Bayern face stern test
The title credentials of surprise German league leaders Hoffenheim will face their sternest examination yet on Friday when the village side travel to the home of reigning champions Bayern Munich.
Bankrolled by local businessman Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim have risen from the depths of Germany's amateur leagues and currently top the table by three points from Bayern after 15 games.
Key to their impressive start to life in their first season in Germany's top flight has been the form of Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic, who tops the Bundesliga scoring charts with 17 goals.
The 24-year-old's prolific form in front of goal has led to speculation linking him with a move away from the club, be he insists he has no intention of leaving.
"All that (speculation) makes me proud, but next season I'll still be wearing the Hoffenheim shirt," he said.
As for his opponents on Friday, Ibisevic refuses to be cowed by their reputation.
"We can beat Bayern", he asserts with confidence. "We're not going to Munich just to visit their stadium."
The Bayern side that confronts Ibsevic and his teammates will be a very different side to the one that limped into action at the beginning of the season.
New coach Jurgen Klinsmann was swept into the Bayern hotseat on a tide of optimism after taking Germany to the 2006 World Cup semifinals, but a return of just two wins in his first seven league games suggested all was not well at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern's inauspicious start to the season included a humiliating 5-2 home defeat at the hands of Werder Bremen, but since influential midfielder Franck Ribery returned to the side their form has improved dramatically.
The Frenchman was in inspirational form as the Bavarian giants surged to the title last season, but missed the opening weeks of this campaign with an ankle injury sustained at Euro 2008.
Bayern have recorded seven wins in 10 league games since his return at the end of September.
Ribery, meanwhile, is relishing the prospect of taking on Hoffenheim in front of a 69,000 sell-out.
"The whole of Germany is waiting for this one," he said. "I just hope we can win it."
Bayer Leverkusen led the table from Hoffenheim until the end of November, when consecutive defeats at Arminia Bielefeld and at home to Bayern saw them slip to fourth.
Leverkusen travel to Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday to face a side sitting second from bottom and with the worst defensive record in the division.
A late Marko Pantelic header earned Hertha Berlin a 2-1 win at home to Cologne last weekend that took them up to third in the table.
They travel to Schalke 04 on Saturday, while last season's runners-up Werder Bremen - who thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 last Saturday - will look to plunder another hatful at basement club Karlsruhe.