After a month of thumb twiddling, Bundesliga fans were treated to a real spectacle from start to finish on Matchday 18.
bundesliga.com reviews a captivating start to the year in Germany's top flight.
Bayern set the tone
Defending champions FC Bayern München were made to work hard for the points at Hamburger SV's Volksparkstadion on Friday night. A Robert Lewandowski penalty broke the deadlock and, after Xabi Alonso put through his own net to bring HSV level, the Poland international doubled up to seal a narrow 2-1 win. The only real negative for the league leaders was a groin injury to defensive ever-present Jerome Boateng, who faces an indefinite spell on the sidelines.
Lewy tots up tally
Lewandowski's two-goal salvo in Hamburg took his Bundesliga tally for the season to 17 in 18 matches - as many as he scored during the entire 2014/15 campaign. The Pole now trails Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by one at the top of the leadings scorers' chart, and still has legendary FC Bayern striker Gerd Müller's seemingly untouchable 40-goal haul of 1971/72 in his crosshairs.
Dortmund flex muscle
Although Aubameyang failed to hit the back of a Bundesliga net for only the fifth time this season at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday, Dortmund kept up their end of the bargain with a swashbuckling 3-1 victory that kept the gap to Bayern to eight points. Marco Reus set the ball rolling against his former club, before Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan got in on the act either side of Raffael's riposte for the hosts. The second defeat of the Andre Schubert era means Gladbach are now four points adrift of the direct qualification spots for the UEFA Champions League.
With 17 assists in 29 competitive games this season, Dortmund's Mkhitaryan is now Europe’s top assist-provider, his brilliant pass for Ilkay Gündogan to make it 3-1 at the BORUSSIA-PARK lifting him ahead of Arsenal FC’s Mesut Özil (16). The six-time Armenian Footballer of the Year has also scored 16 goals in all competitions so far this term.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen will be kicking themselves after passing up the opportunity to move back into the top four at Gladbach's expense. Die Werkself had to come from a goal down against relegation-threatened TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, captain Ömer Toprak with the equaliser 15 minutes from time at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Not since the close of play on Matchday 3 have Roger Schmidt's charges occupied one of the Champions League places.
Hertha consolidate third
News of dropped points for Gladbach and Leverkusen will have been well received in the capital, where third-placed Hertha Berlin were held to their first goalless draw of the season by FC Augsburg. Pal Dardai's side have made themselves very difficult to beat this term, but will need the goals to flow if they are to sustain the top-four charge between now and May. As for ever-improving Augsburg, it is hard to see them being dragged back into the relegation zone.
Following Augsburg's lead, VfB Stuttgart kicked off 2016 with a bang in Cologne. Die Schwaben fell behind to Anthony Modeste's eighth Bundesliga goal in a 1. FC Köln shirt, but hit back with a vengeance. Daniel Didavi, Timo Werner and captain Christian Gentner put their names up in lights as VfB extended their unbeaten run to four with their second successive win of Jürgen Kramny's fledgling tenure.
Fans are still wondering if and when promoted duo FC Ingolstadt 04 and SV Darmstadt 98 are going to have their first serious wobble of the campaign. It certainly did not happen on Matchday 18, with Ingolstadt 1-0 winners over 1. FSV Mainz 05 for the second time this season and Darmstadt victorious in Hanover. The manner of the Lilies' win was particularly impressive, Sandro Wagner's brace rendering a debut goal for Hannover 96 newcomer Hugo Almeida a mere footnote.
Alexander Meier gave lowly Eintracht Frankfurt a timely lift with a hat-trick in Sunday's dramatic 3-2 win over VfL Wolfsburg. Andre Schürrle's late goal looked to have salvaged a point for the travel-sick Wolves, but last season's top scorer netted in the 93rd minute to earn Armin Veh's side all three points, Mexico international playmaker Marco Fabian with the assist on his Bundesliga debut.
No stopping evergreen Pizarro
Even at the ripe old age of 37, Claudio Pizarro’s hunger for goals shows no sign of diminishing. The former Bayern frontman got on the end of a Clemens Fritz cross to put Bremen 2-1 up away to Schalke, netting his 179th Bundesliga goal in the process. The Peruvian, already the league’s highest-scoring foreigner, is now joint-sixth in the Bundesliga’s all-time scorers’ chart.