Can Schalke avoid an immediate return to Bundesliga 2? Will Hertha Berlin and Augsburg stay out of trouble, or will Bochum and VfB Stuttgart recover from their disappointing starts to the season and keep their heads above water?
bundesliga.com takes a look at the relegation battle ahead of the return to action in January...
Position: 18th (automatic relegation)
Goals: 13-32 (-19)
Things are going slightly better for Schalke than they did in their previous Bundesliga campaign – they have two wins in 15 games this time around compared to just one in as many matches two years ago – but their return to the top flight has not been a happy one. A poor start put paid to Frank Kramer's short tenure as coach after only being appointed in the summer and, other than a 1-0 victory over Mainz, there has been little in the way of a new-manager bounce following the arrival of Thomas Reis.
Unsurprisingly for a side already five points adrift from safety, Die Königsblauen have struggled with a leaky defence. However, the forward line's lack of threat is a more pressing issue. Simon Terodde has long been a menace for Bundesliga 2 defences, while Sebastian Polter scored ten goals for Bochum last term, yet that duo has managed just four between them this season. If Reis is to have any chance of keeping the Gelsenkirchen-based outfit amongst the elite, he must find a way to get his two strikers firing.
The extended winter break for the World Cup could be a blessing as it gives Rodrigo Zalazar and Sepp van den Berg more time to recover from their respective foot injuries. There are positive signs, then, that there is a way off the foot of the table.
Position: 17th (automatic relegation)
Goals: 14-36 (-22)
Bochum rightly earned plaudits for largely staying well clear of relegation last season, but it has been a different story this term. Defeat in seven of their first eight games saw them drop to the bottom of the table, with the 7-0 loss to Bayern Munich particularly damaging. Reis was the main casualty of that poor run, and Thomas Letsch was brought in to steer the Bochum ship back on course.
Watch: Highlights of Bochum's win over Frankfurt
That managerial change has contributed to an upturn in form as the side have won four of their last eight games. They remain somewhat erratic – a 4-1 hammering at the hands of fellow strugglers Stuttgart was sandwiched by victories over high-flyers Eintracht Frankfurt and Union Berlin – but Letsch has found a way to pick up points, particularly at home, displaying tactical flexibility along the way. Philipp Hofmann has scored in three of those four victories, and he is likely to be crucial to Bochum's chances of survival.
Bochum return to the action with a home game against Hertha Berlin, the perfect opportunity to set the tone for the second half of the season.
Position: 16th (play-off)
Goals: 18-27 (-9)
After a marvellous first season back in the Bundesliga in 2020/21, Stuttgart have been on a downward spiral ever since. Only a last-minute winner against Cologne on the final day of last season kept Die Schwaben away from a relegation play-off and, after a 1-0 home loss to Union at the start of October, there was little choice but to relieve likeable manager Pellegrino Matarazzo from his duties.
Bruno Labbadia has been tasked with turning things around as he returns to the Mercedes-Benz Arena for a second spell. The good news for the 56-year-old is the talented squad at his disposal. Borna Sosa featured heavily during Croatia's run to the World Cup semi-finals, which is further proof of his ability, while Silas' match-winning display in the 4-1 victory over Bochum was a glimpse of his undoubted ability.
Without a single player over 30 in the squad, Stuttgart will have to make up for their lack of experience with youthful energy. Labbadia will be hoping to get the job done sooner and without the nail-biting drama of last season, that's for sure.
Goals: 19-22 (-3)
Being 15th in the table only tells half of Hertha's story - they have been somewhat unlucky this campaign. Die Alte Dame have not lost a single game by more than two goals and only have a goal difference of -3, which is considerably better than all of their relegation rivals. Lapses in concentration have ultimately hurt them, especially towards the end of matches – they have dropped eight points as a result of goals conceded in the last 15 minutes.
Sandro Schwarz has instilled cohesion and teamwork that was sometimes previously lacking, but whether that will be enough to keep them in the Bundesliga remains to be seen. At the moment, too much of the goalscoring burden has been shifted onto the shoulders of Dodi Lukebakio, who, with seven strikes, has netted twice as many as any of his teammates.
Keeping captain Marvin Plattenhardt fit will also be crucial. Last season, Hertha had a 44 per cent win rate with the 30-year-old in the side, compared to seven per cent without, while they failed to win any of the two games he has missed this term.
For the side from the capital, there has been a clear improvement in performance this campaign. Now, they need to stay switched on throughout 90 minutes and translate that into points.
Goals: 18-26 (-8)
In the summer, Augsburg gambled on Enrico Maaßen, giving the inexperienced boss his first Bundesliga job after he caught the eye with Borussia Dortmund's reserves. That appointment initially had the desired effect as Augsburg won four of their opening nine games, including a famous victory over Bayern Munich. However, a seven-game winless sequence prior to the winter break has dragged them into a relegation battle.
They will perhaps have expected to drop points against RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt and Union Berlin, but defeats to Stuttgart and Bochum left a bitter taste as more winnable fixtures, on paper at least. Die Fuggerstädter have been competitive in every match, yet they are just one point above the relegation play-off spot.
Augsburg's advantage over the sides below them is their experience in such situations. In each of the last seven seasons, they have finished 12th or lower, yet have never dropped as far as the relegation play-off spot. They know how to do just enough to avoid disaster, so Maaßen will look to lean on that know-how as he tries to come out of his first top-tier season in management unscathed.
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