Berlin: Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac is hoping his former club Eintracht Frankfurt can force leaders Borussia Dortmund into stumbling this weekend in the Bundesliga title race.
Dortmund, who are six points clear of second-placed Bayern, face a tough away task on Saturday at fifth-placed Frankfurt, who boast one of the league's deadliest attacks.
Likewise, Kovac's Bayern also face a tricky trip on Saturday to Bayer Leverkusen, who just like Frankfurt, have a powerful attack, but a leaky defence.
(The matches, to be played on Saturday and Sunday, will be shown live on the Star Sports network, with live-streaming available on Hotstar)
On Thursday, Kovac, who lifted the German Cup only last May as Eintracht coach before quitting to take over at Bayern, joked that he hopes his former club trip up Dortmund to allow Bayern to narrow the gap. "My Frankfurt boys already know what they have to do," joked Kovac.
Frankfurt struggled in defence during last Saturday's 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen, but forwards Sebastian Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic, the league's top-scorer, have scored 31 goals in 19 league games this season.
As Bremen director Frank Baumann suggested, "Frankfurt will be a challenge for Dortmund, just like Leverkusen will be for Bayern".
With their mouth-watering Champions League last 16, first leg clash at Tottenham Hotspur now less than two weeks away, Dortmund need to keep playmaker Marco Reus and England winger Jadon Sancho fit.
The pair were at the heart of last Saturday's 5-1 romp at home to strugglers Hanover 96 and are key if Dortmund are to secure a first league win at Frankfurt in nearly six years.
"Of course we'll be looking at our rival's result (in Leverkusen), but we can't influence that, the focus is on our game in Frankfurt," said Dortmund coach Lucien Favre.
Dortmund's main injury concern is defender Lukasz Piszczek, who took a knock to the heel against Hanover.
Dortmund's new signing, teenager Leonardo Balerdi suffered a mouth injury on duty with Argentina's juniors in the South America Under-20 championships and is not expected back in Germany until early next week.
It has been nearly four years since Bayern, who are chasing a seventh straight league title, last lost at Leverkusen, who are preparing for their third game under new coach Peter Bosz.
The Dutchman's influence showed as Leverkusen romped to a 3-0 win at Wolfsburg last weekend with Germany forwards Kai Havertz, Kevin Volland and Julian Brandt banging in the goals.
Defending champions Bayern will be without veteran wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in Leverkusen, both of whom are returning from injury, Kovac said.
Central midfielder Thiago Alcantara is back in training after a leg knock and "should be an alternative for Leverkusen," said Kovac.
The departure of Sandro Wagner to Chinese side Tianjin Teda means Bayern have sold their back-up striker for Robert Lewandowski and did not sign a replacement before the transfer window closed on Thursday.
"There is only one or two players in the world who can replace him," said Kovac, insisting that either Germany forwards Thomas Mueller or Serge Gnabry could slot in for the prolific Poland goalscorer in the event of injury.
Fixtures (Times in IST)
Hanover 96 v RB Leipzig (01.00), Hoffenheim v Fortuna Duesseldorf, Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Dortmund, Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg, Nuremberg v Werder Bremen (20.00), Schalke v Borussia Moenchengladbach (23.00)
Augsburg v Mainz (20.00), VfB Stuttgart v Freiburg (22.30)
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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 17:46:43 IST