Having won the Bundesliga title as coach of both FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, few can match Ottmar Hitzfeld’s knowledge of Germany’s top flight.

Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, the 66-year-old analyses the season so far, looks at Bayern’s development this term and is full of praise for two of the league’s newest members.

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bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, which teams have surprised you so far this season?

Ottmar Hitzfeld: The two promoted teams primarily, as they’ve both given a very good account of themselves. In my opinion, both Ingolstadt and Darmstadt are good additions to the Bundesliga. As underdogs, they have adapted to the league very well and very quickly. That’s undoubtedly a motivation of sorts for the rest of the Bundesliga 2 teams, who can see it’s possible to achieve something in the top flight. It’s important to lay down a marker. They’ve done very well.

bundesliga.com: How would you summarise the first half of the season of Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München?

Hitzfeld: Bayern are just as strong as they were last season. Obviously Pep Guardiola’s had a lot of players injured, but the depth of the squad is unbelievable. That’s meant he’s been able to cope with the injuries without any problems. Even if four or five players are missing you have the feeling that the team is complete as soon as you see the starting line-up. I believe Bayern not only have the strongest substitutes’ bench in Germany, they have the strongest in Europe.

bundesliga.com: What do you make of new recruits Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman?

Hitzfeld: They’ve given Bayern fantastic options on the flanks and have compensated for the lengthy absences of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben very well. They’ve both been instant hits and have far exceeded expectations. Nobody had heard of them in Germany before this season, but now everyone knows about them. They’re technically excellent, are quick and have plenty of tricks. Under Guardiola, they’re learning how to link-up better and to put the team first.

bundesliga.com: Have you been surprised that Borussia Dortmund are Bayern’s closest challengers given BVB’s struggles in 2014/15?

Hitzfeld: No, I was expecting that to be the case before the season started. Dortmund are Bayern’s rivals. Thomas Tuchel has given the side a new playing philosophy. His system isn’t just about all-out attack; he puts emphasis on possession, the team waits for chances and don’t always go flat out. Dortmund are playing more economically and intelligently under his command than they have done in recent years. They’re more flexible and therefore more unpredictable.

bundesliga.com: Have VfL Wolfsburg had the most disappointing Hinrunde?

Hitzfeld: You could say that, especially as Wolfsburg have dropped a lot of points where they shouldn’t have and they haven’t looked good away from home. They don’t appear to be as stable as they could be, as there is no doubt there’s a lot of potential in their squad.

bundesliga.com: What do you make of the relegation battle?

Hitzfeld: It’s very tight again, just like it has been in recent years. A lot of teams are playing with fear. Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Hannover 96 and Hoffenheim are struggling to come to terms with the situation. But all is still to play for. There’s more excitement at the bottom of the table than there is at the top.

Ottmar Hitzfeld was speaking to Alexis Menuge

Broken records, best goals, standout players: head here for our Hinrunde recap