bundesliga.com has searched high and low in an attempt to find ten figures that have defined the first 17 games of a thrilling campaign...
When Xabi Alonso joined FC Bayern München, there were those who felt that he would be better suited easing himself into retirement rather than the cut-and-thrust world of the Bundesliga, but the 33-year-old's establishment as the Bavarians' heartbeat has forced those doubters to reconsider. In the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, Alonso has become essential to the champions' passing style. Indeed, against 1. FC Köln on Matchday 16, the Spaniard had a record 204 touches.
Eintracht Frankfurt fans call him "Fußball-Gott" and the moniker sticks because Alexander Meier keeps scoring goals. Enjoying an Indian summer with the Eagles, who he has represented for over ten years, the 31-year-old ends the Hinrunde with 13 goals and at the top of the scorers' charts. Former coach Friedhelm Funkel waxed lyrical about Meier's "coolness in front of goal", a trait which has been on show plenty this season, with the "Fußball-Gott" converting unerringly time and again.
Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus will look back on 2014 as a year of endless bad luck. The attacking midfielder has been out with an ankle injury since 22 November, and in total, has missed 149 days through injuries. Since the Hinrunde began, Reus, who also missed the FIFA World Cup after suffering similar ankle trouble in a pre-tournament friendly, has been unavailable for ten games. Even more frustratingly is that in the seven games in which he did feature, he scored three times and picked up two assists.
"I'm a brilliant coach," joked Pep Guardiola in response to the question of how his Bayern players have avoided the dreaded post-World Cup hangover. The Catalan is not given to self-praise - the performances of his team so far have done that for him. Even with regular changes of system, the result is almost always the same: Bayern win. In the 51 Bundesliga games he has coached, his side boast 43 wins and only two defeats, averaging 2.65 points per game. That is, of course, a record.
Whenever Ilkay Gündogan steps onto a football field, his relief is plain to see. After 434 days out with a back injury, the German international returned in mid-October in a 2-1 defeat to 1. FC Köln. An excellent goal against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Matchday 14 served as a sign that the 24-year-old is returning to the form which drove BVB to the 2013 Champions League final. Possessing an uncanny calmness on the ball, Gündogan will be vital in the Rückrunde as he attempts to haul his side out of the relegation zone.
One of the Bundesliga's big questions is whether Jerome Boateng remembers what losing feels like. FC Bayern's World Cup-winning centre-half has now gone 56 games unbeaten in the top flight, and the last time he left the pitch on the losing side was 28 October 2012 when Bayer 04 Leverkusen triumphed 2-1 in the Allianz Arena. Granted, Boateng was not in the squad for defeats to FC Augsburg or Dortmund last season, but his form this Hinrunde has made him indispensable to club and country.
Shinji Kagawa was welcomed back to Borussia Dortmund like a popstar and manifest were the placards and microphones extolling the fans' delight at the return of their hero after two years away. The Japanese international enjoyed a dream comeback, scoring as BVB beat SC Freiburg 3-1, but it has been downhill ever since. Although hardly responsible for the side's relegation battle, the fact that the Freiburg goal remains his only strike of the campaign illustrates his, and his club's, toils.
Armin Veh was meant to lead VfB Stuttgart back to where they belong, but after 146 days in charge brought only nine points from 12 games, the 53-year-old resigned. "We were missing that little bit of luck in lots of close games," pointed out the man who had led the Swabian giants to the title in 2007. The beleaguered VfB turned to another they knew well, Huub Stevens, who preceded Veh's brief tenure. "Whether [resigning] was the right or wrong decision remains to be seen," concluded Veh.
Bayern's executive board chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently called Arjen Robben "the best outfield player in the world". Although a polemical statement, there are few who would disagree that this season, Robben has been a class apart. Even amongst Bayern's star-studded ensemble, the Dutch winger has shone brightest, with ten goals and three assists in just 13 games. Guardiola's view? "He's a fantastic professional. I'm delighted to have a player with such outstanding qualities."
Since 2011, Manuel Neuer has won everything there is to win with FC Bayern. His achievements in 2014 alone have placed him on a shortlist of three for the FIFA Ballon D'Or, but equally as impressively, Neuer is re-drawing the parameters of the penalty box. His abilities as an 11th outfield player have become a key factor in Bayern's armoury, yet that is not to say he doesn't do his goalkeeping well: with only four goals conceded in the Hinrunde, Bayern and Neuer have set a new Bundesliga record.