BERLIN (Reuters) – German champions Bayern Munich will be without wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery as they continue their pursuit of leaders Borussia Dortmund with a trip to Hoffenheim on Friday when the Bundesliga resumes after the winter break.
The Bavarians, who are in second place six points behind Dortmund, will aim to pick up where they left off in December with a five-game winning run in the league.
Robben and Ribery — in their last seasons with Bayern — are nursing injuries and will miss Friday’s match, along with Frenchman Corentin Tolisso who is working towards his comeback from a long-term injury.
“It is clear we are six points behind and we need to catch up,” Bayern coach Niko Kovac said. “The Hoffenheim game is very important.”
“We want to pick up where we left off. We won the last five league games. But when you start again you don’t exactly know what state the team is in.”
Bayern, who have brought Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies into the squad after signing him in July from the Vancouver Whitecaps, are also eager to recruit talented teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi from Chelsea.
They take on Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16 next month.
Having won the last six league titles, the Munich club have been far less dominant this season, playing second fiddle to attack-minded Dortmund who have scored eight more goals than the Bavarians in the league.
Midfielder James Rodriguez is in his second loan season from Real Madrid and if Bayern are to exercise their option to buy the Colombia international, who enjoyed a successful 2017-18 season but has not replicated that form in this campaign, he needs to prove his worth.
“We are a great club with great players and James is a great player,” Kovac said. “But those not called James also want to play so the competition is fierce. It is clear James is playing for his future.”
Hoffenheim, however, will be no pushovers, having won their last two home games against Bayern and looking to climb the standings from seventh place.
Dortmund, who take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League round of 16, kick off their 2019 league campaign with a trip to fourth-placed RB Leipzig.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)