Coming up on the Bundesliga Preview Show this week...
The wait is over, the Bundesliga is back and ready to take its bow in 2015. FC Bayern München remain the measure of all things and they appropriately get the action underway in a mouthwatering Friday evening encounter at second-place VfL Wolfsburg. Ruhr district rivals Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 were both widely expected to be among the most serious challengers for Bayern's domestic crown but they have enjoyed rather divergent fortunes so far this season.
The Royal Blues are eyeing an incremental improvement over the months ahead, while Dortmund have something altogether more radical in mind. All four top-flight heavyweights feature prominently in the first Preview Show of the new year and among much else, Bayer 04 Leverkusen's new offensive double-act included, you'll also have an opportunity to get up to speed on the Bunducksliga.
FC Bayern Report
Out on their own at the top of the standings, FC Bayern München are looking to pick up this year where they left off the last and, ominously for the opposition, the defending champions' now annual decampment to Doha for winter training evidently went just swimmingly. Holger Badstuber is fit again and Javi Martinez is not far behind him, leaving coach Pep Guardiola spoilt for choice again in the central defensive department.
Keeper Manuel Neuer, third in the race for the individual FIFA Ballon d'Or, was one of three Bayern players voted onto the FIFPro Team of the Year, along with skipper Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben. The men from Munich are still chasing silverware on three separate fronts which, as Thomas Müller makes clear, is no less than they expect.
VfL Wolfsburg's restart preparations have taken place under the dark cloud cast by the death of Junior Malanda in a motorway accident. The club decided it was for the best to press ahead with their scheduled training camp in South Africa, where players and management alike freely admitted that football was taking a back seat to an initial attempt to come to grips with the tragic loss of the young Belgian midfielder.
A busy training and playing schedule helped restore some semblance of normality nonetheless, as the Wolves gear up for their table-topping encounter with FC Bayern - and there was time enough for a friendly kickabout with some local school-kids as well.
Borussia Dortmund headed to their own training camp at La Manga, on Spain's south-eastern coast, determined above all to thoroughly cleanse the collective system of what has been a disastrous season so far on the home front. The Mediterranean medicine seems to have worked, with a good measure of confidence restored and a potentially fresh edge to their attacking play.
For one thing, new signing Kevin Kampl is already looking like a very handy addition to the team's attacking midfield department. For another, Marco Reus is up and running again in that selfsame vicinity of the pitch, and evidently hungry to make up for lost time. Both players could well feature in BVB's opening assignment at Leverkusen.
Does it properly reflect the serious business of modern professional football - or is it mere quackery? All will be revealed soon when 17 plastic ducks, and one lonesome frog, each proudly bearing the colours of a top-flight club, go beak-to-beak in the Bunducksliga. It's a race which might just serve as a portent of things to come when the big boys get back down to action. But then again, it might not.