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Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32007751 Ready now? Ready+now%3F Bundesliga

The Bundesliga re-emerges from what is one of Europe’s longest winter break this weekend, and while the title race may be a foregone conclusion, there are plenty of other things to look out for in the second half of the season. Here are the five biggest questions Germany’s best teams have to answer in the months ahead:


--Thomas Hautmann

Tariq AlAli - Action Images/Reuters
Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32009561 Will there be any surprise additions to Germany’s World Cup squad? Will+there+be+any+surprise+additions+to+Germany%26rsquo%3Bs+World+Cup+squad%3F Bundesliga

Joachim Löw’s 23-man roster for Brazil is all but set, but if there remains a concern it is at defensive mid and at forward. Every starter in those positions has battled injuries all season: legionnaires Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez up front, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Gundogan and Sami Khedira in the No. 6 role. There’s still plenty of depth in midfield -- you can always use Philipp Lahm there, too -- but Gladbach’s Max Kruse remains the only other pure striker Löw has relied upon.



Should either Gomez or Klose fall out, Löw might reach out to Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling or Hamburg’s Pierre-Michel Lasogga, the league’s top German scorers with nine goals each. But Lasogga has yet to be capped and Kiessling has notoriously been ignored, despite being the Bundesliga’s second-best scorer in the past three years (behind Lewandowski). The likelier solution sees Löw rely on Reus or Mario Götze as a “false nine” for emergencies, and instead add one of a number of emerging youngsters.



Yes, the next wave of German talents has already arrived, eager to prolong (or push along) the nation’s golden generation, which thus far has only produced a lot of silver and bronze. Stuttgart’s teen prodigy Timo Werner, Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland and Wolfsburg’s Arnold are making the most noise, while Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry has also thrown his hat in the ring from abroad. It’s conceivable one or two of them will snag a ticket to Brazil with a strong second half.

Ander Gillenea/Ronny Hartmann/Bongarts/PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Alex Grimm - Getty Images
Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32009565 Can Hamburg stay out of the relegation battle? Can+Hamburg+stay+out+of+the+relegation+battle%3F Bundesliga

At the other end of the table, the last remaining Bundesliga dinosaur is busy fighting extinction. Hamburg, the only team to never have been relegated in the league’s 50-year history, are in danger of falling through the trap door this season. HSV have the league’s worst defense, as well as one of the worst home records (just seven points from eight games). Chairman Manfred Ertel recently quit after the club’s members -- fans -- voted to open the club up to investors for the first time. There is panic in Hamburg.



Indeed, HSV’s best hope for survival might be the ineptitude on display from the teams below them. Frankfurt and Freiburg -- both such pleasant surprises last season -- have struggled under the additional stress of the Europa League. Both are even worse at home, winning just a single game between them. Braunschweig are heading for one of the worst campaigns of all time, somehow earning more points (11) than goals (10) through the first half. And Nurnberg, also on eleven points -- on eleven draws! – still show little ability to actually win a game. The relegation battle will likely come down to the final day, and between these five teams.

Ina Fassbender - Action Images/Reuters
Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32009563 Can Wolfsburg steal a Champions League spot? Can+Wolfsburg+steal+a+Champions+League+spot%3F Bundesliga

Die Wölfe won big with the addition of Kevin de Bruyne from Chelsea in January, a move that pushes Wolfsburg into the mix for the Champions League spots. This was already a good team with a mix of veterans and talented youngsters, on defense and on offense.


Luiz Gustavo, Diego and Ivica Olic all give Wolfsburg Champions League experience, 19-year-old Maximilian Arnold (5 goals in 11 matches) has been a revelation, and Diego Benaglio is one of the more underappreciated goalkeepers in the league, if not Europe. Add a highly motivated de Bruyne to the equation, and Wolfsburg could make good on their status as a dark horse Champions League candidate at the beginning of the season.



The chase for the Champions League is easily the Bundesliga’s most compelling draw for the rest of the season. After Bayern and Leverkusen, five other teams -- Gladbach, Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Berlin and Schalke -- are fighting for the last two spots and are separated by just five points.

Fabian Bimmer - Action Images/Reuters
Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32009564 Will Borussia Dortmund turn it around? Will+Borussia+Dortmund+turn+it+around%3F Bundesliga

Marco Reus promised this summer that Bayern would not be able to win the league by a record 25-point margin again. Unfortunately for Reus’ prognosticatory powers, Dortmund are already 12 points back with Bayern having a game in hand.



But the Bundesliga title isn’t Dortmund’s main concern anyway -- they are in a dogfight for a European place. Dortmund lost four of their last six games of 2013 and sit in fourth place, the Champions League playoff spot, with an ambitious Wolfsburg hot in pursuit. Automatic qualification for the Champions League must be Jurgen Klopp’s only goal right now, and with key men Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan returning from injury, they remain favorites to do so.



Should they fall short, however, then finding -- and financing -- a replacement for Bayern-bound Robert Lewandowski could become problematic, as would the prospect of holding onto Reus and Gundogan in the summer transfer window. As Bayern’s biggest threat, that would spell disaster for the competitive balance at the top of the league.

Ina Fassbender - Action Images/Reuters
Bundesliga 431 43 Bundesliga 2013-14 - Second Half Preview 32006225 Can Bayern Munich run the table? Can+Bayern+Munich+run+the+table%3F Bundesliga

As good as Bayern were last season -- they enjoyed the most successful season in the club’s history -- Josep Guardiola arguably has this team playing even better. For the second year in a row, Bayern are en route to break a bevy of Bundesliga records.



An undefeated season now looks to be a real possibility. Unbeaten through the first 16 games (they need to make up the fixture at Stuttgart due to the Club World Cup), Bayern already passed their three most difficult away tests, at Leverkusen, Dortmund and Schalke. If Bayern can avoid defeat at third-placed Gladbach this Friday -- the only other unbeaten side at home -- someone will likely have to win at the Allianz Arena to end Bayern’s unbeaten league run, which stretches back to October 2012. This might be the only interesting aspect left surrounding the Bundesliga title “race.”

Fadi Al-Assaad - Action Images/Reuters
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