The curtain has come down on the first half of the 2023/24 Bundesliga season. With the traditional Winterpause now upon us it’s time to take a look back at the winners and losers from a very entertaining Hinrunde.
Xabi Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen
The obvious place to start is with league leaders Leverkusen, who have continued their upward development under trainer Xabi Alonso to such an extent that they have emerged as the front runners to challenge Bayern Munich for the Meisterschale. They are the only side in Europe’s top 5 league to remain unbeaten and have the best opportunity in years to finally get rid of their cruel nicknames Neverkusen and Vizekusen.
The club’s transfer dealings in the summer were absolutely spot-on with Alejandro Grimaldo, Granit Xhaka, Jonas Hofmann, and Victor Boniface the perfect pieces to compliment the trainer’s tactical plan. They will however face a real test of their credentials in January when five key players will travel to the African Cup of Nations. The return to full fitness of Patrik Schick is a massive boost in that regard.
VfB Stuttgart and Sebastian Hoeneß
The Swabians have gone from only just securing their Bundesliga survival in the relegation play-off with Hamburg, to taking the Hinrunde by storm and finishing third in the table behind Leverkusen and Bayern. A 5-1 loss to RB Leipzig on matchday 2 didn’t hold out the best of omens, but it proved a mere blip as Sebastian Hoeneß masterminded a fantastic run.
All this has been achieved after the sale of key men Wataru Endo, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Borna Sosa in the summer. From relegation fodder to Champions League contenders- take a bow VfB Stuttgart.
The signing of England captain Kane from Tottenham was never a gamble and the assumption was that he would score the goals and have the impact to justify his €100 million price tag. The 30-year-old has however even surpassed expectations scoring 21 league goals in just 15 appearances. He has already hit three hat tricks, scored from inside his own half and has become a real leader in the team.
Robert Lewandowski surpassing Gerd Müller’s season scoring record was seen as a one-off. Kane is looking to prove that wrong by going even further than the two former Bayern legends. His ‘settling in’ period is now over, so Bundesliga defences beware!
Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug was the league’s top scorer last season with 16 goals, but Guirassy has surpassed that figure already with his 17 goals in just 14 matches this season (last year was his previous best with 11). He is the focal point of the VfB attack and seems to hit the back of the net whenever he wants this season.
Stuttgart however faces a two-fold problem. Firstly he will be absent in January at the African Cup of Nations with Guinea, and secondly he has a release clause of just €17.5 million, which will no doubt bring plenty of suitors in the upcoming transfer window.
The assumption is usually that the newly promoted sides will struggle and a good Hinrunde is a must if they are to have any chance of remaining in the top flight. Last season’s surprise 2.Bundesliga champions have achieved just that, finishing ninth at the halfway stage. They opened with two losses before a morale-boosting draw at Dortmund and a first win against Werder Bremen.
They finished the Hinrunde with three consecutive wins to really boost their confidence and belief in ultimate survival. Tim Kleindienst and Eren Dinkci both have six goals, while key midfielder Jan-Niklas Beste has added five with eight assists.
In terms of the best newcomer/ youngster, it is very hard to look beyond Hoffenheim striker Maximilian Beier. The signings of both Wout Weghorst and Mergim Berisha in the summer made his prospects look a little slim, but injury to Berisha and the fact that he has taken his chance when given, mean that he is currently one of the first names down on coach Pellegrino Matarazzo’s team sheet.
The 21-year-old has hit six goals thus far, provided five assists and is second only to Andrej Kramaric as the club’s best ranked player with regards Kicker’s player ratings.
Is the fairy tale coming to an end? The first half of the campaign has been an absolute disaster for die Eisernen, culminating in the heart-wrenching decision to part company with legendary trainer Urs Fischer.
The season began with successive 4-1 wins over Mainz and Darmstadt, but then the wheels completely fell off with a run of nine consecutive defeats, elimination from the DFB Pokal and a nightmare Champions League group stage. The Union Berlin we have all come to love, broke down and nothing seemed to work. There are signs of hope however with new coach Nenad Bjelica notching up two wins in his three matches before the Winterpause.
The plan was for Borussia Dortmund to use the pain and disappointment from last season to spur them on to another title challenge, but the first half of the season has seen a return to the inconsistent BVB that frustrates their fanbase so much. The pressure is mounting on coach Edin Terzic, who faces criticism over his tactical outlook and if reports are to be believed, a potential mutiny amongst key senior players.
The Schwarzgelben enjoyed a much-improved Rückrunde last season and really need history to repeat itself again if Terzic is to avoid even more scrutiny and pressure.
The fact that the Geißböcke parted ways with coach Steffen Baumgart tells you all you need to know about how badly the Hinrunde went for 1.FC Köln. The charismatic coach enjoyed a fantastic relationship with the fans at the Rhein Energie Stadion, but ten defeats in their opening sixteen games with just two wins and ten goals scored meant that the club felt they needed to act to stop the rot.
To add more woe to an already woeful situation, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has upheld the club’s transfer ban, which means that the new coach (whoever it proves to be) won’t be able to add any new players for the next two transfer windows.
The Nullfünfer were another side forced to ditch a popular trainer due to the decline witnessed in the Hinrunde. Mainz were pushing towards the European places at the end of last season, but find themselves in the bottom three going into the Winter break and only off the bottom of the table on goal difference.
U-23 coach Jan Siewert has now been given the trainer job on a permanent basis (replacing Bo Svensson) and will hoping that the ‘Mainz way’ can prevail and that they can maintain their place at the top table of German football.
Adeyemi was one of the top performers for Borussia Dortmund in the second half of last season along with Donyell Malen. His six goals and five assists helped push BVB to within touching distance of the Meisterschale, but this season he has seemingly gone AWOL.
Although not wanting to scapegoat a particular player, the 21-year-old is the worst ranked player this season in the Bundesliga according to the player match ratings dished out by esteemed publication Kicker.