The Bundesliga returns this weekend after finishing its annual winter break. Bayern Munich are hoping to continue their dominant form and retain their title. They currently sit seven points clear of second-placed Bayer Leverkusen, which aren't quite strong enough to go head-to-head with Bayern.
Surprisingly, Borussia Dortmund start the second half of the season fourth, 12 points behind the side that beat them to all three trophies last season.
Bayern have been unstoppable while Dortmund have struggled with inconsistency. A 3-0 home defeat to the champions back in November killed off their title challenge.
As one of the most exciting leagues in Europe returns, can Dortmund close the huge gap? Or will Bayern continue their imperious form and finish the season unbeaten?
What's wrong with Borussia Dortmund?
The former German champions have been incredibly inconsistent so far this season. Their crumbling defeat to Bayern at the Westfalenstadion in November was a crushing blow to their ambitions as the reigning champions brushed Dortmund aside.
Their former hero, Mario Goetze, opened the scoring to the sound of thousands of jeers and loud boos, but that didn't stop Bayern. They were an unstoppable machine last season under Jupp Heynckes, but they're now an immovable object under Pep Guardiola's guidance.
Dortmund may have surprised everyone with how poor they were before the winter break, but it is very similar to how they fared in the first half of last season. They approach the first set of fixtures of 2014 in fourth, one place lower than they were at this stage last season. Unusually, they have two more points this season than last and have won two more matches.
The only real difference in figures are the wins and the losses.
This season, Jurgen Klopp's side have won 10 and lost five, drawing the remaining two fixtures. At this stage last season, they'd won eight, lost three and drawn six. So while many believe they're suffering from poor form, it is kind of just the norm for Klopp's side. The only key change is his team have reduced the number of draws and spread them out into defeats and victories.
They aren't as solid and dependable as Bayern have been over the past year. Dortmund are as good a side as any to watch in Europe, but they need to start being less dramatic, in a sense.
If they held firm and turned some of those defeats into draws, they wouldn't be as far behind Bayern as they are, and they wouldn't have a fight on their hands to gain automatic qualification back into the Champions League.
Their statistics this season are much better than last season, but the teams above them have gone up a level, whereas Dortmund have slightly stagnated. They've created 224 chances so far this season, compared to 193 at the same stage last season. They've also scored 38 goals, three more than last season, but have conceded the same amount (20).
Dortmund also averaged three more defensive actions last season than they have done so far this season (43-40), which is another strange occurrence.
The first half to their season is close to identical to last season's, but the main difference is that they've not improved compared to their main rivals.
Borussia Monchengladbach are third, five places higher than they were last season, and Leverkusen are still ahead of them.
Bayern are in a league of their own, and it will take a brave man to bet against them for the title, so Dortmund must recreate their second half form of last season to stand a chance of just closing the gap.
They won 11 of their remaining 17 league games last season to edge closer to Bayern, but in the end, it was futile, as Munich won an unprecedented treble in stunning fashion, breaking multiple records along the way.
The Resurgence of Borussia Monchengladbach
Monchengladbach have been excellent so far in the Bundesliga. They've hopped above Dortmund into third place having won 10 of their opening 17 matches. They have been steady performers and are extremely difficult to break down, proven by the fact that they've conceded just 19 goals—one of the best defensive records in the league.
They've hit 222 shots so far, scoring 35 of them, which is an impressive 16 percent conversion rate. So, in short, they're hard to break down, tight at the back and are clinical when in front of goal. That type of form is why they're currently occupying a Champions League place in the Bundesliga table.
Currently, Gladbach are one point ahead of Dortmund but just four behind Leverkusen, whom they play on Feb. 7. However, they could lose their place inside the top three as they open the first round of fixtures in 2014 with a home match against the formidable Bayern.
A reason for their form could be pinned on Max Kruse's fantastic ability to create chances at will. Not only has Kruse scored eight goals, but he's created the most chances in the Bundesliga (50). That's three more than Marco Reus, so you can see why he's doing so well. That also includes five assists.
Patrick Herrmann is another exciting talent who creates plenty of chances from midfield—26 to be precise —and has assisted four goals, just three less than Franck Ribery, who leads the way in Germany.
Raffael also has four assists to his name, providing enough evidence as to why Gladbach are doing so well. Their top scorer, the Brazilian has 9 goals to his name, which is just two less than Robert Lewandowski, who is the leading scorer in the Bundesliga.
The attacking pairing of Raffael and Kruse has been sublime so far. The duo can create chances just as well as they put them in the back of the net. If they continue their great form, Gladbach could be in for a return to Europe's elite tournament.
You cannot really fault Monchengladbach after their first half of the season. It has been a tidy, effective and clinical display of flair and aggression, and should they keep it up from now until May, they might just keep Borussia Dortmund out of the direct qualification places for the Champions League group stages next season.
Can anyone stop Bayern Munich?
The simple answer to that question is "no," so, using statistics from Squawka, we can see just how good they've been.
Many believed Bayern couldn't improve on last season's incredible set of performances, but Guardiola has managed to take them to the next level.
Aside from a defeat to Manchester City in the final group game in the Champions League, no one has beaten Bayern in a competitive match this season. After 16 Bundesliga matches, they've won 14 and drawn the other two. They only lost one league game last season, and they could go on and beat that this season.
Bayern averaged 2.8 goals per game in the league last season but are currently scoring at a rate of 2.6 GPG this season—slightly lower but still just as ominous. They're out in front in all departments in the Bundesliga so far. They've scored more goals (42) than anyone else, conceded the fewest (eight), created the most chances (227) and completed over 1,000 more passes than anyone else (9,997).
They deserve their lead at the top of the table, and they don't look like they can be caught. Bayern won 17 of their last 19 games last season with their only defeat coming in October 2012. They won the league with a massive 25 points between themselves and Dortmund last season. It won't be as big a gap as that this season, but with seven points the difference already, they will only stretch that lead to retain their title.
All stats via Squawka.
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