In the fourth part of our mini-series, we take a look at three teams who are in a comfortable position in the top half of the table...
Of the three sides in the Bundesliga's top half who aren't currently among top six, the Royal Blues have the loftiest ambitions. It's been a topsy-turvy season for Jens Keller's men so far, but after reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout stage, die Knappen will do all they can to ensure qualification for Europe's premier club competition in 2014/15. Three points against fellow European hopefuls VfL Wolfsburg on Matchday 19 would certainly help Schalke's cause.
The Schalke squad is by no means short of match-winners, with summer signing , Julian Draxler and top scorer Jefferson Farfan all impressing during the first half of the 2013/14 campaign. Furthermore, a number of key players are set to return from injury in the near future, among them striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and captain Benedikt Höwedes. Greece centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos is also in line for his first Bundesliga start in over a year.
Like several of their Bundesliga rivals, Schalke's defending left much to be desired during the 2013/14 Hinrunde. Keller's team have conceded 28 goals so far this season, and their inability to keep things tight at the back has cost them potentially vital points in the race for Europe: The Royal Blues were 2-0 up at Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 13, only to draw 3-3 courtesy of Höwedes' late equaliser.
Despite their defensive problems, the Royal Blues are determined to qualify for the Champions League for a second successive season. After all, Schalke are only four points behind bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund, who currently occupy fourth place. "We want to climb another few places," said Höwedes. "In Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg we have two tough teams as our closest rivals, so it's important we start well and get some good results."
Did you know that... no other team scored more (nine) and conceded fewer goals (two) than Schalke during the final 15 minutes of Hinrunde matches?
With 24 points from their first 17 matches, Augsburg have collected just as many points as they did during the 2011/12 and the 2012/13 Hinrunde combined. Although the SGL Arena club are ten points clear of the Bundesliga relegation places - and five clear of 10th-placed VfB Stuttgart - coach Markus Weinzierl is taking nothing for granted. "The fight against relegation continues in the second half of the season," said the 39-year-old after Matchday 17.
It's been a fruitful transfer window for FCA, who have already added Korean international Dong-Won Ji, Alexander Esswein and Dominik Kohr to their ranks ahead of the Bundesliga restart. If Halil Altintop and Andre Hahn can recapture their form of the first half of the season, Weinzierl's charges are could be set for their first top-half finish in their Bundesliga history.
If Augsurg are to finish among the top nine of the division, they will have to start scoring more regularly than they did during the first half of the campaign. Die Fuggerstädter found the net on 21 occasions during the Hinrunde - only the Bundesliga's bottom four teams currently have a worse record. The signing of South Korea striker Ji from Sunderland AFC could help matters.
Despite their impressive league position, Bundesliga survival remains Augsburg's priority this season. "We know how quickly things can change," warned sporting director Stefan Reuter. FCA could hardly have wished for a more difficult start to the Hinrunde, with a trip to Borussia Dortmund - who beat Augsburg 4-0 on the opening day of the season - in store on Matchday 18.
Did you know that... on average, Augsburg have collected 11,5 more points during the second half of the season than the first during their two seasons in the German top flight?
Mainz started the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign in breathtaking fashion. Der Karnevalverein won their first three games of the campaign, before suffering a spectacular dip in form in the middle part of the Hinrunde which saw Thomas Tuchel's side lose five of the following six league matches. Mainz improved towards the end of 2013 however, losing just two of the next eight matches to finish the first half of the season on 24 points and comfortably in the top half of the division.
Mainz's impressive start to the season was in no small part due to the goalscoring exploits of . In fact, the 26-year-old scored six goals in his first seven league games this season, but has only found the net on two occasions since. Müller will be looking to start the second half of the season in similar fashion to the first, and his efforts could be aided by the arrival of South Korea captain from VfL Wolfsburg. With a combined total of 13 goals during the Hinrunde, Shinji Okazaki (8) and Maxim Choupo-Moting (5) will also be hoping to pick up where they left off in 2013.
Müller, Okazaki and Choupo-Moting's goals may have helped consolidate Mainz's position in the top half of the Bundesliga, but Tuchel's team could be in danger of becoming over-reliant on the attacking trio: Mainz boast the fewest individual goalscorers in the division (six). Tuchel hopes the signing of Koo will add some much needed creativity to their ranks. "His way of playing football and his character make him a very good addition to our team," said the coach.
With Mainz ten points clear of the relegation zone and just four off the European places, Tuchel would be forgiven for having his sights set on greater things than mere survival. However, the 40-year-old hasn't forgotten the 2012/13 Hinrunde, which saw Mainz pick up just 16 points from 17 matches. "We will make it clear to our players what they can do to ensure a better Rückrunde [than last season] said Tuchel.
Did you know that... only Bayern have scored more goals from substitutes (7) than the Coface Arena side (six)?