It may be called a winter break, but the Bundesliga is more like a holiday. The league shuts down after match day 17 on 22 December and doesn’t pick up again until the 24th – a whole month away. Having four less league games a season helps with this, having only 18 team instead of 20 – something the Premier League promised to do a long, long time ago. Nearly every team has travelled to warmer climes, and some have taken the opportunity to win new fans as Stuttgart visited South Africa while HSV travelled to Indonesia. Bayern and Schalke did Qatar, and Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund travelled to Spain. They promise the batteries are charged.
Take everything else around – the impending court cases, the unfair jokes about his looks – and just marvel at the genius of Franck Ribéry. The Frenchman has been at the centre of guiding Bayern to the winter championship, and interestingly, the Bavarians have won the last 51 of the games the 30-year-old has scored in. He missed Bayern’s last action against HSV, and it showed. The champions looked disjointed and lacked a spark. Many won’t give Ribéry more than an outsider’s chance of being crowned the best in the world when the Ballon d’Or votes are tallied on Monday, but you will struggle to find anyone inside Germany – Munich fans or not – who would vote against him. If he can stay fit and not distracted by non-footballing issues, Ribéry, who has six Bundesliga goals this term, may just be a star of this summer’s World Cup.
It’s hard to write a Bundesliga piece nowadays without using the following two words: hipster and Klopp. Currently, Dortmund are fourth in the table, and if the league finished now, they would have to qualify for the Champions League. Of course, there are still 17 games to go, and nobody in their right mind would rule out BVB making a surge up the table in the second half of the season. Despite consecutive home league defeats, including a 3-0 reverse in Das Klassiker, and a shock 2-1 defeat by Hertha Berlin before the break, Klopp’s men are in the last 16 of the Champions League, and more importantly, are seeing the return of important figures, such as Manchester United target İlkay Gündoğan and former Liverpool midfielder Nuri Sahin, while with the news Neven Subotić is healing better than thought, Dortmund are dangerously placed to challenge.
It’s strange to suggest a team second in the league are dark horses, but Bayer Leverkusen seem that. Graeme Souness was rather uncomplimentary to Sami Hyypiä’s ‘Werkself’ after they were on the end of a rare moment of joy for David Moyes’s Manchester United in the Champions League, but that was an off-day for Leverkusen. If it were not for coming unstuck 1-0 at lowly Eintracht Braunschweig, Hyypiä’s side would have taken more momentum into their other campaigns. However, after a superb backs-to-the-wall defensive effort against Dortmund brought them all three points, there were back-to-back losses before the break against Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen respectively, and it will be interesting to see how the squad cope with the news, although expected, German international Sidney Sam will be heading to Schalke in the summer. The Werkself are ten points behind Munich, but that’s not their fight. Keeping BVB off their tail is.