The winter break is over, and it is Bundesliga time again! After an exciting first half of the season, the Rückrunde begins with an exciting selection of matches. Leaders Borussia Dortmund take on RB Leipzig, reigning champions FC Bayern München travel to Hoffeheim, and Bayer Leverkusen face Borussia Mönchengladbach in a hard to call Rhineland derby.
As usual, I am going to be predicting the scores for all nine matches from Friday through to Sunday evening. There is also the competition for this week, where you can put your own predictions in the comments section and win 1 SCR if you beat my total score.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v FC Bayern München (Fri.)
Defending champions Bayern defied ongoing injury problems and a dismal run of form to turn things around, finishing 2018 in second place behind leaders Borussia Dortmund. Opponents Hoffenheim would have a strange Hinrunde, but despite not firing on all cylinders are in seventh spot.
In the reverse fixture, Niko Kovač's side overcame a sticky spell to engineer a 3:1 win at the Allianz Arena. In front of Hoffenheim's home crowd, this promises to be a much closer affair.
Prediction: Hoffenheim 1:2 FC Bayern
Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sat.)
At the start of the season, Bayer Leverkusen were one of the favourites to threaten Bayern's dominance in the German top flight. Half way through the campaign, the story has been anything but a success. Despite overcoming a poor start and lifting the Werkself into ninth place at the end of 2018, coach Heiko Herrlich was given the push and replaced by ex-Dortmund coach Peter Bosz.
Gladbach in contrast enjoyed a successful first half of the season, finishing in an impressive third place. Gladbach will hope to pick up where they left off, while Bayer's new coach will be looking to impress. This is a hard match to call.
Prediction: Leverkusen 1:1 Gladbach
VfB Stuttgart v 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Sat.)
VfB Stuttgart got off to a dismal start, and when Markus Weinzierl was installed as coach in October things were initially no better. But the former Augsburg boss finally got a win under his belt, and the Württemberg outfit finally hauled themselves off the bottom of the table. They are still in the relegation playoff spot, but recent form has been solid.
Mainz have been solid performers, but have slowly started to slide down the table. Sandro Schwarz's side will have their work cut out against a (slowly) improving Stuttgart side.
Prediction: Stuttgart 2:1 Mainz
Eintracht Frankfurt v SC Freiburg (Sat.)
Adi Hütter's Eintracht were one of the better performers in the opening half of the season, impressing with their open free-scoring play. Time will tell whether they can keep this up and push for a Champions League place, and they will need to correct a minor slump that saw them drop back to sixth place.
Freiburg were one of the success stories of the Hinrunde, punching well above their weight to finish 2018 in a relatively comfortable 11th place. Christian Streich's side have pulled off a number of shocks so far, but will find it hard against the commerce city side.
Prediction: Frankfurt 2:0 Freiburg
FC Augsburg v Fortuna Düsseldorf (Sat.)
Augsburg have been solidly consistent, but have a points tally that does not really reflect their hard work. The result is that Manuel Baum's side are teetering above the danger zone.
The opposite has been the case for Friedhelm Funkel's Fortuna Düsseldorf, who looked destined for an immediate return to the second tier before turning things around with a number of bravura performances, including their stunning comeback in Munich against FC Bayern. The opening game of the season saw FCA take the points on the road, but this one promises to be a lot closer.
Prediction: Augsburg 1:1 Düsseldorf
Hannover 96 v Werder Bremen (Sat.)
Hannover have struggled all season, and it no surprise that they find themselves in the two-team drop zone. With just two wins from their opening 17 matches, it has been tough going for André Breitenreiter's men.
Things will not get any easier for 96 when they face Werder Bremen, who have had a much better Hinrunde than in recent seasons. Florian Kohfeldt's men have dropped back into 10th place after an impressive start, but should have enough in he locker to keep the pressure on the Lower Saxon outfit.
Prediction: Hannover 1:3 Bremen
RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund (Sat.)
The Saturday evening fixture sees leaders Dortmund visit Champions League hopefuls RB Leipzig, in what promises to be a highly competitive encounter. Dortmund are six points clear at the top of the table, while Ralf Rangnick's Red Bulls are sitting in a comfortable fourth place.
Lucien Favre's side only suffered one defeat on the road in the Hinrunde, while Leipzig are one of only three teams (alongside Dortmund and Gladbach) to have an undefeated home record. Will BVB have enough to kickstart their Rückrunde, or will Rangnick's men revenge their 1:4 opening day defeat at the Westfalenstadion and close the gap at the top?
Prediction: Leipzig 2:2 Dortmund
1.FC Nürnberg v Hertha BSC (Sun.)
The Sunday afternoon match pits struggling Nürnberg against eighth-placed Hertha, with the Bavarians desperate to lift themselves off the basement. Despite some spirited displays, Michael Köllner's men are looking like a sure-fire bet to make a quick return to the 2. Bundesliga.
Hertha have waned after an impressive start that included a 2:0 win over champions Bayern, but should be good enough to sneak all three points - just as they did on the opening day.
Prediction: Nürnberg 0:1 Hertha
FC Schalke 04 v VfL Wolfsburg (Sun.)
Domenico Tedesco's Schalke have arguably been the most disappointing of the preseason title-chaser picks. A dismal start saw them rooted to the foot of the table, and inconsistent returns after that saw them finish the Hinrunde in a disappointing 13th place. The board continue to show faith in their young coach, and the mission now is surely to fight their way into the Europa League spots.
In contrast, Wolfsburg have turned around years of ordinary form to sit in fifth place, with coach Bruno Labbadia working wonders with a team with few big names. This is a hard match to call, but if Schalke are to make a good fist of the Rückrunde, it will have to start now.
Prediction: Schalke 2:1 Wolfsburg
For more Bundesliga fun stuff, check out my Little Bundesliga Book project. Copies of the 2016 pocket book are still available, with the aim of raising funds for a new edition at the end of this season.