Munich - The winter break is a time for clubs to reflect on how their season has progressed so far and plan for the defining months ahead. However, the year's festive period is likely to bring more confusion than clarity.
Battle for Europe
As it stands, things are looking relatively - if, from past experience, perhaps deceptively - cut-and-dried at the very top and bottom of the standings. For the majority of the15 clubs in between, however, the line separating the race for Europe and the battle against relegation remains an exceptionally thin one.
Bayern Munich have what seems to be an insurmountable eleven-point cushion out in front, while at the other extreme, Greuther Fürth and FC Augsburg have both become somewhat detached at the bottom with just eight points apiece. At least one of those two Bavarian strugglers will shortly ensure they are not going to end the season with the worst ever Bundesliga record, currently held by Tasmania Berlin who were relegated with eight points in 1965/66 - they meet next weekend.
As for the rest of the league, it's wide open. Defending champions Borussia Dortmund in third place could drop to as low as twelfth with just two defeats. Wolfsburg, in 14th after beating Dortmund last weekend, could reach the UEFA Europa League berths with just two wins. Even SC Freiburg are only four points away from UEFA Champions League football next season. If the title race is currently lacking some of the tension of recent years, the battle raging for the remaining European places is certainly making up for it.
League of their own
“We all knew we couldn’t make up that kind of ground on Bayern,” said Leverkusen midfielder Lars Bender after his side’s 3-2 defeat at Hannover on Sunday. "They have a huge advantage and aren't going to do us the favour of losing four or five matches." Their own loss notwithstanding, Bayer still lead a pack of at least seven clubs aiming for a top-four finish and Champions League football next season.
That group now includes Stuttgart, who just a few weeks ago were more concerned about pulling clear of the relegation zone. "It’s a perfect day for VfB," said Vedad Ibisevic after his hat-trick earned the Swabians victory over Schalke 04. "The last time I scored a hat-trick was against Hertha BSC Berlin with Hoffenheim. It’s great to be the league’s top goalscorer with ten goals, but it’s far more important that we got the three points."
Baden-Württemberg rivals SC Freiburg also picked up maximum points at the weekend, and with just one point separating them from the Europa League qualifying berths, finding a solution for a pitch which does not currently meet UEFA’s size regulations may have to be bumped up to the top of the agenda rather than being ignored as a low-priority issue.
"Of course we’re not unhappy with 23 points but believe me, we’re not going to start going crazy," said Freiburg coach Christian Streich. He and a good few of his counterparts, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Armin Veh included, are still focusing on the perennial 40-point target which is almost invariably enough to guarantee top-flight safety.
No foregone conclusion
16th-placed Hoffenheim will have to up the tempo considerably to make that mark now. Despite having endured the worst first half of their admittedly short Bundesliga history, 1899 are unlikely to go down without a fight - especially in view of a possible winter revolution in Sinsheim aimed at getting them back on their feet. “We’ve got to carry on thinking positively," defender Matthieu Delpierre told bundesliga.com. "We slipped down there together and now we must get back up together. There's still a long way to go and we'll just have to fight for every point."
That battle for points will continue apace in 2013 and how it unfolds is anybody's guess, but that is just another absorbing facet of the Bundesliga. As the saying goes, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. And the portly Fräulein will more than likely be kept waiting for her final curtain call.