Unlike the Premier League, the Bundesliga has a winter break, giving players time off to relax with their families and a chance to enjoy Christmas and new year. It also allows players to recover from injuries and avoids extra strain on small squads.
The Bundesliga returned this weekend after its winter break, with the break also giving teams the chance to recover from disappointing seasons so far and start anew in 2019. For more successful teams, they were simply looking to pick up where they had left off before the end of the Hinrunde.
Schalke were one of the teams who benefitted most from the winter break, picking up their second win in two games, having won just two of their previous nine games. Daniel Caligiuri (£1.06) was the star man for Domenico Tedesco’s side, scoring twice to ease pressure on the head coach. Young American midfielder Weston McKennie (£1.62) was deployed further upfield and that strategy worked a charm as the 20-year-old assisted the winning goal against Wolfsburg. The win puts the Royal Blues just seven points off a European place and gives them confidence that a good run can put them back in contention.
The weekend kicked off with Bayern Munich against Hoffenheim, where Leon Goretzka (£2.24) finally lived up to his billing with two first half goals at the PreZero Arena. Nico Schulz (£0.87) pulled one back for the hosts before James Rodriguez (£5.09) made an excellent impact from the bench to create a goal for Robert Lewandowski (£3.25). The Colombian has been the subject of transfer talk, but performances like his cameo against Hoffenheim would make it hard for Niko Kovac to let him go anywhere.
The Bayern Munich result put pressure on Borussia Dortund in the race for the title, but they showed enough against RB Leipzig to hold their lead at the top of the table. Axel Witsel (£2.37) scored the only goal of the game, but it was another midfielder who impressed most as PSG-target Julian Weigl (£1.69) filled in as a centre-back and was named the Bundesliga Player of the Week with a commanding showing in an unusual position. Dortmund now have 45 points after 18 games, which is an ominous stat for Bayern. Every team with 45 points at this stage before has gone on to win the title (Bayern six times and Dortmund once).
Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Monchengladbach was one of the big games of the weekend, with Peter Bosz naming an attacking line-up for his first game in charge of Leverkusen. However, a goal from Alassane Plea (£2.31) (and an assist from Tottenham-linked Jonas Hofmann (£2.38)) were enough to give Gladbach a 1-0 win and take them to 36 points – their best return in 40 years at this stage of the season. It also keeps them five points clear of Leipzig and six ahead of fifth place Eintracht Frankfurt.
Frankfurt’s attacking trio was on fire again in a 3-1 win over Freiburg, with Ante Rebic (£2.03), Luka Jovic (£5.57), and Sebastien Haller (£2.66) all finding the net. The battle for sixth also continues with Wolfburg slipping up against Schalke, and Hertha Berlin closing the gap thanks to a 3-1 win over Nurnberg where Ondrej Duda (£1.53) scored twice.
Nurnberg remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but are level on points with Hannover, who lost 1-0 at home to Werder Bremen. Milot Rashica (£0.88) was handed a start on the wing and rewarded his manager with the only goal of the game. The Kosovan showed glimpses of his potential in the first half of the season but is likely to get more regular starts as Werder try to push themselves into a European spot.
Stuttgart continue to struggle but showed some promise as they attempted to come back from three goals down against Mainz. They ended up 3-2 losers and face a much more difficult prospect on Sunday when they travel to Munich. Augsburg and Fortuna Dusseldorf are both trying to avoid relegation, with Dusseldorf helping their chances in Ausgburg where Mavin Ducksch (£0.62) scored his first goal for the club.