So, Christmas is around the corner and with that comes the end of the Bundesliga Hinrunde, a Hinrunde which this year has provided surprises although not at the very top of the table but rather in those immediately below. We’ve had breakthrough teams, collapsing former-breakthrough teams, manager sackings, new faces in the goalscoring charts and a total of 486 goals (485 if we don’t include Stefan Kießling’s Phantomtor) in 152 games, which is an average of 3.2 goals per game. While Bayern may be dominating at the top, there is a lot going on below them, as the Champions League berths are still unclear as are the relegation spots. To summarise it all, here is a team-by-team Hinrunde review.
With Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the summer, Bayern’s overwhelming performance in last year’s Bundesliga was in doubt for this season as Guardiola would bring a new style in. However, the Catalan coach has picked up where Jupp Heynckes left off and 14 wins and 2 draws in 16 matches sees them seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand. Guardiola’s new 4-1-4-1 and new roles for new players have not deterred Bayern steamrolling their opposition, with only Freiburg and Leverkusen able to stand up against them. With Mario Götze slowly blending into the side and Mario Mandžukić one goal off the top of the scoring charts with 10 goals, Bayern’s quest for a title is considered as good as done for many taking into account the inconsistency of their most direct rivals Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. Having just won the FIFA Club World Cup, they are odds on for another domestic double.
Leverkusen’s duo of Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski became a one-man show after Lewandowski went back to the youth categories of the club. With this freedom, Hyypiä has carried out a commendable task by ending the Hinrunde in second place, seven points behind Bayern, as well as qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Striker Stefan Kießling has maintained his level from last season and has 9 goals so far but Sidney Sam’s rebirth has been crucial as well, chipping in with 7 goals and 5 assists. A strong defence has been the key to Leverkusen’s success, conceding 16 goals with Bernd Leno establishing himself as one of the country’s top goalkeepers in the process. However, they ended the first round with two surprising defeats against much weaker opposition that, given their recent form, anyone would have banked on them winning. Had they done so, they’d be a single point off Bayern but Leverkusen fans will be delighted with their team’s performance so far and look forward to cementing that second spot in the Rückrunde.
After a disappointing season last season on the back of an encouraging 4th place in 2011/2012, Borussia Mönchengladbach are back in the mix at the top, mostly thanks to their excellent home form of 8 victories and 1 draw (this last weekend) in 9 matches. Their away form has stuttered a bit, with only 2 wins and 2 draws in 8 matches, which is what has deterred them from competing with Leverkusen for second spot. The inclusion of Raffael into the side, having signed from Dynamo Kyiv in the summer, has been crucial, as the Brazilian playmaker has teamed up well with fellow new arrival Max Kruse to combine for 17 goals and 11 assists, as they had a hand in 80% of ‘Gladbach’s total of goals so far. With the help of Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann on the flanks, The Foals’ attacking quartet is fearsome and formidable but their defence has been excellent too and on-loan arrival Christoph Kramer has been a revelation. ‘Gladbach have become an attractive side to watch once again and after this strong Hinrunde performance, Favre will have his sights set on a Champions League spot at the end of the season and after having seen their performances so far, who can fault him.
After the departure of Mario Götze and the all-but-announced one of Robert Lewandowski at the end of the season, doubt was cast over the Signal Iduna Park for this season, especially after the high standards set in the previous season, both domestically and in Europe. However, new signings Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have blended well in the squad and while the former is more inconsistent, he has 9 goals so far (albeit in just 6 games). However, Jürgen Klopp’s main problem so far this season have been the injuries that have depleted his defence. They say that when it rains, it pours and that has been the case, with his starting defensive quartet getting injuries at the same time; Łukasz Piszczek carried an injury from the start of the season and Neven Subotić ruptured his cruciate ligaments in Matchday 10, later joined in the treatment room by Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer, all within 10 days of each other. This left Klopp with no option but to bring up youngster Erik Durm from the U23 team and sign out-of-contract Manuel Friedrich. However, this has taken its toll on their Bundesliga performances and they only just qualified to the next round of the Champions League by the skin of their teeth. Trailing Bayern by 12 points with a game more, it’s likely that Dortmund’s season will be more about damage limitation than challenge for success, most of it brought by bad luck and bad timing.
After the appointment of Dieter Hecking last season, Wolfsburg have re-emerged as a team to challenge for European places. Without Felix Magath’s usual 20 in/20 out summer transfer policy, Wolfsburg’s squad has benefited from stability and this has transformed into performances on the pitch. Currently boasting a nine-match unbeaten run in the league, Wolfsburg’s addition of Luiz Gustavo has given them a much-needed presence in the middle of the park, despite his early-season discipline problems. Ivica Olić still has plenty of football in his boots and has 7 goals so far this season, a contender for Player of the Hinrunde alongside the excellent Ricardo Rodríguez. Also, Max Arnold has been a pleasant surprise for Wolfsburg with his coolness in front of goal and after a summer fueled with transfer speculation, Diego has focused on matters on the pitch and has been a driving force in the team. Behind him, Slobodan Medojević, a player signed by Magath and later neglected by him, has established himself as much-needed stable option in central midfield and his play epitomises what Wolfsburg were in desperate need of. Whether they can carry this level of performance into the Rückrunde remains to be seen but what is certain is that Wolfsburg are back where they feel they belong.
After bouncing back to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking, many predicted Hertha to toy with the relegation spots again this season. However, Jos Luhukay’s side started the season in spectacular fashion, thrashing Eintracht Frankfurt 6-1… and they’ve not looked back. Adrian Ramos has been the catalyst of their success this season and is joint-first top scorer in the league with 11 goals alongside Robert Lewandowski. The transfer swap of Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Per Ciljan Skjelbred between Hertha and HSV was met with skepticism by many but the Norwegian midfielder has accommodated himself just fine in midfield and has become one of the team’s best players. Last season’s top performer, Ronny, caused much trouble with his statement about wanting to leave the club but he was persuaded by Sport Director Michael Preetz to sign a new contract before last season ended. However, some Hertha fans and Luhukay have not forgotten this and while he has delivered when called upon this season (4 goals in 5 starts) it has been the form of Sami Allagui that has mainly kept him out of the side. Despite having been dealt a bitter blow with the serious injury to newcomer Alexander Baumjohann, Hertha’s attack has not suffered too much and while speculating on a European-place finish at the end of the season is still premature, Hertha fans will take comfort in knowing that they will be playing in the same league in consecutive seasons for the first time in a while.
Injury to top striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar seems to have had a huge impact on Schalke’s performance so far this season. His replacement, Ádám Szalai (brought in from Mainz in the summer for 8m€) has not been a bad deputy for the Dutchman with 5 goals and 3 assists but despite the morale-boosting signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Schalke have struggled. Their main problem has been consistency, unable to string two consecutive victories since October (their only two of the season), and the poor performance from their defence has also left them with a +2 goal-difference when their rivals on paper are +18 or +16 with a similar number of goals scored. Jens Keller has been under close scrutiny since the day he arrived and this is still the case today, despite qualifying for the next stage of the Champions League. Their domestic form is their main problem and despite occasional flashes of brilliance from Julian Draxler, the team is in desperate need of a change in mentality if they want to challenge at the top. Youngsters Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka and Christian Clemens have not done too badly but the experienced heads in the team have been found wanting in their leadership skills, which has effectively left Schalke in the position they find themselves in.
Augsburg – 8th
The eternal relegation candidates have produced a stellar performance in the Hinrunde and find themselves in the top half of the table in the Winterpause since their arrival in the Bundesliga two seasons ago, being in 17th place in both of those seasons at the end of the Hinrunde. It is hard to pinpoint a single reason behind this surge in form. Augsburg now do not enter matches with a scared attitude and their opposition no more oozes confidence when coming up against them. Their tight defence combined with their excellent counter-attacking skills have made Augsburg into a tricky team for mid-to-lower table teams to face, as the Bavarians still struggle against the bigger sides. A huge problem for Augsburg has been their inability to hold onto leads; in 7 defeats and 3 draws so far this season, they have taken the lead in 4 and 2 of those respectively, letting 16 points slip away. On the plus side, André Hahn and Daniel Baier have been revelations in midfield this summer and have arisen interest from bigger clubs already. Markus Weinzierl has done an excellent job so far and the 10-point cushion to relegation will most likely ensure another season of Bundesliga football for Augsburg next year, which was their objective all along.
It has been a topsy-turvy Hinrunde for Mainz, as their excellent start to the season with three wins out of three, partly thanks to the on-fire Nicolai Müller and his four goals, was followed up by five defeats and one draw, which saw them slip to 14th. However, two defeats in the next eight games have seen Thomas Tuchel’s side climb up the table to a respectable 9th position. Müller has been an attacking inspiration so far with 8 goals, a tally matched by new arrival Shinji Okazaki, a decent return already for a signing that many questioned. Mainz’s win on the last matchday of the year at Hamburg opened a 5-point gap between them and chasers Stuttgart, which will give Thomas Tuchel a bit more breathing space for what is pointing towards yet another mid-table season finish. Johannes Geis’ performance since his arrival from Greuther Fürth in the summer has also proven to be an inspired decision and if Mainz manage to achieve a decent finish come May, many feel Tuchel will leave the Coface Arena in the summer for greener pastures, yet another indicator of the excellent job he has carried out and is still doing at Mainz.
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