Another week and another round of exciting Bundesliga football has passed. And as always, there were some captivating narratives around the league.
Bayern Munich set yet another record, becoming the first Bundesliga team to win the first eight matches after the winter break as they edged Fortuna Dusseldorf in a 3-2 thriller. Hoffenheim snapped a four-game losing streak as they earned a huge 3-0 win against fellow relegation-battling side Greuther Furth. And Mainz edged closer to a Champions League berth as they beat Leverkusen.
The biggest match of the round, however, was the Ruhr derby. The classic rivalry, played by bitter rivals Dortmund and Schalke, ended 2-1 in favor of the Gelsenkirchen side, who swept the home and away legs against BVB this season.
There were some brilliant displays from many among the S04 ranks, as well as from other teams around the league. But who were the top five players in the Bundesliga this weekend? Click "Begin Slideshow" to find out...
Schalke and Dortmund faced off in the biggest derby in central Europe this weekend, and the match certainly lived up to its billing. The Ruhr derby had an interesting personal narrative to it as well, as youngsters Mario Gotze and Julian Draxler faced off. And although both players were strong, it was Draxler who was the more decisive.
The 19-year-old Draxler opened the scoring after 12 minutes with a well-taken strike, struck with his first touch. In the playmaker role, he linked play and served as a direct threat on goal. He was very unfortunate to be denied a second tally by Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller. Still, Draxler's opener was a huge goal for himself and Schalke, and his performance overall makes him one of the top players of the weekend.
To date, it's been a largely frustrating season for Nurnberg attacker Alexander Esswein. The Germany U-21 international, who enjoyed a fine run of form in the early months of 2012 before an injury ended his season prematurely, took a decided step backward in his development. Having failed to be directly involved in any Nurnberg goal before this weekend, he had been benched in 12 of the Franconian side's 24 matches.
On Friday, Esswein turned over a new leaf. As Nurnberg visited fellow Bavarian club and fellow relegation candidates Augsburg, they needed a win. The 22-year-old attacker raced up the wing and into the box before cutting back a clever pass to Hiroshi Kiyotake to assist the opener. And after FCA equalized, Esswein's cheeky free kick—a low effort slammed under the wall—earned Nurnberg three points.
Esswein's return to form comes at a critical time for club and player as he tries to prepare himself for the summer's U-21 European Championship while Nurnberg fight to avoid slipping into the relegation zone. Friday was a step in the right direction for both.
Bayern Munich had trouble dispatching Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday, but edged the promoted side 3-2 to extend their perfect record in all competitions in 2013.
The Bavarians twice fell behind, but equalized each time on goals set up by Philipp Lahm. The right-back and captain extended his tally to nine assists on the season, a joint-league high alongside Szabolcs Huszti and teammates Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery.
Lahm was not only decisive in the critical moments, but played an all-round strong game. He won his challenges in defense and had more touches (110) and completed passes (74) than any other player on the pitch.
Draxler ran the Dortmund defense ragged, and Atsuto Uchida gave two assists, but the unsung hero of the Ruhr derby was Joel Matip. The German-born Cameroon international was a rock in central defense for Schalke, effectively nullifying Robert Lewandowski in the first half.
The BVB striker did manage to score after the break, but Matip can hardly be faulted for the goal, which came from a brilliant assist. For 90 minutes the 21-year-old fought hard with the physical Poland international, winning nearly every 50-50 challenge.
Veteran striker Ivica Olic rolled back the years on Saturday as his masterclass led Wolfsburg to a 5-2 win in Freiburg.
The 33-year-old scored with a magnificent bicycle kick, striking directly from a cross to make the score 3-1. Later, he put the result to rest as he scored from another cross, this time more conventionally with his head.
Olic has not always shown his strongest form this season, but on Saturday he showed he still has something to offer. Facing a strong Freiburg side, he led Wolfsburg to a critical victory that moved the Lower Saxony side nine points clear of the relegation zone.