Resurgent Nuremberg out to topple giants Bayern
Strugglers Nuremberg have hauled themselves out of the Bundesliga's relegation places, but their new-found form faces the acid test on Saturday against runaway league leaders Bayern Munich.
The Franconians became the last team in a major European league to pick up their first win of the season only a fortnight ago with a 4-0 win at home to Hoffenheim.
Dutch coach Gertjan Verbeek then steered Nuremberg to a convincing 3-1 win at Hertha Berlin last Sunday and 15th in the table, but halting record-breaking Bayern's 44-match unbeaten league run is an altogether different proposition.
"We're at home, we have a run and we need the points. We'll give it all we have," said Nuremberg midfielder Mike Frantz.
Swiss striker Josip Drmic has scored four goals in the last two matches and said while Bayern have swept aside all comers, "we believe we can beat them".
A quick glance at the league table shows Bayern and Nuremberg are poles apart.
As league leaders, Bayern are 31 points ahead of Nuremberg and while the Franconians have won just two of their 19 games so far, Pep Guardiola's Bayern have won all bar two of theirs, dropping just four points.
"We have reason to be happy," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm.
"When you have a 13-point lead in the table, like we have, then we're the only ones who can trip ourselves up."
Bayern have an away quarter-final at Hamburg in the German Cup next Wednesday, then host Freiburg in the league before their Champions League last 16, first-leg away match at Arsenal on February 19.
Having hammered Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 at home last Saturday, Bayern will travel to Franconia in no mood to give away points, and anything less than a Munich win would be a shock result.
"The important big games are still to come," said winger Arjen Robben.
"We need to stay really relaxed and keep working."
In the pack chasing Bayern, Sami Hyypia's second-placed Bayer Leverkusen are at fifth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday, with the hosts looking for their first home win over the Werkself in 25 years.
Successive defeats have seen Gladbach drop from third to fifth, but Leverkusen have also struggled with last Saturday's 2-1 win over Stuttgart breaking a three-match losing streak against opponents in the bottom-half of the table.
Third-placed Borussia Dortmund travel to Werder Bremen looking to close the four-point gap behind Leverkusen.
Dortmund were dealt some bad news on Wednesday when Germany defender Mats Hummels was ruled out for two weeks with strained ankle ligaments, having only just returned from a two-month break after injuring his heel on the same foot.
Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp expects to have Greek defender Sokratis available after his wife gave birth to their baby daughter on Wednesday.
Klopp said new signing Milos Jojic is set to make his debut soon after the attacking midfielder has impressed in training.
Struggling Bremen are 12th and looking for just their sixth league win of the season and their third at home.
"The fans in the stadium should see that we have given our all until the final whistle," said Austria midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic.
"We need to run until we puke."
At the other end of the table, there is an important basement battle as bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig are at 14th-placed Eintracht Frankfurt, who are just a point above the relegation play-off spot.
Friday (All kick-off times 1430 GMT unless stated)
Borussia Moenchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen (1930)
VfL Wolfsburg v Mainz 05, Werder Bremen v Borussia Dortmund, Nuremberg v Bayern Munich, Freiburg v Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt v Eintracht Braunschweig, Hamburg v Hertha Berlin (1730)
VfB Stuttgart v Augsburg, Schalke v Hanover 96 (1630)