The Bundesliga reconvenes after an exciting week of European competition. Can Bayern, Dortmund, and Schalke carry their mid-week winning forms into the league? And how will Wolfsburg fare after parting ways with Felix Magath? TheHardTackle previews all the action of match day nine.

FC Augsburg vs Hamburger SV


HSV have been blessed by the return of their “little Angel,” Rafael van der Vaart.

Ever since that fateful 3-2 win over Dortmund, Hamburg have looked like a side reborn. Their loss to VfB Stuttgart over the weekend came as a shock to many, and Friday’s trip to Augsburg will be an important match for Hamburg, as Thorsten Fink’s men look to rebound and keep their positive energy going ahead of a big encounter against Bayern next week. Fink knows not to underestimate Augsburg, despite the Bavarians’ poor start to the season: Augsburg recently pick up points against Werder Bremen as well as rivals 1. FC Nürnberg, with Markus Weinzierl’s men showing some impressive defending as well as a strong attacking presence down the flanks thanks to Knowledge Musona.

The match against Hamburg will see the return of Augsburg #1 Simon Jentzsch, who has been out for nearly two months with a finger injury. However Augsburg will be without captain Paul Verhaegh, who picked up a complex ligament injury last week and will be sidelined for three months. Hamburg have also been hit with injury this week, as Petr Jiraceck strained an adductor muscle and looks doubtful for the Friday match. With Ivo Ilicevic also out due to a hamstring injury, Maximilian Beister will start in midfield in their stead.

Both teams have something to prove, coming into this match, and both are looking to salvage their Hinrundes. With Rafael van der Vaart as their talisman, however, Hamburg will be ready break down Augsburg’s defense and come away with a valuable away win.

Fortuna Düsseldorf vs VfL Wolfsburg


How will Wolfsburg fare without Magath?

The Bundesliga’s first managerial casualty of 2012/13 was confirmed Thursday morning: Wolfsburg parted ways with Felix Magath, as the manager’s second stint with the Wolves ended on a distinctly flat note. The board publicly thanked Magath for his service, but emphasized that the club must now focus on picking up more points as soon as possible to avoid a relegation battle. Wolfsburg currently sit dead last in the table, having managed only five points and two goals in eight match days so far.

Against Fortuna Düsseldorf, interim coach Lorenz-Gunther Kostner may have an opportunity to get his job off to the perfect start. The newly-promoted Düsseldorf were undefeated through the end of September, but have since lost to both Mainz and Bayern — most recently in a whopping 5-0 demolition at the hands of the Bavarians. Norbert Meier’s conservative tactics were no match for a rampaging Bayern last week, but the dividends of his overall strategy are evident in Düsseldorf’s excellent defensive record.

To break down this defense, Wolfsburg will need inspiration that was sorely lacking under Magath’s reign. To complicate matters, Wolfsburg look to be without Naldo and Srdjan Lakic who were both out of training this week due to the flu. It seems unlikely that Wolfsburg will make much improvement just days into their post-Magath life, and Düsseldorf are certain to provide some stiff competition on their home turf. This is the match of the week that should end up as a 0-0 dud — but given that this is the Bundesliga, it could just as well end up being an unexpected thriller.

Mainz 05 vs. 1899 Hoffenheim

This Southwest derby pits an in-form Mainz against a Hoffenheim that have yet to find their bearings this season. Since September, Mainz’s only losses have been to Bayern and Schalke, and Thomas Tuchel’s men can be rightfully proud to have netted 10 points from their last five games. Injuries are a concern for the manager, however. Eugen Polanski tore a thigh muscle during this week, adding him to the wounded list alongside Maxim Choupo-Moting, Niko Bungert, Ivan Klasnic. Nicolai Müller also remains doubtful.

Mainz’s visitors on Saturday have troubles of their own. Hoffenheim hold the worst defensive record in the league, having conceded 17 goals in eight games, most recently surrendering a three-goal lead against Greuther Fürth. Drama is the keyword at Hoffenheim these days. On Thursday Markus Babbel admitted at a press conference that Tobias Weis had been demoted to the U-23 team because it appeared the midfielder no longer wished to play for Hoffenheim. Meanwhile, defenders Chris and Mathieu Delpierre are out injured, leaving Daniel Williams the likely candidate for shoring up the back line. Furthermore, Sejad Salihovic is still serving his four-game suspension for his second red card of the season.

All told, Mainz look set to take all three points from this encounter and keep moving on up the league table at Hoffenheim’s expense.

Greuther Fürth vs Werder Bremen

Mike Büskens’ celebration of Greuther Fürth’s equalizer at Hoffenheim last week was a contender for most memorable image of match day eight. Having accrued only five points so far this season, an epic comeback at Hoffenheim to salvage a point was some much-needed balm for the egos of Fürth’s manager, players, and fans alike.

Werder Bremen also picked up some momentum last week with a resounding 4-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach. However, the result was more indicative of the Foals’ failings rather than Bremen’s brilliance. Against Fürth, it remains for Thomas Schaaf to prove that his young team can hold it together and continue to grow into a winning side. Sebastian Prödl is back in training after a bad collision during the Gladbach match, and should be ready to play on Saturday. But of more interest perhaps is Zlatko Junuzovic in the defensive midfield position, where he has impressed in recent games; whether he can keep this up could be crucial in determining the overall fluidity of Bremen’s play.

Though Fürth will be eager to pick up their first home victory of the season, Thomas Schaaf’s Bremen may be too tall of a task for the newly-promoted side. Expect Bremen to pick up their second consecutive win.

Schalke 04 vs FC Nürnberg

On a fateful Wednesday night, Schalke became the first side since 2003 to defeat Arsenal at home in the Group Stages of the Champions League. Arsenal were admittedly poor, but Huub Stevens deserves enormous credit for the winning side he has put together in the wake of Raúl’s departure. Schalke are on a roll in the Bundesliga, having lost only one match all season (to league-leaders Bayern). The confidence from their last two wins — over Arsenal, and over their hated rivals Borussia Dortmund — will give the Royal Blues enormous confidence going into this encounter against Nürnberg.

Der Club have been unconvincing so far this Hinrunde. Their only wins have come against a struggling HSV on the very first match day, and then against an up-and-down Gladbach who currently have only one point more than Nürnberg. Against Schalke on Saturday, Nürnberg will be without their skipper Raphael Schäfer who has been sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury.

Overall Schalke seem well-positioned to take all three points at home and wrap up a perfect month of football. Fatigue from the mid-week Champions League match will be a factor, however, and the final scoreline on Saturday should be closer than Schalke’s last home outing which ended 3-0 in their favor.

SC Freiburg vs Borussia Dortmund

SC Freiburg aren’t doing too badly in the Bundesliga these days. Mid-way through the Hinrunde, Christian Streich’s team find themselves sitting in seventh place and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Leverkusen and Hannover. But a further breakdown of Freiburg’s wins and losses so far reveal that they have struggled against top-10 teams, which does not bode well for their Saturday encounter against the reigning German champions.

Sven Bender will miss Saturday’s match, but Ilkay Gündogan could make his return.

Borussia Dortmund come into this match off of a historic win over Real Madrid in the Champions League, which takes Die Schwarzgelben to the top of Group D. After a bitter loss to Schalke in the Revierderby last week, the mid-week result will propel Jürgen Klopp’s men into match day nine with renewed momentum.

Sven Bender and Mario Götze were both injured in Wednesday’s clash, however, as both players came off the pitch with calf muscle problems. Bender is definitely set to miss the visit to Freiburg, while Klopp believes there might be time enough for Götze to regain fitness. Ilkay Gündogan has also returned to training, and Klopp is optimistic that the midfielder will travel to Freiburg. For the home side, Mathias Ginter and Oliver Sorg are sidelined with injury, but Karim Guede will be available again having served out his suspension.

Mid-week matches always means a question of fatigue when the team returns to league play on the weekend. But after a slew of recent setbacks, Dortmund have everything to prove — and the lingering taste of Champions League victory to add fuel to the fire.

VfB Stuttgart vs Eintracht Frankfurt

Sunday sees Eintracht Frankfurt visit VfB Stuttgart in a clash of two teams that have wildly outdone expectation — positively and negatively. While Frankfurt sit second in the Bundesliga table behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich, Stuttgart have languished near the bottom of the pack in defiance of all predictions that they would again challenge for a European berth this season. Both teams come into this match on the back of a win-loss-win run of form. Stuttgart’s latest league win over Hamburg came as a surprise, though a welcome one for Bruno Labbadia whose job looked more and more endangered as the season progressed. But Thursday night again saw the Swabians relapse into an apathetic style of play, as they ran out a 0-0 draw against Copenhagen at home in the Europa League.

Injuries compound Labbadia’s woes. Cacau suffered a cruciate ligament injury last week, while Artur Boka has been sidelined for two weeks due to a 10cm long cut on his calf, sustained from a collision with Raphael van der Vaart in the Hamburg match. Tim Hoogland is still on the mend from a double ligament tear in his right ankle, and debutante Tunay Torun picked up a muscular injury on Thursday against Copenhagen.

Against Hamburg last week, Stuttgart showed that they were still capable of the quick, aggressive, and attractive football that became synonymous with their name during the 2011/12 Rückrunde. Labbadia must now find a way to inspire that kind of form in his players again, if they are to have any chance of getting their first home win of the season.

Bayern Munich vs Bayer Leverkusen

Bayern will be without their “Robbery” pair this weekend.

After a 3-1 debacle against BATE in the last Champions League match day, Bayern got back on track this week with a 1-0 win over Lille. The Bavarians are in splendid form this season, having set a new Bundesliga record for most consecutive wins to start a season. Their visitors Bayer Leverkusen have also impressed in Europe and at home this season, most recently claiming a 4-0 victory over Rapid Vienna on Thursday. Leverkusen are undefeated since mid-September, when they lost 3-0 to Dortmund. Now with 12 points from eight matches in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen are in the thick of the race for a European berth — and Sunday’s visit to Bayern could be the thing to separate them from the pack.

Both teams experienced injury setbacks thanks to European competition this week. Michal Kadlec was injured in the opening minutes of Leverkusen’s match against Rapid Vienna, and had to come off for Lars Bender. On Bayern’s side, Franck Ribery went off at halftime against Lille with a thigh muscle problem and has been warned by medical staff not to play this weekend. Arjen Robben has returned to full training, though he will not be fit for Leverkusen either, but may make his return against Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal next week.

There is much riding on this encounter, which on paper is already the match of the weekend. For this young Leverkusen side, Bayern will be the true test of whether they are ready to join the Bundesliga elite and truly challenge for a European berth. But a win may be out of their reach yet, as Bayern look set to extend their undefeated streak one match further.

Hannover 96 vs Borussia Mönchengladbach

Two Europa League competitors clash in this Sunday fixture as Hannover welcome a struggling Gladbach side. Both teams won in Europa League on Thursday, which saw Gladbach put down a docile Marseille while Hannover produced a dramatic last-minute winner against Helsingborg to take the match 2-1. In the Bundesliga, their fortunes have fared less similarly. While Gladbach went winless for all of September and submitted to a 4-0 thrashing at Werder Bremen last week, Hannover are solidly mid-table, just behind Bayer Leverkusen.

Gladbach’s disaster at the Weserstadion underscored once again the hard work that Lucien Favre faces in rebuilding a squad that lost their three best players over the summer. The 2-0 over Marseille will have boosted confidence in the squad, however, though injuries to Tony Jantschke and Luuk de Jong during the same game have piled still more setbacks onto Gladbach’s woes.

Against a Hannover side that knows nothing if not how to score goals, Lucien Favre will have to inspire something special in his players if Gladbach hope to take away any points from their trip to the AWD-Arena. At the moment, Hannover are a much more solid side — mentally and physically — than this ramshackle Gladbach.