Borussia Dortmund may have history on their side as they take a six-point Bundesliga lead into the four-week winter break but it would be foolish to write off champions Bayern Munich as Germany’s elite league could finally have a title duel again.
Dortmund have always gone on to lift the trophy when they led at the half-way mark of the season, and Lucien Favre’s youthful team has impressed in the first 17 games.
Thirteen wins, three draws and just one defeat are the bare figures as they amassed 42 points, the second-best tally in club history – although new coach in Lucien Favre has asked for patience with his new-looked team ahead of the season.
But summer signings ranging from defender Abdou Diallo to midfielders Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel to forwards Jadon Sancho and Paco Alcacer have dazzled Dortmund fans along with in-form captain Marco Reus as Dortmund hope for a first title since 2012.
“We hope we’ll all stay fit and continue to deliver performances. Then much is possible,” Reus said.
Dortmund take plenty of confidence into the hibernation period as they ended the year by rebounding from their first loss in midweek, at lowly Fortuna Dusseldorf by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 in what was a top-of-the-table clash Friday.
Gladbach sports director Max Eberl named Dortmund favourites but warned that “no one should write Bayern off.
“They are always dangerous, especially towards the end, in late March and early April when it all about the titles they are certainly more stable than some others,” he said.
The Munich camp certainly agrees as Niko Kovac’s team seems firmly back on track by ending the year with five straight wins after some poor showings between a splendid start and the strong finale – including four home games without victory.
Club bosses Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge raised eyebrows with a bizarre news conference in which they attacked the media while also suggesting that Kovac had to do better.
Less rotation eventually helped Bayern back on track as Rummenigge said after Saturday’s 3-0 at cup winners Eintracht Frankfurt that Bayern “are a unit again,” and forward Thomas Mueller stated the win “boosts our confidence for the second half of the season.”
Bayern’s struggles and Dortmund’s form are giving the league a first real title race again after six years of total Bayern dominance.
“After six Bayern championships in a row the fans and clubs were longing for us to bring them to their knees. In the first half of the season it seems as if it worked quite well. That hasn’t happened in years,” Gladbach’s Eberl said.
Gladbach themselves were impressive as they hibernate in third, with the strong run including a 3-0 triumph in Munich.
Frankfurt were also above all expectation in their post Kovac era, in contention for a European berth and boasting young Serbian striker Luka Jovic who scored five goals in a 7-1 demolition of Dusseldorf.
On the other end, Schalke crashed after their runner-up finish last season, losing the first five games but then at least recovering close to the mid-table regions.
Coach Domenico Tedesco survived the upheaval but is now to get assistance in the form of an expansion of the coaching staff, according to sports director Christian Heidel.
Heiko Herrlich was not as lucky as Tedesco as not even successive wins in the end of the year helped him at Bayern Leverkusen, fancied by many in pre-season but now only in mid-table.
Former Ajax and Dortmund coach Peter Bosz takes over, with chief executive Rudi Voeller saying a change of coach was “necessary in view of the unsatisfactory first half of the season.”
Stuttgart (where coach Tayfun Korkut was replaced by Markus Weinzierl), promoted Nuremberg and Hanover (who are also going through an internal crisis around the takeover bid from president Martin Kind) are in the danger zone and may be the first to look at new players when the January transfer window opens.
The league resumes on January 18 with a duel between European contenders Hoffenheim and Bayern, and Dortmund restart the next day with a difficult trip to fourth-placed RB Leipzig.