Bundesliga: Five things to watch out for this weekend

With four teams (from second to fifth) separated only by three points and only 12 more matchweeks left, the race for Champions League places begins now.

Thiago Alcantara is expected to return to action when Bayern Munich visits Wolfsburg.   -  Bongarts

Midfield maestro Thiago Alcantara is expected to make his long-awaited return for Bayern Munich on Saturday, when the runaway Bundesliga leader faces Wolfsburg.

The Spaniard has been out for nearly three months after picking up a thigh injury against Anderlecht in November. Bayern is 18 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, with RB Leipzig leading the chasing pack.

Fan protests are expected when Leipzig travels to Eintracht Frankfurt for what will be the first Monday night fixture in Bundesliga history.

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund will have key midfield trio Marco Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze fit to help fire it to victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Here are five things to look out for in this weekend's Bundesliga action.

Thiago comeback

Alcantara has spent three months on the treatment table. Now back to match fitness, Thiago is expected to start against Wolfsburg on Saturday, filling in for the suspended Arturo Vidal.

The midfielder last played in the Bundesliga in a 3-1 victory over Dortmund at the start of a few days before his injury.

Read: Alcantara back in full Bayern Munich training

"It's very important to have creative players like Thiago," said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes. "If I think back to the win against Dortmund, he played brilliantly in that game."

Monday protests

Fan protests are expected in Frankfurt when Eintracht Frankfurt hosts RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga's first ever Monday night fixture. The new Monday night slot is part of the league's most recent TV broadcasting rights package, but it is unpopular with supporters. Both Frankfurt and Leipzig fan groups are expected to voice their frustration during Monday's game.

On the pitch, Emil Forsberg is set to return to the Leipzig squad, having missed the last eight league games with a groin injury.

Dortmund trio

Sunday sees the battle of the Borussias, with Dortmund pinning hopes on its magical midfield trio against Moenchengladbach.

Read: 'Batshuayi is a great striker'

Schuerrle, Goetze and Marco Reus have all faced problems with form and fitness in recent years. All three of them, though, are expected to start against Gladbach amid hopes that they can return to their best form in the coming weeks. "If they can get even close to the kind of performances we have seen from them in the past, there is no doubt that they can play together," said coach Peter Stoeger of the talented trio.

Gladbach, meanwhile, is expected to welcome back first choice goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who has missed the last two games through injury.

Uth faces future

Hoffenheim forward Mark Uth faces an awkward visit to future club Schalke on Saturday evening. Victory for Hoffenheim would see it draw level on points with sixth-placed Schalke in a key clash in the race for Europe.

For Uth, who will join Schalke on a free transfer in the summer, success on Saturday could endanger his own hopes of playing in European competition next season.

"I'll give everything for Hoffenheim on Saturday," Uth insisted. "If I have to score one against Schalke, then so be it."

Gomez doubtful

Star striker Mario Gomez is a doubt for Stuttgart ahead of its trip to Augsburg on Sunday. Things are looking up at Stuttgart, which has picked up four points from two games under new coach Tayfun Korkut.

But Gomez is fighting to recover from a bout of illness.

"Mario Gomez is exactly the person we need up front," said club president Wolfgang Dietrich.

"We need personalities like him if we are going to avoid relegation."

Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless stated)

Playing Friday

Hertha Berlin v Mainz (1930)

Playing Saturday

Cologne v Hannover 96, Hamburg v Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg v Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg v Bayern Munich, Schalke v Hoffenheim

Playing Sunday

Augsburg v VfB Stuttgart, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Borussia Dortmund (1700)

Playing Monday

Eintracht Frankfurt v RB Leipzig (1930)

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