Arjen Robben is demanding a show of strength when Bayern Munich resume their hunt for a fifth straight title at Freiburg on Friday as the Bundesliga resumes after its winter break.
The German league is back after a four-week rest with Bayern three points clear of nearest rivals RB Leipzig, who briefly kept the Bavarians off top spot for three weeks until early December.
Bayern defeated 10-man Leipzig 3-0 in Munich when the sides met just before Christmas, but now Robben wants another display of strength at Freiburg’s Schwarzwald Stadion, a notoriously hard place to get a win.
Mid-table Freiburg are unbeaten in their last four league games and have won five of their seven home matches this season.
“The anticipation is big. We simply want to win our first game and set a marker,” said Robben.
“We want to get straight into our rhythm and I believe we have improved, but talk is cheap and we have to prove ourselves.”
Robben turns 33 on Monday and, having signed a year’s extension until June 2018, says he wants to enjoy his last 18 months at Bayern before deciding his future.
Having been beaten by Bayern, second-placed Leipzig need to get back to winning ways on Saturday at home to fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt, one of the surprise packages this season.
Eintracht only kept their Bundesliga status last season by winning a promotion/relegation play-off.
But Niko Kovac’s side has been on fire this season with midfielder Marco Fabian scoring three goals and providing four assists in recent months.
Their defence has only conceded 12 goals – the second-best record in the league behind Bayern.
Scotland winger Oliver Burke hopes to start for Leipzig, who have Sweden midfielder Emil Forsberg suspended for the next three games after he was sent off at Bayern.
Robben is full of praise for Leipzig’s young squad, whose average age is just over 24, who have won 11 of their 16 games so far in their debut Bundesliga season under coach Ralph Hasenhuettl.
“The quality is there, they are a young, fresh squad with a great coach and they can make life hard for us,” said Robben.
Sixth-placed Borussia Dortmund are at Werder Bremen on Saturday with top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Africa Cup of Nations.
Dortmund are also set to be without Colombia striker Adrian Ramos, who is poised to join Chinese Super League side Chongqing Dangdai Lifan.
Borussia coach Thomas Tuchel has injury woes.
Germany midfielder Sven Bender hobbled out of Tuesday’s 6-1 friendly win over third division Paderborn with an ankle injury, while winger Ousmane Dembele (hip) and defender Sokratis (ankle) are doubtful.
Injury-prone Germany defender Holger Badstuber, whose six-month loan spell from Bayern to Schalke is a highlight so far of the league’s January transfers, is poised to make his Royal Blues’ debut at strugglers Ingolstadt.
VfL Wolfsburg, who took just 16 points from their first 16 league games, host third-from-bottom Hamburg and have recruited hard to boost their squad.
After selling attacking midfielder Julian Draxler to Paris Saint-Germain, winger Paul-Georges Ntep was signed from Stade Rennais.
Goal-scoring Turkey midfielder Yunus Malli will slot into the play-maker role Draxler vacated and Netherlands midfielder Riechedly Bazoer has also joined from Ajax.
There will be two fresh faces on the benches when bottom side Darmstadt host Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.
Ex-Germany midfielder Torsten Frings has taken charge of Darmstadt, while ‘Gladbach, who are only three points from the bottom three, have replaced Andre Schubert with ex-Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking.