Coming up this week on GOAL!....
The will-he-won't-he Kevin de Bruyne saga finally ended in the affirmative for VfL Wolfsburg as the gifted Belgian midfielder signed up on a long-term deal from Chelsea FC in the most spectacular move to date of the winter transfer window. An even bigger name heading for pastures new, but with less immediate effect, is Robert Lewandowski, the Polish striker's switch from Dortmund to Munich having been confirmed ahead of the restart.
Hannover 96 meanwhile hope Artjoms Rudnevs will have hit the net a few times for them by then - the Latvian forward has made the relatively short journey east from Hamburg on an initial half-season loan deal. FC Schalke have likewise snapped up a familiar Bundesliga face on a temporary basis, with Jan Kirchhoff arriving from FC Bayern to bolster their back row, although not straight away unfortunately after the 23-year-old damaged ankle ligaments in one of his first training sessions for the Royal Blues. An overview of the top winter moves.
Defending champions FC Bayern München get the 2014 Bundesliga action underway with a Friday evening assignment at Borussia Mönchengladbach, in what promises to be a real humdinger of an encounter. Bayern's ongoing form barely needs recapitulating - seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over their closest pursuers, and having won all but two of their league outings this season. Gladbach, though, have themselves edged into the leading group of teams if not exactly hot on the Munich side's heels then at least keeping within sight of them. Indeed, had they not been forced to share the spoils in their final two games of last year, at Mainz and against Wolfsburg, Lucien Favre's Foals would have been chasing a win to cut Bayern's lead at the top to just four points.
Ifs, buts and maybes aside though, Borussia will undoubtedly be up to the challenge of trying to add the most impressive scalp of the lot to their tremendous home record this season. For one player in the visitors' ranks meanwhile, this will be anything but just another day at the office: Dante's form for Gladbach in his three seasons at the club was the springboard to the move to Bayern in 2012 that has propelled him into the defensive world elite, not to mention the squad of World Cup hosts Brazil.
On the face of it, Thiago Alcantara could be excused for viewing his first half-season at FC Bayern München as a period defined above all by frustration, with injuries restricting him thus far to half a dozen top-flight outings. Instead, though, the 22-year-old Spain international with very Brazilian roots has been lapping up the new experience under the familiar eye of Pep Guardiola, happy to be “learning from German football, from the coach and from my teammates.“
Thiago was not only top of his former mentor at FC Barcelona's immediate wish-list last summer, he was the only name on it. And if the Bayern fans are yet to see one of the world's best up-and-coming box-to-box midfielders in full flow, the waiting may well soon be over.