The first half of the Bundesliga is over and several teams in particular had reasons to be cheerful this Christmas.
Chief among them, of course, are Bayern Munich, who overcame a turbulent start to lead the league by 11 points going into the winter break.
As has often been the case, the record champions have star striker Robert Lewandowski to thank for sitting top of the pile with 15 goals from 17 games, also putting the Poland international top of the scoring charts.
Last season’s top goalscorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not far behind. The Borussia Dortmund frontman has 13 goals in 15 games so far, including a hat-trick in a 6-1 thrashing of Borussia Mönchengladbach in September.
The Gabon international was influential as BVB set the early pace with a stunning start to life under new coach Peter Bosz. The DFB Cup holders opened the campaign with six wins and a draw – a run that included hitting Gladbach for six and a 5-0 hammering of bottom club Cologne.
However, Bayern will start 2018 as favourites to be crowned German champions for the sixth year running after Jupp Heynckes came out of retirement to get them back on course, turning a five-point deficit to leaders Dortmund into an 11-point lead at the top since replacing Carlo Ancelotti in early October.
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The treble-winning coach enjoyed a 5-0 win over Freiburg for his first game back. On the same weekend, Dortmund’s remarkable 41-game unbeaten home record in the Bundesliga came to an end when RB Leipzig escaped with a 3-2 victory.
It was a turning point in the season’s title race.
The Bavarians would embark on a five-match winning streak as summer signing James Rodriguez began to find his feet. The Colombian scored his second goal for his new club in a 2-0 success against last season’s runners-up Leipzig.
That came on Matchday 10, when Bayern replaced BVB at the summit. The Bavarians then beat their title rivals 3-1 in Dortmund and were motoring again. Borussia, on the other hand, fell into a negative spiral.
In late November Die Schwarzgelben even threw away a four-goal lead in the Revierderby against Schalke and soon afterwards Bosz made way for ex-Cologne head coach Peter Stöger.
Watch: Schalke produced an unbelievable comeback in a game for the ages at Dortmund
Dortmund ended an eight-game winless run in Stöger’s first game by beating Mainz, before Christian Pulisic’s late winner against Hoffenheim took them back up to third over the break.
Their local rivals Schalke, meanwhile, are second, finishing the first half of the season ahead of BVB for only the second time this decade. They have been reinvigorated by new boss Domenico Tedesco, while newly capped USA international Weston McKennie has emerged to play an important role in the Royal Blues midfield.
Level with Dortmund, Leipzig and Gladbach on 28 points, Bayer Leverkusen have also excelled. Installed in the summer, Heiko Herrlich has moulded an exciting young side that ended the year on a 12-match unbeaten run and – with 34 goals – they have the third-best attack behind Dortmund (39) and Bayern (37). Kevin Volland has netted nine times, while Jamaican winger Leon Bailey’s explosive pace has enabled him to register six goals and four assists.
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Elsewhere, special mention must go to Alfred Finnbogason, whose 11 goals have helped plucky Augsburg into the top half of the table. The Iceland striker picked up his second hat-trick of the season by scoring twice in injury-time in a Matchday 17 draw with Freiburg.
It means the middle of the park is incredibly congested as just five points separate third-placed Dortmund and 11th-placed Hannover as teams including Leipzig, Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin and Augsburg scramble for a European position come May.
Promoted Hannover even opened the campaign with a six-match unbeaten run to sit fourth under Andre Breitenreiter. Last season’s Bundesliga 2 champions Stuttgart are hovering precariously above the relegation positions, but have since announced the return of goalscoring legend Mario Gomez to the club for the second half of the campaign.
Things look bleak for Cologne, however, with just six points to their name. It’s the second-worst first half to a Bundesliga campaign, although it did end on a high with their first league victory of the season, over Wolfsburg, on Matchday 17. Interim coach Stefan Ruthenbeck has been handed the reins on a permanent basis until the end of the season hoping for “that miracle of avoiding relegation.”
Expect plenty more drama at both ends of the table when the Bundesliga resumes in 2018 with Bayern’s trip to Leverkusen on 12 January.