To prepare for Friday's Rückrunde opener between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern München, bundesliga.com has compiled a comprehensive A to Z guide of all the hot topics set to grip Germany's top flight in the New Year.
A - lex Meier
The Eintracht Frankfurt fans’ favourite ended 2014 with thirteen league goals - three more than his closest rival for the Törjägerkanone, FC Bayern München’s Arjen Robben. The 31-year-old remains convinced that a Bayern player will end up with the top scorer’s gong, but if he can maintain his scoring form during the second season-half, he could well become the first Eagles’ player to win the award since Anthony Yeboah in 1993/94.
B - unDucksLiga
The BundDuckSLiga 2015 is in full swing, with the three qualifying rounds having already taken place, but which duck - or frog - will end up with the inaugural BunDucksLiga title? to find out...
C - hampions League
The battle for Europe’s premier club competition looks set to be one of the tightest in years, with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Schalke 04, to name but a few, all jostling for position near the Bundesliga summit. On average, 59 points are required to finish in the Champions League play-off place, but with just two points separating third-place Bayer and seventh-place TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the race is well and truly on.
Nobody set up more goals (10) than the Belgian international during the 2014/15 Hinrunde - a remarkable achievement considering the competition he was up against. FC Bayern’s Franck Ribery, Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino and SV Werder Bremen’s Zlatko Junuzovic trail in De Bruyne’s wake with six assists each.
E - nglische Woche
The Bundesliga awakens from its annual mid-season slumber on 30 January, when Wolfsburg and Bayern do battle in the Matchday 18 curtain-raiser. As if that wasn’t enough, fans of Germany’s top flight can look forward to two more rounds of matches between 3 and 8 February! Hold on to your hats...
F - lorida Cup
Rhineland rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen and 1. FC Köln caused quite a stir during their mid-season trip to Orlando, Florida. During their stay, the two Bundesliga sides took part in the inaugural Florida Cup, which the Billy Goats eventually got their hands on after recording victories over Brazilian outfits SC Corinthians Paulista and Fluminense FC.
Pep’s side remain in pole position to win their 24th Bundesliga title this season. The Bavarians hold an eleven-point lead over Wolfsburg going into Friday’s clash between the top two, and with the Reds’ safely through to the last 16 of Champions League and DFB Cup, the 2014/15 season is certainly going according to plan for the Catalan tactician.
H - ome comforts
There were 71 home victories during the first half of the campaign, just as many as there were during the previous first season-half. On average, there have been 77 home wins per Hinrunde since the league was formed in 1963.
I - international duty
With the Africa Cup of Nations and the AFC Asian Cup both taking place during the winter break, several Bundesliga stars have been busy representing their countries this month. Could Robbie Kruse, Eric Maxim Choupo Moting or Heung-Min Son get their hands on some silverware in the coming weeks? We’ll find out soon enough…
J - unior Malanda
The German Football League (DFL) has recommended holding a minute’s silence at all stadiums ahead of the nine Matchday 18 encounters following the tragic passing of the former Wolfsburg midfielder, who died in a car accident on 10 January.
Jürgen Klopp will be hoping the Slovenian international can help lift BVB out of their current predicament as soon as possible. Early signs are certainly promising, with the young midfielder netting his first goal for the club in the friendly against FC Utrecht on 21 January. Having scored 29 goals and set up a further 54 in 109 appearances for RB Salzburg, there’s little doubt he has the ability to make a significant contribution to Dortmund’s league campaign.
L - oans
Several clubs have chosen to make use of the loan market during the January transfer window, with Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg (FC Bayern to FC Augsburg), Levin Öztunali (Leverkusen to Bremen), Christian Clemens (Schalke to 1. FSV Mainz 05), Nils Petersen (Bremen to SC Freiburg) and Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim to Bremen) all joining rival Bundesliga sides on loan until the end of the 2014/15 campaign.
M - eisterschale
It will take an almighty effort to stop FC Bayern getting their hands on the coveted Bundesliga trophy this season. The 2013/14 champions have dropped just six points and conceded only four goals so far this term. Having wrapped up the title on Matchday 27 last year, could they be about to win the league even earlier this time around?
FC Schalke 04 have high hopes that Serbian international defender Matija Nastasic can help plug the Royal Blues’ leaky defence during the second half of the season. The 21-year-old joins Roberto Di Matteo’s side from Manchester City FC, where he made 34 league appearances in his first two season’s with the Citizens.
O - men
FC Bayern’s 4-0 victory over FC Augsburg on Matchday 15 sealed the Herbstmeisterschaft for the Reds. Since the Bundesliga’s inception in 1963, the record titleholders have gone on to win the league on 16 of the 19 occasions they have topped the Bundesliga table at the season’s halfway mark.
P - enalties
No player has displayed more composure from twelve yards this season than Augsburg captain Paul Verhaegh, who scored all five of his penalties during the Hinrunde. In fact, the Dutch international has yet to miss a penalty for Augsburg, having converted seven spot-kicks out of seven for die Fuggerstädter
Q - ueues
Based on each club’s average attendance during the first half of the current campaign, over 1,000,000 spectators are expected to flock through the Bundesliga turnstiles between Matchday’s 18 and 20. Make sure you book your tickets with plenty of time to spare!
Bayern have been breaking them left, right and centre in recent times, but the record titleholders have their work cut out if they want to beat their own points and goals tallies this season. Guardiola’s side still need 47 points and 61 goals to beat their own previous best-marks from the 2012/13 season (91 points) and the 1971/72 campaign (101).
S - urvival
Just like the battle for European places, the fight to avoid relegation also looks set to go right down to the wire this season. Only four points separate SC Paderborn 07 in tenth from bottom-of-the-table SC Freiburg, but with the englische Woche looming large on the horizon, the picture at the bottom could change drastically in the coming weeks.
T - orjägerkanone
Alex Meier currently leads the scoring charts in Germany’s top flight, but there’s still plenty to play for in the race for the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer’s award. Arjen Robben enjoyed a prolific Hinrunde for FC Bayern, scoring ten goals in 13 league appearances, while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Karim Bellarabi and Shinji Okazaki (all on eight) aren’t far behind. Robben’s team-mate Robert Lewandowski, currently on seven, might yet fancy his chances of winning the award for a second successive season.
U - nderdog
Last season’s two promoted clubs, Paderborn and Köln, quickly got to grips with the demands of Germany’s top flight this season, ending the calendar year in tenth and eleventh place respectively. However, with just two points separating Paderborn from the relegation play-off place, the two clubs still have work to do if they want to safeguard their Bundesliga status this year.
V - olkswagen Arena
Nowhere will the tribute to Junior Malanda be more poignant than at the home of Wolfsburg, where the Belgian plied his trade for 18 months before his untimely passing. However, Dieter Hecking’s side will also be keen on reducing the gap between themselves and FC Bayern.
W - inter break
As ever, Bundesliga clubs have been jetting out to all corners of the globe in preparation for the second half of the season. Doha, Abu Dhabi, La Manga, Johannesburg and Florida were just some of the destinations chosen by top-flight sides as the ideal location for their mid-season training camps.
Chinese international winger Xizhe Zhang was unveiled as the latest member of Wolfsburg’s squad back on 16 December, and the former Beijing Guoan man has certainly made a good impression since his arrival from the Far East. The 23-year-old has shown glimpses of what he is capable of in the Wolves’ mid-season friendlies and was particularly impressive in the 4-1 win over Ajax Cape Town, a game in which he set up Bas Dost for Wolfsburg’s third goal.
Y - oung guns
Winter training camps often provide an opportunity for some of the younger players at a club to prove their worth ahead of the second half of the campaign. A number of youngsters are vying for a place in their respective sides’ starting line-ups ahead of the Rückrunde, not least Schalke’s Marcel Sobottka, Dortmund’s Felix Passlack and Gladbach’s Mahmoud Dahoud.
Z - latko Junuzovic
Not only is the Austrian international joint-second in the assists table going into the second half of the 2014/15 campaign, he’s also scored three goals from direct free-kicks this season, two of which earned the 27-year-old bundesliga.com’s Goal of the Week award.