Sunday, 30 December 2018

Bundesliga: December Review

The Bundesliga delivered on entertainment once again in a jam-packed December. 5 rounds of matches were played before the winter break in Germany. Borussia Dortmund take a 6-point lead at the top going into 2019 after a stunning first half of the season. Bayern Munich are in 2nd place and are hunting them down. Meanwhile, Nuremberg prop up the table along with Hannover. These two make up the relegation zone and are a further 3 points behind the relegation play-off place which is occupied by Stuttgart. Heading into the winter break we’ve also seen the 2nd managerial departure of the season with Bayer Leverkusen dispensing of Heiko Herrlich after 18 months in charge.

It has been a terrific first half of the season for Lucien Favre and Borussia Dortmund with the yellows flying at the top with a 6-point lead and only 1 league defeat that coming in December against improving Fortuna Dusseldorf. Dortmund’s young guns are flying and thoroughly enjoying their season. Marco Reus has also found a new level and is playing some of his best football after a season free from injuries and at times has been unplayable. Dortmund had another strong month collecting 4 wins from their 5 games including victories over Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach. Dortmund are oozing confidence and no doubt Favre will want that momentum to carry into what could be a very special 2019. Meanwhile, while Bayern Munich have flattered to deceive at times this season, they endured their best month and run of form under Niko Kovac winning all 5 of their league games which has seen close on Dortmund at the top and open a cushion on the sides below. Bayern are on their best run since winning their opening 4 league games and Kovac’s ideas it seems are finally getting across to the players and a much-improved month for Bayern has them full of confidence heading into 2019. However, Kovac knows there is still plenty of work to be done including replacing the departing Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben who wave goodbye at the end of the season. The top 4 is made up by Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig. It has been a magnificent first half of the season for Dieter Hecking and Gladbach with the club sat 3rd in the table. Gladbach have impressed many this season and striker Alassane Plea has been one of the signings of the season notching 9 league goals and his overall play has been very good. Meanwhile, Gladbach’s talisman Thorgen Hazard is also having an excellent season playing a key role in their much-improved season. They are 9 points behind Dortmund at the top having lost their most recent game against the league leaders, but overall December wasn’t too bad with Gladbach collecting 7 points from their 5 games. Could Borussia Monchengladbach be dark horses for the title? If they can maintain their terrific form, they could surprise a few in the second half of the season. Despite this being somewhat of a transition season for RB Leipzig, they are enjoying a strong season so far and find themselves in 4th place. Sporting director Ralf Rangnick has done an excellent job so far this campaign as he keeps the seat warm for Julen Naglesmann. A good month for Leipzig saw them win 3 of their 5 games and open a 4-point cushion on 5th place Wolfsburg. An important 2019 lies ahead for Leipzig with Champions League qualification the aim and so far, so good for the young guns of Leipzig.

December was an excellent month for Wolfsburg and Fortuna Dusseldorf. Wolfsburg have made terrific strides in December going unbeaten including 3 wins in their 4 December games. Overall, they have won 4 of their last 5 and have charged into the Europa League places. Terrific wins over Augsburg, Nuremberg and Stuttgart and a draw with Hoffenheim have seen the Wolves storm into 5th place in the Bundesliga table. Bruno Labbadia has been under pressure for much of this season with Wolfsburg really stagnated in the Bundesliga table, but a terrific month sets them up excellently for 2019. Daniel Ginczek and Wout Weghorst are finding the net more consistently and taking their chances. Labbadia does have his critics as all managers do but certainly an excellent December has dampened some of those voices. Meanwhile, at the wrong end of the table, Fortuna Dusseldorf have certainly had their best month in Bundesliga since their promotion. 3 straight league wins have seen Fortuna climb out the relegation zone and into 14th place, 7 points clear of the bottom two. Terrific victories for them including a home success against the runaway leaders Dortmund. The form of Doni Lukebakio has caught the eye with the young striker on loan from Watford becoming the integral man in this team. He has scored match winning goals this season for them. 7 league goals for the Watford loanee and certainly Javi Gracia may be watching him with interest from afar. Frederick Freindholm will be delighted with his team’s improvement in December and no doubt will want that positive momentum to carry through to 2019.

Despite having a relatively good December, Bayer Leverkusen decided to dismiss Heiko Herrlich stating stagnation in the development of the team. Despite enjoying arguably their best month of the season, Leverkusen are 9th in the Bundesliga table, 8 points behind 4th placed RB Leipzig. Bayer Leverkusen have been largely flat this season and Herrlich has taken the brunt of their poor first half of the season. They go into the new year winning 3 of their last 4 league games and new manager Peter Bosz will want to build on that. Bosz arrives following an ill-fated spell at Dortmund last season but will be remembered for his success with Ajax. Bosz has a reputation of developing young players with the likes of Frankie De Jong, Donny Van Beek and Matthijs De Ligt at Ajax breaking through under his leadership. Bosz inherits a talented, hungry, young side which includes Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey, Paulinho. Lucas Alario and Tin Jedvaj. A team full of talent which hasn’t showcased its best so far this season and the Leverkusen hierarchy will be hoping Bosz is the man to unlock this team. Bosz’s reign begins with a home game against high-flying Borussia Monchengladbach and he will targeting a first win as his new side searches for a 4 win in 5 games. Many will Bosz is a gamble following his disappointing spell at Dortmund, but will he prove his critics wrong and get Leverkusen into the top 4? A fascinating second half of the season lies ahead for Leverkusen.

Meanwhile, times are proving tough for the bottom 2 Nuremberg and Hannover. Nuremberg end the first half of the season rock bottom with just 11 points from their 17 matches. Michael Kollner’s side are desperately struggling for form, goals and confidence. 4 straight defeats to end 2018 and overall are winless in their last 11 matches collecting just 3 points in that time. They are very leaky at the back and usually when they concede first, the floodgates open. They haven’t scored since their 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen at the beginning of December. 4 defeats with scoring is a major issue for them. Their home form which was good at the start of the season has faded off and they remain winless on their travels this season. Just 13 league goals scored this season and their top scorer has just 2 goals. These are damning statistics for Nuremberg and their suffering fans. They must ignite their season in 2019 if they are going to get out of trouble. Michael Kollner is under pressure but because of his success getting Nuremberg promoted, he will feel he can get them out of trouble. They kick off 2019 with a crucial home game against mid-table Hertha Berlin. Things are no better for 17th placed Hannover. Like Nuremberg, they have collected just 11 points from their 17 games this season. Andre Breitenreiter’s team are clearly suffering second season syndrome following their excellent return season last time out. They are winless in 6 matches and lost 3 of their 5 games during December heaping more pressure on the manager. Key players such as Niklas Fullkrug are struggling to recapture form from the previous season while the loss of Salif Sane at the back has really hit them hard this season. Goals are allusive for Hannover as well notching just 17 league goals and that simply isn’t good enough. Breitenreiter knows how to get teams out of trouble having had success with Paderborn in the past and he will hope to recapture that managerial magic to get Hannover out of their hole and ignite their season during 2019. Survival is the aim for the basement two and they must find a win sooner rather than later. The relegation play-off place is occupied by Stuttgart who haven’t quite had the managerial bounce yet under Markus Weinzierl. 3 wins from his 10 games in charge with the other 7 being defeats. While they are slowly scoring more goals, they are still leaking far too many and they cannot find a way to stop conceding. 3 defeats from their 5 games in December has left them 16th just one point behind Augsburg. Weinzierl will certainly have seen plenty of positives during his first 10 games which has seen them face Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim. A real baptism of fire for Weinzierl but he has seen his side beat rivals Augsburg and Nuremberg during his short reign so far. Plenty to pounder for the Stuttgart manager as he aims to steer his side away from danger.

Sides enduring tough Decembers included Augsburg and Werder Bremen. Another winless month for Augsburg has seen their slide continue. Augsburg are winless in their last 6 games and haven’t won since their victory over Hannover at the end of October. Overall its 1 win in their last 10 and 2 wins in their last 12. Manuel Baum is severely feeling the heat following a poor first half of the campaign and must find a win to get Augsburg going again as 2019 dawns. The managerial axe could fall on him if things don’t improve in the new year. They start 2019 with a crucial home game against Fortuna Dusseldorf which is certainly must win. Meanwhile, Werder Bremen have endured their first real dip of the season winning just once in December and overall have won once in their last 9 games. Leon Kohfeldt has done a good job with the usually slow starters, but their slump has seen them drop into the bottom half of the table. However, despite their struggles to secure victories, they are still scoring goals.

December delivered an excellent month of Bundesliga football and as the new year approaches the excitement will build with the return of the transfer window in January and the beginning of the 2nd half of the season. January has plenty of exciting games to come including Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Monchengladbach, Augsburg vs Fortuna Dusseldorf, Schalke vs Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin vs Schalke, Dortmund vs Hannover, Wolfsburg vs Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich vs Stuttgart and Fortuna Dusseldorf vs RB Leipzig. The Bundesliga returns on the 18th January with plenty of football to be played as the 2nd half of the season dawns.

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