Bayern Munich resume their seemingly relentless march towards a third straight Bundesliga title on Friday with coach Pep Guardiola relishing their clash at second-placed Wolfsburg.
The Bavarian giants hold an 11-point lead over the Wolves as the Bundesliga resumes after the winter break.
Bayern travel north with captain Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara on the long-term casualty list with Germany defender Holger Badstuber set to return from injury.
Also, Franck Ribery and Rafinha are confirmed both to be out of the Wolfsburg clash. The pair were injured in Bayern’s training session on Wednesday and the club expect them to be out for the next two weeks which includes missing their three league matches in the next nine days.
Ribery has a tear in his right hamstring and Rafinha has injured a ligament in his left ankle.
Bayern want to hit the ground running before hosting Schalke 04 next Tuesday and then facing Stuttgart away the following Saturday.
“I think it’s good to face the team in second immediately because it forces us to pick up the pace,” said Guardiola.
“Wolfsburg have played an outstanding season so far so that will be tough.
“Then we have our first home game of the new year against Schalke and that will also be difficult.”
“We know how important the first two or three games will be and if we can win our first couple of games of 2015 then we will realise we can take a big step towards defending our Bundesliga title.”
Wolfsburg play their first match since the death of Belgium Under-21 international Junior Malanda earlier this month in a car crash.
It remains to be seen whether China midfielder Zhang Xizhe makes his Bundesliga debut for Wolves.
Due to their massive lead, Bayern’s main rivals have given up hope of catching up with Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking rejecting the media’s label for his side of ‘Bayern Hunters’.
Rudi Voeller, third-placed Bayer Leverkusen’s director of sport, has insisted there are “worlds” between Bayern and the chasing pack.
At the other end of the table, last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund look to climb out of the relegation places.
– ‘Bed of nails’ –
After 10 defeats in 17 games, Dortmund are level with bottom side Freiburg on 15 points and the 2013 Champions League finalists are determined to improve their fortunes at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
Dortmund welcome back Germany winger Marco Reus and attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan from injury.
But they will be without defensive midfielders Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl after the pair picked up injuries during the winter break training camp in Spain.
Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp has described going into the winter break in 17th place as feeling “like going on holiday on a bed of nails”.
Dortmund boosted their squad over the winter break by signing Slovenian right winger Kevin Kampl from RB Salzburg.
Klopp has said his main focus is keeping Dortmund in the Bundesliga, rather than targeting a Champions League place.
“Obviously, we have been viewed harshly, also by our own fans,” Klopp admitted.
“We have to win back some credit, but we can’t just focus on Leverkusen.”
Fifth-placed Schalke 04, who face holders Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, host mid-table Hanover 96, who have re-signed Ivory Coast striker Didier Ya Konan after a six-month sojourn with Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad.
Fixtures (All times 1430 GMT unless stated)
VfL Wolfsburg v Bayern Munich (1930 GMT)
Schalke v Hanover, Mainz 05 v Paderborn, Freiburg v Eintracht Frankfurt, VfB Stuttgart v Bor. Moenchengladbach, Hamburg v Cologne, Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund (1730)
Werder Bremen v Hertha Berlin, Augsburg v Hoffenheim (1630)