After a winter break for one month, the German Bundesliga will resume this Friday when SC Freiburg play host to Bayern Munich. The campaign has seen plenty of excitement, with a few surprises along the way as well.
We take a look at the five key stories to watch for as the league returns to action.
Bayern look for yet another title
Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg looking to maintain their place at the top of the table. Currently three points clear of second-place RB Leipzig, the Bavarian giants are aiming for an unprecedented fifth consecutive league title.
Former manager Pep Guardiola departed for the Premier League with Manchester City this past summer, but former AC Milan and Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has the team going strong once more. The club has dominated most contests, with only difficulties in late November bringing about a slight concern.
A comprehensive 3-0 victory over Leipzig before the winter break and preparations for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 against Arsenal should have Bayern confident for 2017.
A star-studded roster featuring Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Arturo Vidal and Robert Lewandowski give Bayern Munich the quality needed to move towards another trophy in domestic play.
Can RB Leipzig continue to challenge?
The surprise team of the Bundesliga season has clearly been newly-promoted RB Leipzig. Their first campaign in the German top flight has seen a young squad compile an impressive 11-3-2 record.
Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has utilized a high-press system focused on applying pressure and winning possession as quickly as possible. Positive results have followed, as the team’s approach can often be overwhelming for the competition.
Emil Forsberg leads the league with eight assists and 20-year old forward Timo Werner has scored nine goals.
The loss to Bayern was certainly disappointing, but Leipzig has shown that their players and their playing style will have an immense impact on the final results of the Bundesliga.
The last unbeaten team
Sitting fifth in the table 11 points behind Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga’s last unbeaten side is Hoffenheim. Die Kraichgauer have brought a 6-10-0 record into the 2017 portion of the season.
Manager Julian Nagelsmann leads a resilient side that has managed to earn results against the league’s best clubs. Draws against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have all demonstrated Hoffenheim’s ability to challenge any opposition.
Goalkeeper Oliver Baumann has been stellar, while striker Sandro Wagner leads a capable attack. More draws need to become victories down the stretch, but Hoffenheim has the quality to challenge for a higher place in the standings.
The Golden Boot race
Attacking quality has shined again this year in the Bundesliga, with Golden Boot honors likely coming down to the final matches.
Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leads the way thus far with 16 league goals. His unstoppable pace combined with the club’s frenetic and fast movement brings about endless scoring opportunities.
Each of these incredibly talented attackers features as their club’s prominent focus in the final third, so expect each to keep their numbers rising as the second half of the season progresses.
Relegation is a difficult part of life in the major European leagues, and at least two sides this season will find themselves headed for the second division.
The final two places in the table are currently occupied by Darmstadt and Ingolstadt. Both squads have struggled to find positive results and will need to improve their form desperately.
The third spot in the table goes to a play-off to remain in the Bundesliga, and some of Germany’s most famous sides will be fighting to avoid that very scenario. Hamburger SV sits 16th, with Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Werder Bremen all only three points clear.
With a full fixture list this coming weekend, the Bundesliga returns in a big way. And with so much on the line for the division’s 18 clubs, every match and every point count.