Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich will be back to near full strength at resurgent Cologne on Saturday with a host of first-choice players now out of Covid isolation.
Bayern’s lead in the table was trimmed to six points last weekend when a makeshift team lost 2-1 to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Second-placed Borussia Dortmund can further reduce Bayern’s lead before kick-off in Cologne if they beat Freiburg on Friday.
“It will be a difficult game, especially with the form Cologne are in at the moment, they are a team that are physically very strong,” Bayern winger Serge Gnabry said of Cologne, who are sixth in the league table after three straight wins.
Nevertheless, Gnabry expects Bayern to win.
“If we impose our game, we’ll eventually break them down,” he said.
When the clubs met last August, Bayern were 2-0 up in Munich only for Cologne to draw level with goals by Mark Uth and Anthony Modeste before Gnabry grabbed a late winner.
Covid ravaged Bayern’s squad in early January, but only defender Lucas Hernandez is still isolating of the nine players who tested positive.
Manuel Neuer will be back in goal while wingers Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, who penned a new contract until 2027 on Wednesday, could also return.
Cologne last beat Bayern back in 2011, but are only two points from the Champions League places, eight months after narrowly avoiding relegation.
“I hear too much talk about us not having a chance against Bayern,” said Cologne coach Steffen Baumgart.
“I have a good feeling. We need an excellent performance.”
Cologne striker Uth has scored five goals against Bayern, yet has tasted victory against them just once, with eight defeats.
“I’d like to score fewer goals and win more often,” he said.
Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro is a doubt for Dortmund at home to Freiburg having barely trained all week after a knock.
Star striker Erling Haaland is reportedly set to reveal his future plans in the coming weeks, with Manchester City and Real Madrid leading the race to sign him.
Wolfsburg host Hertha Berlin Saturday with both clubs desperate to halt their slide towards the bottom three.
“I don’t care whether we win dirty or beautifully with bells and whistles,” said Wolfsburg boss Florian Kohfeldt.
They won their first four league games last August, but Wolfsburg have since lost their last six, ramping up the pressure on Kohfeldt, who replaced Mark van Bommel in October.
Likewise, Tayfun Korkut became Hertha coach after Pal Dardai was sacked in November, but has failed to stabilise results.
Last Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Cologne came after Hertha’s impressive 3-2 home win over Dortmund and a 4-0 thumping at Mainz before Christmas.
One to watch: Anthony Modeste
Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski is the Bundesliga’s top-scorer with 20 goals, but Modeste is fourth in the goalscoring charts having netted 12 goals this season, including four in recent wins over Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Hertha.
Back in Cologne after an unhappy move to China, Modeste, 33, is once again deadly in front of goal, especially on the end of crosses.
The Frenchman burst into tears after scoring a late winner against Stuttgart before Christmas on the third anniversary of his father’s death.
65– consecutive Bundesliga games in which Bayern have scored. They will claim a new record with a goal at Cologne.
Eight – Bayern’s consecutive wins over Cologne against whom they have not lost in 15 games since February 2011. Thomas Mueller, 32, is the sole survivor from the Bayern team which lost 3-2 at Cologne 11 years ago.
Six– straight games against Cologne in which Lewandowski has scored. Only against Schalke (11) and Wolfsburg (eight) has he netted in more consecutive games.