PREVIEW: WEEKEND GERMAN ACTION
Alfredo Morales could be handed his first top-flight start by Hertha coach Michael Skibbe on their trip to Nürnberg while a total of four Americans could be in uniform when Hannover visits Hoffenheim.
FC Nürnberg - Hertha Berlin
After impressing new Hertha coach Michael Skibbe over the winter break, Alfredo Morales will be aiming for a starting spot on Saturday when the team visits the Frankenstadion to take on FC Nürnberg.
Nürnberg defender Timothy Chandler is currently serving the second game of a two-game suspension for a red card received in December and will watch the game from the stands while Omar Gonzales, who is contractually on-loan to "der Club", is in the US recovering from a knee injury suffered during his first day of training.
Even though Nürnberg ended 2011 on a sour note, falling to local rivals Fürth in the third round of the German Cup, a win three days prior over Leverkusen in their last Bundesliga game of the year assured that they would be free of the relegation zone through the winter break.
The pressure is undoubtedly still on, however, as a mere two-point cushion ahead of the drop zone means they could very well slip back into the bottom three should they fail to register the three points at home against Hertha.
Hertha come into their first game of 2012 with a new head coach at the helm, with Michael Skibbe steering the ship after a lackluster string of results signaled the end of Markus Babbel's reign in December.
The change at the top could be good news for Morales, who only netted two substitute appearances under Babbel, but has drawn plaudits from Skibbe for his strong showing during the winter warm-up.
In addition to Chandler and Gonzales, Nürnberg have a fleet of additional players unavailable for the game. Defenders Juri Judt, Timm Klose, Per Nilsson and Javier Pinola are all recovering from various injuries, newly-acquired midfielder Hanno Balitsch is out with a pulled muscle, and midfielder Markus Feulner must sit out on yellow card accumulation.
For Hertha, the absences are less numerous but equally as damaging. Defenders Maik Franz and Andre Mijatovic are sidelined with respective knee and ankle injuries, midfield attacking talisman Raffael is out serving a red card suspension and midfielder Nikita Rukavytsya is suffering from a calf problem.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Hannover 96
Daniel Williams and Fabian Johnson will hope that Hoffenheim's strong run to end 2011 has carried over to the new year when they host Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 on Saturday.
American youth international Joseph-Claude Gyau spent most of the last weeks training with the first team, and could be called upon for his first appearance on Hoffenheim's bench.
The Hoffe successfully broke out of a rough patch immediately prior to the turn of the new year, notching four points in their final two league contests and securing their spot in the quarterfinals of the German Cup with a win over Augsburg five days before Christmas.
They will have their sights set on Hannover's scalp next, with the knowledge that a win could very well pull them to the edge of the league places destined for European qualification.
Hannover were less spectacular in their final games of 2011, drawing three straight in league play, however they were successful in ultimately reaching their first-ever European knockout stage in the Europa League, where they will face Belgians Club Brugge over two legs in February.
Cherundolo saw his role in the team's starting lineup diminish as the fall wore on, and despite being the team's captain, could find himself again watching Saturday's game from the bench.
Hoffenheim will be thankful that they are facing one of the poorer attacking teams in the league as their first opponent of the new year, as two of their most important cogs in the defense - namely Marvin Compper and Isaac Vorsah - are both set to miss the game on red card suspension.
Otherwise, the only real change to the available squad stems from the departure of Chinedu Obasi to Schalke, although the Nigerian forward had seen his role diminish throughout the first half of the season.
In addition to the continued long-term absences of midfielders Leon Andreasen, Carlitos and Henning Hauger, Hannover must contend with two key players missing due to the African Cup, namely starting defender Karim Haggui and forward Didier Ya Konan.
Furthermore, defender Christian Schulz and midfielder Sergio Pinto are set to miss the game with respective calf and back problems.
Jermaine Jones is currently training with the US national team amidst his eight-week DFB-imposed suspension from activities in Germany, and will not take part when Schalke host Stuttgart on Saturday.
Terrence Boyd is not expected to earn his second call-up to Dortmund's first team bench when they visit Hamburg on Sunday.
David Yelldell will likely watch from Leverkusen's bench on Sunday when they host FSV Mainz.
Preston Zimmerman lost his starting spot for Darmstadt in the final few games of 2011, and will likely begin their game on Saturday against visiting SV Sandhausen on the bench.
Amaechi Igwe is expected to be a bench option on Saturday when Babelsberg hosts Wacker Burghausen.