With 17 games to go until the end of the season, as well as extra outings in the DFB Cup and in Europe, a select group of clubs in the league have the opportunity to realise something special this year, and among them are a few surprises…
The Bundesliga record champions are in excellent shape ahead of the campaign’s restart. Their winter break included a publicity-grabbing trip to Qatar and a 5-0 friendly win over fellow Bundesliga side FC Schalke 04. There were additional friendly wins over FC Basel and SpVgg Unterhaching, and the squad is also shaping up nicely.
Arjen Robben has used the winter break to get back to full fitness and only long-term injury victim Holger Badstuber remains sidelined for Bayern, who sit top of the league by nine points, having progressed in both cup competitions. “We’re showing again all the things that made us strong before winter break”, says an optimistic head coach Jupp Heynckes.
Top fact: Bayern had the best record in the league both home and away in the Hinrunde, 20 points at home and 20 away.
The defending Bundesliga champions have also had a healthy winter, finishing with a Wintercup triumph in Düsseldorf. Their biggest boost has been a psychological one, however, in the form of returning hero Nuri Sahin. The 24-year-old midfielder, a Bundesliga champion with the Yellow-Blacks in 2011, returned ‘home’ to Dortmund after less-than-successful spells at Real Madrid and Liverpool FC.
Ivan Perisic departed for VfL Wolfsburg, but in Sahin, Jürgen Klopp has another supremely talented player for whom he must now find a place in his starting eleven. “I think I can use my quality to help bring the club back to the top again”, said Sahin after agreeing his return.
Top fact: Dortmund created the most chances from set pieces (88) in the Bundesliga, scoring nine times.
This time last season, die Breisgauer were rock-bottom of the table with just 13 points and staring down the barrel of relegation. Then in came Christian Streich as the new coach and everything changed. In 2012, Freiburg took 53 points from 34 games, equating to just over 1.5 points per game, and fifth is their highest position at the halfway stage of a season since 1994/95.
Players such as Julian Schmidt und Max Kruse have been in outstanding form for the club this term, but the most credit must go to coach Streich, whose down-to-earth, modest approach has galvanized the entire squad. “I like working for Freiburg because I am able to do this job.”
Top fact: Only Bayern Munich (7) have conceded fewer goals than Freiburg (18), a club record for the Black Forest outfit after 17 games.
It has been a season of transition for Bremen. In the summer, out went experienced older heads such as Naldo and Claudio Pizarro and in came younger stars like Kevin de Bruyne and Nils Petersen, as coach Thomas Schaaf attempted to build a new team. The loss of that experience has told, as the notherners have lost some tight encounters and are yet to win consecutive league matches.
That said, they impressed over the winter break at their Belek base in Turkey, winning the Tuttur Cup, and the arrival of defender Mateo Pavlovic provides further competition for places. This weekend they face champions Dortmund, but after a stoic display in the reverse fixture, hopes will be high that they can spring a surprise. “These good results tell me that we are reaping the rewards for our hard work”, believes a satisfied Schaaf.
Top fact: Bremen are the set-piece specialists of the Bundesliga, having scored three goals from direct set-pieces, the most in the division.
Mainz were another side that, with limited resources, continue to punch above their weight. Under the stewardship of the astute Thomas Tuchel, the club finished the Hinrunde in sixth place, and 2012 by dumping Schalke out of the DFB Cup. “We have played a lot of games over the winter and I’m very satisfied with what I’ve seen”, remarked Tuchel positively.
Potentially damaging for the team will be the departure of Jan Kirchhoff, after the 23-year-old has agreed to join Bayern in the summer after signing a pre-contract agreement. A fifth-placed finish in the league like in 2011 would be the perfect way for him to sign off at the Coface Arena.
Top fact Adam Szalai scored more goals in the first half of the season (9) than he managed in his first three seasons in the Bundesliga put together.
After a disastrous start to the season, Hamburg’s spirit and fortunes were revived by the return of cult hero Rafael van der Vaart, who came back to the club after a four-year absence to help save his beloved Red Shorts. Since then, a talented squad has begun performing to its potential, with strikers Artjoms Rudnevs and South Korean sensation Heung Min Son both finding form.
Son then added another cracker to his list of great goals in HSV’s impressive friendly win over FK Austria Wien recently, giving coach Thorsten Fink good reason to be cheerful. “I’ve seen a few things that I liked”, remarked the 41-year-old. With van der Vaart also back to fitness after a thigh injury, the promise that Hamburg can sustain a push for Europe is well justified.
Top fact: Only Bayern (11) and Düsseldorf (7) have kept more clean sheets than Hamburg (6).