Bundesliga Half-Term Report: Bayern Dominant, BVB Flailing, Nurnberg Winless
So here we are. Halfway through the Bundesliga season, and what a season it has been.
Bayern Munich may still be on top, and it seems they'll stay on top for the foreseeable future, yet the ever-changing landscape of German football has made itself proud this year, with a whole host of sides plummeting and rising through the league with unforetold momentum.
Promoted sides now push for European glory, European finalists now fight for continental status, as the Bundesliga takes full account of each of its 18 members.
We’re only halfway through this wonderful campaign and already it seems as though every stone has been turned over in search of new drama and narratives.
Here is your half-term report of this season’s Bundesliga.
We kick things off with a side that have arguably been the most surprising if not downright in-form team of the first half of this Bundesliga season. This is, of course, Markus Weinzierl's Augsburg, who currently sit in eighth position.
For the side who finished just one spot and two points above relegation last season, Augbsurg have done well to reinvent themselves this time around. Although they've taken beatings from some of the league's bigger sides, with Dortmund, Bayern and Leverkusen putting 11 past them already, the minnows have upped their game in the fixtures that matter and taken plenty of points from sides based around them and below in the league.
So far so good for Weinzierl's team.
More often than not, it's just too hard to get excited about Bayer Leverkusen. Renowned as the proverbial last-minute bottlers of any competition that they may be on the cusp of winning, Sami Hyypia's men currently sit in second place in the Bundesliga table despite a rather underwhelming season so far.
Yes, they have one of the best defences in the league and a striker in Stefan Kiessling who can score for fun. But due to their dismissive performances in the Champions League thus far it's hard to see this side and their challenge for Dortmund's second place as anything but a flash in the pan.
If we could describe the Bundesliga as a league full of pretenders this season, then Bayern Munich are the one team who will make you sit up and pay attention.
Few thought it was possible, but Pep Guardiola has arrived at the gates of this famous Bavarian outfit and made them quicker, smarter and faster than the team that wiped the floor with any opponent last season.
Add the arrival of Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze to the equation and you have a Bayern side that are near enough running with perfect efficiency at the moment. The trailblazers that all else follow.
If there has been something of a letdown thus far in this season's Bundesliga campaign then you can be sure of the fact that it most definitely has come from Dortmund's abysmal attempt to challenge for this year's title.
At times this season Jurgen Klopp's side have looked their best, but before anyone could slap them with the inconsistency sticker, the team began to implode with a series of injuries that would sideline even the richest and strongest of teams. Dortmund have spent half this campaign without their star midfielder, with a shadow of their once dominating centre-back pairing and with a forward line that is still coming to terms with its departed playmaker.
If there is any solace for Dortmund or neutral fans around the world at this point in time, it is probably the simple fact that the worst seems to be behind them. Talk of trophies and silverware have taken a back seat, for most BvB fans just wish to see their old side playing well again.
Alongside the likes of Augsburg and a few others, Borussia Moenchengladbach have enjoyed a revitalising campaign in which fans can happily note a return to the happy days under coach Lucien Favre.
The Foals are a big club in Germany with a lot of history, and the third-place spot that they managed to hold on to before the turn of the winter break is an award and privilege that they'll undoubtedly believe they deserve.
Smart transfers last the summer in the form of Raffael and Max Kruse have rejuvenated a front line that spent much of last year longing for the expertise of the departed Marco Reus, yet with 17 goals and nine assists between them, fans finally have some new names to sing loudly.
Gladbach look comfortable in their new gear.
There's really no two ways about summarizing Braunschweig's season so far: They've been terrible. The club are currently enjoying their first ever season in the Bundesliga despite kicking around the German football leagues for over 118 years, and it certainly has shown with a whopping 12 defeats in their first 17 games.
Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. After their seventh game without victory, Braunschweig stunned the league with a surprise 2-0 win over Wolfsburg. Three weeks later they did the same thing to Leverkusen except by just one goal to nil. Then on the final game of 2013, they managed to overturn their third Bundesliga giant in the form of Hoffenheim by a solitary goal again.
Although it may not seem like much, as the side still wallow at the bottom of the table, it would seem as though their best chance of picking up points this season have come from other teams completely underestimating them. If a few more sides can follow suit, Torsten Lieberknecht's side may just have a chance of sticking around.
It wouldn't be a Bundesliga season if the team that flew so high one season didn't inevitably fly too close to the sun and find themselves falling ever so quickly down the table the following year. This year it was Eintracht Frankfurt's turn.
The former sixth-placed Eagles now find themselves in 15th position and just one point from the dreaded relegation position. Such poor fortune has evidently come from the inability of their star players to turn on their form this season, as we have seen the likes of Alexander Meier, Takashi Inui and Stefan Aigner look like nothing more than mere ghosts of their former selves.
Armin Veh has undoubtedly taken much of the blame for this, with a fair amount of justification, yet the club still stand by their coach for now and are hopeful that things will turn themselves around in the new year.
Freiburg are another side who have found the new season much trickier than the last, but where Frankfurt's star players have lost their form momentarily, Freburg have lost their star players altogether.
Last summer the club lost Cedric Makiadi, Max Kruse and Daniel Caligiuri among others, and despite decent performances throughout the season from players such as Immanuel Hohn and Jonathan Schmid, Christian Streich's side are simply no more than a skeleton of the best that cherished every game last year.
As they sit in 16th place, one wonders if there really is any hope for the quaint little club. Relegation may be a fitting price for letting so much quality leave so quickly in the summer.
Things are never easy for Hamburg fans. For a club their size; with the plentiful fans; the necessary infrastructure and more often than not the players of adequate quality, they really should be further up the table than 14th, where they currently perch over the relegation zone.
What's more new coach Bert Van Marwijk arrived like a breath of fresh air for the old dinosaur with a number of impressive performances, yet by the time the club had reached Christmas they had dropped down the table and currently sit with three losses, a draw and just one win in their last five games.
A new coach may have been necessary, but it's the same old problems that continue to keep Hamburg back from greatness.
Hannover sit just one spot about Hamburg in the Bundesliga table and as such they also felt the need to change things about over the past few weeks when they made the ultimate decision to relieve Mirko Slomka of his position of head coach after four years in charge.
Tayfun Korkut, the assistant head coach of the Turkish national side, has now came in and faces the daunting task of picking up the pieces to what has been quite a messy season.
In typical Hannover style, the club have failed to pick up a single point away from home this season despite eight attempts, while their home form is the sixth best in the Bundesliga. For Korkut, the task at hand will be expanding upon that home form and picking up points on the road at the same time. With Slomka now gone, the club aren't messing around any more.
On a lighter note, we now come to Hertha Berlin, who thankfully rejoined the Bundesliga this season and set about blitzing the league before anyone had any idea what to make of them.
Their opening-day victory over Eintracht Frankfurt by six goals to one was considered by most as no more than a fluke, yet the very next week they travelled to tricky Nurnberg and left with a point. Then the week after that they welcomed Hamburg and subsequently picked up all three points.
As we look back now, it should have never really come as a surprise to any of us. The sheer talent in the capital side's squad, with the likes of Adrian Ramos, Sami Allagui and Per Skjelbred, was comfortable Bundesliga calibre, and as such the eighth-place position that they currently hold is more than justified.
On the face of things, one would consider Hoffenheim to be having a relatively poor season. Occupying 12th place in the league with just four points separating them from relegation is far from ideal, but when we consider the troubles that the side went through last year, it certainly is an improvement.
Alas, under new coach Markus Gisdol, Hoffenheim do finally look like a real side—albeit one that simply tries to score more goals than it inevitably concedes—with the likes of Kevin Volland and Roberto Firmino dragging the side forward with their 15 goals and seven assists between them this season.
In many ways Mainz are a side that simply do exactly as they’re told in the Bundesliga. They beat the teams below them, they lose to the teams above them and any side that could be considered an equal is anyone’s guess.
Thomas Tuchel’s well-versed side currently sit in ninth having lost each game to the considered top four, aside from a draw with Gladbach, and beating four of the bottom five sides in the league. Expect things to change very little for Mainz between now and May.
Nurnberg have yet to win a game in the Bundesliga this season.
That statement is all you need to take away from what has been a very bland, very inverted, yet consistent, campaign for der Club this season.
Although there is hope for the old club. New coach Gertjan Verbeek arrived in October of last year, and despite not winning a game as of yet, the club have only lost three games since he arrived, picking up five points from, well, five draws. In fact there are only seven teams in the league that have lost fewer games than Nurnberg this season, and if they can somehow find a way to start turning those draws into three points, then they may be on to something.
It may have been a new season for Schalke this time around, yet it has been the same old problems that continued to persist and inevitably bring them down thus far in the campaign.
The club’s persistence to stand by Jens Keller has been to the detriment of a squad of players who do have the potential to do something in this league. Instead of building on solid foundations in the summer, the Royal Blues opted instead to sign Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has admittedly looked good for much of the campaign, yet his presence was enough to dislodge wonderkid Julian Draxler from his favoured position and ultimately cost Schalke any sense of form.
The Gelsenkirchen circus continues to rumble on.
Despite starting the new season with three straight defeats to the likes of Mainz, Leverkusen and Augsburg, Stuttgart have made a worthy go of this current campaign.
The terrible start to the Bundesliga was then followed by a seven-match unbeaten run that has inevitably turned into a patchwork of form that now sees the Swabians win one week and then falter with disastrous results in the following game.
Yet fans will take comfort in watching Vedad Ibisevic get back to scoring ways again, with nine goals in 16 games so far this season, alongside young talents like Alexandru Maxim and Timo Werner who fill this club with so much hope.
Werder Bremen have had a rather peculiar season so far. Robin Dutt arrived in May of last year to the chorus of cheers and appraisal yet the gloss didn’t take long to peel off following the roller-coaster form that has haunted them since the start of the season.
Kevin De Bruyne’s imminent return to Chelsea was something that Bremen were always going to face one way or another, yet when we consider their highest assist-maker at the moment is Aaron Hunt on the rather modest amount of two, in January, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they struggle so often.
Yet, however hopeless they may seem, they do still sit in the middle of the Bundesliga table with plenty of points to spare about relegation. Purgatory seems to be exactly where Bremen are at the moment; far from the joys of a title race or the hell of relegation.
Dieter Hecking continues his reign at Wolfsburg this season in his first full campaign and from what we’ve seen thus far from the Wolves, their new coach knows exactly what he’s doing.
Their smart acquisition of Luiz Gustavo from Bayern Munich in the summer screamed of ambition and such drive has followed them through the league thus far to the point where they now sit on the cusp of a Champions League spot. A situation that seemed all but impossible at the start of last season.
Add to that the possibility of further investment in the January transfer window and suddenly we have a strong contender for the coming race for Champions League spots.