In the third part of our compact and concise look ahead to the second half of the season, we focus on three sides meandering in mid-table...
After a first half of the season to forget, Thomas Schneider's men are under pressure going into 2014. They face 1. FSV Mainz 05, FC Bayern München and Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the first week of the new year, for which they prepared - physically and psychologically - in South Africa. "It was a great balance between sporting and cultural stimulation," said Schneider, whose men won two out of three friendlies in Cape Town.
The winners of the mid-season training camp could be , and , all of whom have received particular praise from their coach. Leitner is likely to take his place alongside captain Christian Gentner in midfield, while Harnik is an option for the right of midfield after overcoming a dip in form. With four goals in two games, Abdellaoue is in contention to partner Vedad Ibisevic up front at the expense of Timo Werner, who is suffering with a back problem.
With 31 goals conceded, the defence was Stuttgart's Achilles heel in the first half of the season, but could be the man to rectify that figure. Daniel Schwaab is set to get the nod ahead of Georg Niedermeier in the other centre-back position, with Gotoku Sakai and Konstantin Rausch at right and left back respectively.
The ambitions remain high for VfB. "We should be aiming for seventh or eighth at least," said captain Gentner to the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. "When I see clubs like Augsburg, Mainz and Hertha Berlin ahead of us then, with all due respect, that really annoys me." To rid Gentner and Co of those annoyances, die Schwaben need to tighten up at the back.
Did you know that... Loris Karius, goalkeeper of upcoming opponents Mainz, spent four years in Stuttgart's youth academy?
As many of the club's fans had feared, Bremen have spent much of the season rising and falling between mid-table and the league's lower reaches. Robin Dutt's team, who began their campaign with back-to-back victories, will be hoping for a similar start to the second half of the season. At their Jerez training camp, Dutt focused on strengthening the back line, which is understandable considering their goals against statistic of 37. "I think this is where we can lay a foundation for the weeks to come," said the Werder coach.
Bremen are yet to act in the winter transfer market. Die Grün-Weißen have, in fact, trimmed their squad, with Tom Trybull joining Bundesliga 2 side FC St. Pauli. More worryingly for the northerners, however, is the news that captain may be out for several weeks with a groin injury. Dutt also said during mid-season training that youngsters Julian von Haacke, Martin Kobylanski and Luca Zander will be given an opportunity in the first team, while has been named as number one goalkeeper.
Their leaky defence was clearly Bremen's weakest link in the first half of the season, with the odd clean sheet - such as in the 1-0 win over Leverkusen on Matchday 17 - the exception rather than the rule. Frequent changes in defence, often due to injury, prevented the team from stringing together a run of good results, and Dutt must now ensure that a semblance of continuity returns to the team, even with the possible loss of Fritz.
Despite competing in the UEFA Champions League as recently as 2010/11, Werder's main ambition this term is survival. They are five points above the bottom three and are therefore able to face the second half of the season with a degree of serenity. Should Dutt stabilise his defence, then Bremen have every chance of achieving that objective with games to spare. Staying up could ultimately come down to goal difference, so the pressure is on to improve on that -15 figure.
Did you know that... winger Karim Bellarabi of upcoming opponents Braunschweig spent six years in Bremen's youth academy?
The number of goals scored (36) and conceded (38) made it a rollercoaster ride for 1899 Hoffenheim in the first half of the season. Such high numbers obviously included handsome wins, such as a 5-1 demolition of Hamburger SV. However, results such as a 6-2 derby loss at VfB Stuttgart have had a damaging effect on Hoffenheim's goal difference. Striking the right balance between an excellent attack and a leaky defence will be top of coach Markus Gisdol's winter agenda.
Hoffenheim's transfer dealings so far amount to just one new arrival and three departures. Swedish midfielder Jiloan Hamad is the new man, with his eight goals and seven assists for former club Malmö FF set to give the Sinsheimers an even greater goalscoring threat. On the other hand, Tobias Weis, Vincenzo Grifo and Tim Wiese have all left the club, while Gisdol must also decide between Jens Grahl and Koen Casteels as the club's first-choice keeper in the second half of the season.
As prolific as the attack may have been, the club's wobbly backline continually undermined Hoffenheim's attempts to win matches - they only recorded four wins in 17 games. The reason for their poor record could be a lack of experience, with captain Andreas Beck the elder statesman at the tender age of 26, and indeed, apart from Sejad Salihovic (29) and Eugen Polanski (27), seasoned old heads are at a premium in Gisdol's side.
After narrowly missing out on relegation last season, 1899 seized their second chance in the summer, with Gisdol working hard to build a new side. As was the case last season, the objective is to ensure their place in the top flight for another year, and with such a potent attack, that is certainly within the realms of possibility. If they can then get things right at the back, they may be able to reach that target without having to wait until another nail-biting final day.
Did you know that... Aa the age of 22, Roberto Firmino has already made 90 Bundesliga appearances? This season, he has scored eight goals and assisted a further six.