With the second half of the Bundesliga season kicking off this weekend no less than seven teams could legitimately claim to be title contenders. Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Schalke are the obvious choices, but behind the front runners are some very good teams, and they are all within touching distance.
Ten points separate the top seven, and with the way the first part of the season went, anything could happen. Bayern Munich have miraculously given themselves a fantastic opportunity to win the title after a dismal start. Werder Bremen find themselves in 6th place despite enjoying a 23-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Dortmund and Hamburg are only a few points adrift after a good end to 2009.
Last year’s autumn champions will fell they are owed a bit of fortune after last year’s disappointing end to the season. Hoffenheim were enjoying life at the top of the Bundesliga in their very first season in the top flight. But after the winter break, they went on a bad run of form (including 12 losses in a row), not helped by some big injuries and finished in 7th place.
Hoffenheim struggled because top scorer Vedad Ibisevic suffered a horrific injury and was out for the whole second half of the season. They may be 10 points behind Leverkusen, but the Bundesliga has proved to be so unpredictable, that anything is possible.
The Title Contenders
The autumn champions have had a very quiet winter break. They have not brought in any new recruits, but have sent four players out on loan. A lot will depend on Bundesliga top scorer Stefan Kiessling. If he continues to score, there is no reason why Bayer can’t win their first ever league title.
Schalke have all the elements of a championship winning team. They are very solid in defence and very able to grind out hard-fought wins. Goal-scoring hasn’t been as easy this season, but Jefferson Farfan and Kevin Kuranyi can score when it matters. They have bolstered their ranks by bringing in several players on loan including two Brazilians. They will feel they have a fantastic chance of winning the title, and are only one point behind Leverkusen.
Munich have turned their season around, and are going strong in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. Bayern struggled last year without Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben who missed large periods due to injury. Their return will be a huge boost, and confidence is high with an unlikely league title now within reach. Bayern’s star strikers need to improve. Ivica Ollic has been brillinat when he’s not been injured, but Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose need to start scoring goals. There is more pressure on them now Luca Toni has joined Roma on loan for the rest of the season.
If Bayern thought they had injury problems in the first half of the season, they should spare a thought for Hamburg. It seemed to go from bad to worse for Hamburg, but they are still in with a chance of of a good end to the season. They still have a few key players out, but it will get better. If they can put a good run together, Hamburg could go all they way, but it is asking a lot.
Dortmund haven’t had the best of times in recent years. It looked as if this season would be no different. However, Dortmund took advantage of other teams’ inconsistency and have put themselves in a great position. They may not win the league, but they can certainly wrap up a Europa League spot if they can keep performing.
Bremen have been one of the top sides in this season’s Europa League. In the Bundesliga however, they have drawn too many games. Many thought they would struggle following the departure of Diego to Juventus. But Bremen have a very solid midfield in Mesut Ozil, Aaron Hunt and Marko Marin. They are all very young and very talented, and between them are doing more than enough to fill Diego’s shoes. It would be a huge achievement for Werder to win the title, but they have a good enough to team to do it.
Considering ten years ago, Hoffenheim were in the fifth tier of German football, Hoffe are probably just glad to be in the Bundesliga. Hoffenheim have a very good young team who like to play attractive football. They will be hoping for no repeat of last year’s crumble after the winter break. Vedad Ibisevic was missing after the winter break last year, but Hoffenheim will need to rely on him more than usual this time round. Their other good goal-scorer, Chinedu Obasi is representing Nigeria in the African Nations Cup, and the Bosnian Ibisevic will need to be on top form. Hoffe will not win the Bundesliga but they are certainly good enough to push for a Europa League place or even a shot at the Champions League.