Munich - FC Bayern Munich may have brushed off their nearest and dearest, but there's still plenty to play for in what, from head to toe, has the makings of a barnstorming Bundesliga battle to the last.
With Bayern holding a seemingly unassailable lead over Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Co., bundesliga.com draws on the facts and figures from seasons past to gain an insight into what permutations the current table holds for the chasing pack, the umpteen European hopefuls and the cluster of relegation candidates.
Starting at the top, it's mighty Bayern, who've pretty much steamrollered everyone in their path - everyone but Leverkusen, that is. Jupp Heynckes' men went down 2-1 at home to the Bundesliga’s second-placed side, but an eleven-point gap between the top two represents the greatest deficit facing a team in second at this point in the campaign since the implementation of the three-point rule in 1995/96.
Champions Borussia Dortmund have 14 points to make up in third, with only goal difference separating them from promoted side Eintracht Frankfurt, though the Yellow-Blacks do at least have title-chasing experience on their side. For a number of weeks FC Schalke 04 were hot on Bayern's heels, although they have since tumbled down to fifth in the table, level on points with a resurgent VfB Stuttgart, who are only six points better off than 13th-placed 1. FC Nuremberg.
There for the taking
Such is the level of competition in this season's Bundesliga, 2008/09 champions VfL Wolfsburg, who themselves saw off Leverkusen on Matchday 11, are only one point further back in 14th. Now that might appear a hefty gap between lower mid-table and second place, but it’s nevertheless the highest tally (19) of any 14th-placed club in the last 16 seasons - not that neck-and-neck tussles are anything new in the Bundesliga.
In 2002/03, VfB Stuttgart, 1860 München and Hamburger SV went into Matchday 17 locked in a three-way battle on 24 points, but come the end of the season it was Stuttgart who emerged from the pack on top, still 16 points behind runaway leaders Bayern, with 59 points to fourth-placed Hamburg’s 56. 1860, meanwhile, fell as low as tenth. A lesson, perhaps, for the current crop of European contenders from Leverkusen all the way down to 15th-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf (18) - which leads us nicely into the bottom three.
Long way up
1899 Hoffenheim are sitting on the brink in 16th, the Bundesliga’s relegation play-off spot, already six points adrift of Fortuna. Propping up the Sinsheim club and the rest of the Bundesliga for that matter are Bavarian duo FC Augsburg and Greuther Fürth, both with ground to make up after picking up just eight points so far this season, but that’s not to say relegation is a formality for the two clubs destined to be bottom this Christmas.
None of the post-Matchday 16 bottom three were relegated last season, although that looks to be the exception rather than the rule, as the likes of VfL Bochum and Hertha BSC Berlin proved in recent campaigns. There is always the chance teams further up the ladder will find themselves embroiled in a relegation dogfight come the business end, too. Arminia Bielefeld, for example, eleventh in the standings after Matchday 16 back in 2002/03, managed only a further 15 points in the months that followed, falling victim to the trapdoor after a relegation play-off defeat to Hannover 96.
All to play for
Clearly, then, no one’s safe in the Bundesliga. Only leaders Bayern and relegation-threatened trio Hoffenheim, Augsburg and Fürth can be sure of their winter break placings. As for the rest - 14 teams no less - there could still be plenty of movers and shakers after Matchday 17. A further reason, if any were needed, for Bundesliga fans the world over to keep a close eye on this weekend's action.