make his first appearance in a month against Wolfsburg.
Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless stated)
Werder Bremen v Union Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Cologne v Augsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt v Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim v Freiburg, Hertha Berlin v Schalke (1730), Stuttgart v RB Leipzig (1930)
Borussia Dortmund v Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich v Mainz (1700)