Eight points separate the top five teams in the German first division.
Hertha Berlin and 1. FC Union Berlin take centre stage in the opening fixture with one shared objective: capital punishment. Promoted Union won the first Berlin derby of the Bundesliga era thanks to a Sebastian Polter penalty, but head west one place and point behind their city rivals in the standings following their 2-0 defeat to FC Bayern München, and Hertha’s emphatic 3-0 win at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Bruno Labbadia’s debut as head coach.
Local bragging rights are also up for grabs in the Rhineland, too, where Borussia Mönchengladbach play host to top-four rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Gladbach, 3-1 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 26, could climb to within three points of leaders Bayern with a win; three points for Bayer, on the other hand, would take the Kai Havertz-led ensemble above the Foals into third.
The Rhineland will still be rocking 24 hours later when 1. FC Köln entertain Fortuna Düsse dorf. Fortuna beat the Billy Goats 2-0 for a first Bundesliga home win over their regional rivals in 36 years earlier this season – the highpoint of an otherwise difficult campaign. Die Flingeraner are unbeaten in four, but begin the weekend in the relegation play-off spot, four points adrift of safety and 10 behind their hosts this Sunday.
Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund make the trip to Wolfsburg on Saturday, buoyed by their 4-0 drubbing of FC Schalke 04 in the fabled Revierderby. Erling Haaland was among the scorers once again to take his tally to 10 goals in just 541 minutes of Bundesliga football as BVB recorded their eighth win from nine in 2020, and fifth in a row to keep the pressure firmly on Bayern.
Wolfsburg left it late in their 2-1 win over Augsburg, a result which extends their unbeaten run to four. Ominously, the Wolves went nine games to start the season without defeat, before losing 3-0 in Dortmund on Matchday 10. You have to go back 10 matches – to May 2015 – for their last Bundesliga win over the BlackYellows.
A positive result for Wolfsburg would be an added boon for Bayern, who have a four-point cushion at the top of the standings ahead of the weekend’s action. Robert Lewandowski’s 26th Bundesliga goal of the season paved the way for victory in Berlin – the 16th of the Hansi Flick era. A 17th in their meeting with struggling Frankfurt would provide the perfect tonic ahead of their upcoming trip to Dortmund for Der Klassiker.
Title rivals RB Leipzig have ground to make up after being held to a 1-1 draw by FC Augsburg. Julian Nagelsmann’s charges have recorded only three league wins in 2020, and travel to 1. FSV Mainz 05 some seven points behind pacesetters Bayern (bear in mind they topped the pile at Christmas). If results go against them, Die Roten Bullen could slip outside the top four altogether.
At the other end of the standings, Mainz are still precariously perched in 15th place, despite fighting back from 2-0 down to draw with Cologne. The 05ers are only four points better off than Düsseldorf, but have a nine-point leap on the automatic relegation places occupied by SC Paderborn 07 and SV Werder Bremen, who host Hoffenheim and travel to SC Freiburg respectively.
Augsburg are locked on 27 points with Mainz, and by no means out of the woods yet. Their task is to end a six-game winless run away to a Schalke outfit on the longest winless run of any Bundesliga team – eight matches. Die Függerstädter don’t travel well, though, having lost their last five in a row away from the WWK Arena and taken just nine points from a possible 39 road encounters all season.