Bayer Leverkusen - not Bayern Munich - lead the standings, Serhou Guirassy's on fire and RB Leipzig have their replacement(s) for Christopher Nkunku. We take stock as the Bundesliga heads into its customary winter break...
Leverkusen top of the tree at Christmas
There was plenty of interest over the summer in how much momentum Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen could take from their great end to the previous campaign. A 14-match unbeaten run in the spring had seen them into the UEFA Europa League semi-finals and carried them up to sixth in the Bundesliga. Few could have possibly foreseen that everything would click into place so seamlessly for Die Werkself to rise to the top of the table and stay there with the swagger of real league leaders - putting together another astonishing unbeaten run stretching to 25 matches in all competitions (and counting) this autumn.
In looking where everything has gone right for Leverkusen, you have to start with the coach himself. Alonso has got his side passing the ball around with ease and dominating opponents with spectacular success. Leverkusen only failed to net less than three goals in one of their first eight matches of the season - and that was a highly respectable 2-2 draw against Bayern Munich.
Watch: Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish Maestros
While Leverkusen's summer signings looked promising, they have surpassed almost all expectations. Victor Boniface has settled into the Bundesliga seamlessly, looking the complete centre-forward at times with an impressive 10 goals and seven assists in his first 16 Bundesliga appearances, not to mention four successice Rookie of the Month awards. Granit Xhaka has used his experience and class to pull the strings at the base of a mean midfield, while Alejandro Grimaldo has been a revelation at left-back - most noticeably for his ability to thump in stunning free-kicks. With Florian Wirtz bamboozling defences week-in, week-out and Patrik Schick smashing a hat-trick on his first start in 14 months as Leverkusen signed off for 2023 with a 4-0 win against Bochum, things are arguably looking even rosier than ever for Alonso's men.
With Bayern and RB Leipzig in the long list of opponents unable to beat Leverkusen in the opening months of the campaign, the secret is well and truly out of the bag now. Their incredible start has been spectacular enough for Leverkusen fans to start thinking a surprise of another level might just be possible - potentially knocking Bayern off their perch and becoming Bundesliga champions. Plaudits are one thing, after all, but the four-point advantage they currently enjoy over Bayern at the top of the table tells it own clear story.
Watch: Álex Grimaldo explains his free-kick technique
Serhou Guirassy and Stuttgart soaring
The first half of the Bundesliga season always looked likely to be fascinating with so many of the clubs that contended for the title and European qualification last time around bringing in promising new signings. However, it is safe to say virtually nobody would have counted on VfB Stuttgart being in the top four as the Bundesliga headed into the winter break.
Stuttgart only managed to secure their spot in the Bundesliga with the final lifeline of a promotion/relegation play-off victory over Hamburg last season. To say they have flown out of the traps this time would be an understatement. Two 5-0 wins in the opening three matchdays - over Bochum and regional rivals Freiburg - well and truly set the swashbuckling tone, which took them to a sensational six wins and 22 goals in their opening seven matches.
Watch: Guirassy's spectacular Matchday 7 hat-trick
There was little expectation that the Swabians could continue their early season pace, but they have equipped themselves admirably despite picking up their first three defeats of the campaign. Wins over Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt and a 1-1 draw with leaders Leverkusen during a tough run of fixtures in November and December have confirmed just how solid the upturn at Stuttgart is.
The fortunes of one player in particular sums up Stuttgart's resurgence. The sudden insatiable scoring burst of Serhou Guirassy - who fired in two hat-tricks on the way to a historic haul of 13 goals in the first seven games, which smashed Robert Lewandowski's previous Bundesliga best goals haul at that stage of a season. Guriassy recovered from a two-game injury lay-off to take his goal tally to 17 - and he remains hot on the heels of Harry Kane in the race to be Bundesliga top scorer.
Watch: Serhou Guirassy and Deniz Undav - analysis
No Nkunku, no problem with Xavi and Openda around
Leipzig's model of rearing major footballing talents often leaves a collective fascination and sense of anxiety at summertime at how departing stars might be compensated for by new arrivals. Summer 2023 was no different, with last season's Bundesliga joint top scorer, Christopher Nkunku, leaving Leipzig and two exciting but little-known attacking prospects - Xavi and Loïs Openda - joining the club.
Dutch playmaker Xavi has been nothing short of a revelation, chipping in with four goals and seven assists before the winter break. His vision and penchant for spectacular strikes have earned plenty of plaudits - with the title of Bundesliga Goal of the Month also coming his way in September for a beautifully curled strike in a 3-0 win at Union Berlin.
Watch: Xavi's best skills
While Openda's fine finishing has not quite matched the prolific rates of Kane and Guirassy yet, it has certainly been fully appreciated by Leipzig fans. Indeed, 11 goals in his first 16 Bundesliga appearances is some output - and puts him well on course to smash Nkunku's joint-league-leading total of 16 strikes at the end of last season. With the kind of blistering pace that saw him race and score the opener on the break in a belting 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich and an insatiable appetite for strikes, the best of the Belgian may yet still be to come.
With summer signing Benjamin Šeško also looking a frightening prospect at times and bagging his first three Bundesliga goals, Leipzig are blessed with world-class attacking options despite losing their biggest name from last season. Fourth place going into the winter break, a thumping 38 goals from their first 16 matches and a comfortable run into the UEFA Champions League knockout stages leaves Marco Rose's side positioned very nicely indeed heading into the new year.
Watch: RB Leipzig's attacking strengths - AWS analysis
New Germany stars shining
While the Bundesliga is incredibly proud of all its international stars, it has been a special season for the league's German contingent - with the country hosting its first major international tournament since 2006 next summer when EURO 2024 pitches up in Germany.
With the Germany national team qualifying automatically as hosts, the jostling for places in Julian Nagelsmann's squad next summer has been the focus of plenty of attention. A number of Bundesliga talents have stepped up to the plate to gain their first international caps at an incredibly exciting time as the build-up to the big event continues apace.
Dortmun's Niclas Füllkrug is in pole position to lead the line at the finals, but his former Werder Bremen strike partner Marvin Ducksch could provide another useful alternative. Ducksch boasts seven strikes so far this season and has the kind of dominant physique to become quite impossible for defenders to handle when he is at his best. Small wonder he earned his first senior caps in the November international break.
Watch: Marvin Ducksch's first four Bundesliga goals and three assists of the season
Stuttgart's Chris Führich is another man who has earned his first taste of international action in recent months. The tricky winger has enjoyed his fair share of personal highlights in his club's sparkling first half to the season - for instance, a deft run and strike as part of a brace in a 5-0 win over Freiburg on Matchday 3.
Leipzig goalkeeper Janis Blaswich has also received his first international call-up on the back of his solid Bundesliga form. With long-standing Germany internationals like Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sané and Füllkrug enjoying fine seasons plus legendary goalkeeper Manuel Neuer returning from injury recently, there is reason for optimism that the hosts can enjoy a summer to remember in 2024.
As incredible as the story behind their rise to the top flight was, expectations at the start of the season were muted for Heidenheim - a side from a small town without any history of Bundesliga football. Frank Schmidt's men know just how to prove doubters wrong, though, and their weapon of choice is sheer hard work. Heidenheim are the leading team in the league for both distance covered and the number of sprints going into the winter break. Their hard graft has resulted in six well-earned wins already as they spend the break positioned inside the top half in ninth spot.
Nobody personifies the no-nonsense Heidenheim approach better than Lennard Maloney. The American holding midfielder has covered an epic 188.9 kilometres so far this season after 16 matchdays - the second most of all players in the Bundesliga. His toil has provided the perfect platform for Heidenheim's attackers to work from - something they have frequently done after the expertly delivered set pieces of Jan-Niklas Beste. The newly promoted side's 11 dead-ball goals in the opening 16 matchdays is a joint league high with Leipzig and Bayern.
Maloney's hard work has also unexpectedly brought him onto the radar of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who handed him his first taste of international football in a friendly against Ghana in October. Whatever Heidenheim and Maloney's fortunes may be for the rest of the season, you can be totally sure that they are going to give their absolute all to make the most of it.
Vote for February's Goal of the Month!
The likes of Harry Kane, Xavi Simons, Granit Xhaka and Deniz Undav are up for February's award, so who will you choose to take home the Goal of the Month crown? Vote now!
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