Xabi Alonso’s moment of reckoning has arrived. The Basque manager must be at the top of his wits if he is to help Bayer Leverkusen shed the unwanted moniker of ‘Neverkusen’ – a disparaging reference to the absence of a single Bundesliga title in the Bay Arena club’s 119 year existence. The World Cup winning midfielder has transformed Leverkusen from relegation cannon fodder to Europe’s most in form side in a space of 13 months but he must now show he has the durability to last the distance.
Leverkusen lead Bundesliga standings with a club record 42 points from 16 games, four more than eleven time defending champions Bayern Munich who also have a game in hand. But whereas Bayern Munich has only lost South Korean defender Kim Mi-Jae to the Asia Cup, Leverkusen must maintain their impressive pre-winter break form without defensive kingpins Edmond Tapsoba (Burkina Faso) and Odilon Kossounou (Ivory Coast), striker Victor Boniface (Nigeria) plus Morocco’s Amine Adli as all four are featuring at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Bayern Munich can move within a point of the leaders when they welcome Hoffenheim to the Allianz Arena on Friday where the club is mourning the death of legendary sweeper Franz Beckenbauer who passed away earlier this week at the age of 78. The Bavarians giants have been transformed by the goals of 21-goal record signing Harry Kane who has forged a telepathic understanding with Leroy Sane. It’s suffice to suggest Hoffenheim’s hopes of getting a result depends on keeping the pair quiet.
Having plundered a hat trick against Bochum on his return from a long injury lay off Patrick Schick will relish the opportunity of replacing Boniface in Leverkusen’s attack while Josep Stanisic and Piero Hincapie have been earmarked to serve as an understudies to Kossounou and Tapsoba for Leverkusen’s trip to Augsburg.
Third placed Stuttgart must contend with Gerardo Seoane’s five time champions Borussia Moenchengladbach without top scorer Serhou Guirassy and DR Congo’s Silas Katompa Mvumpa, both of whom are to feature at the Africa Cup of Nations. Guirassy’s team mate in Guinea Naby Keita is the only absentee from Werder Bremen when they travel to Bochum.
Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim
RB Leipzig v Frankfurt,
Freiburg v Union Berlin,
Mainz v Wolfsburg,
Koln v Heidenheim,
Augsburg v Bayer Leverkusen,
Darmstadt v Borussia Dortmund
Bochum v Werder Bremen,
Gladbach v Stuttgart