Bundesliga Year in Review: Bayern Munich dominate; Hertha Berlin surprises
Champions Bayern Munich have an eight-point cushion as they look to become the first side to win the Bundesliga in four successive seasons. It's a dominance that is unprecedented in German football, and it comes at the end of Pep Guardiola's tenure after he announced his summer departure ahead of the winter shutdown.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesAlexander Hassenstein
Simply the best
Bayern have lost just one game in the league - at Borussia Mönchengladbach - and recorded the best start to a season in Bundesliga history with 10 wins from 10. One more would have secured the all-time record in Europe's top divisions. Müller's 14 goals is his best return for Bayern, while the club celebrated their 1000th Bundesliga win this year. No other team this season has come to close to Bayern's level and the title looks set to be kept in the south for another season.
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Berlin finally has a team fitting for the importance of the city in Germany. Pal Dardai's functional Hertha team was one point off securing the club's best-ever first half of the season - that was secured by Lucien Favre in 2009. But that shouldn't take away from Dardai's impact with a side that finished just nine goals away from a relegation playoff spot last season.
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Shrewd signings have helped Hertha Berlin's cause. Vladimir Darida was a standout at Freiburg last year, while Mitchell Weiser brings added quality from Bayern Munich. Salomon Kalou cost just over one million euros and has scored 12 in 19 this season. Rune Jarstein has ended goalkeeping worries, while John Brooks is a regular in defense. The Champions League is in sight, but top-six would be a terrific achievement for the Berliners.
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Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been pivotal to Borussia Dortmund's excellent first half of the season. With 11 assists and six goals, the Armenian's brilliance makes him one of the league's top performers. The Ruhrpott giants will be keen to tie the 26-year-old on to a new deal to avoid a swoop from Juventus or Manchester United in the next 12 months. Mkhitaryan remains one of the seriously under appreciated players in European soccer.
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Rising to the occasion
Meanwhile, Douglas Costa has proven to be an excellent signing for Baern Munich from Shakhtar Donestk. Playing in a side that relies on one-v-one players to break down motivated opposition, Costa's unpredictability at pace has been a huge asset for the league leaders. Before his injury, Costa assisted 12 in 12 league games. His absence has been even more notable in recent games.
Getty Images for FC BayernA. Beier
Gerd Müller's 40 goals in a season record is the one they all want. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski present the Bundesliga's best hopes of smashing that record which has stood since 1972. With 18 goals in 17 games, Aubameyang is Germany's in-form striker this season and Dortmund will be delighted his development since arriving in 2013 from Saint-Etienne.
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In the zone
Meanwhile, Lewandowski has 15 in 16 league games for Bayern Munich. The Polish striker was in devastating form, but has since cooled off as he ends 2015 with one goal in his last five. Even if either player misses the mark, the nip-and-tuck race between two outstanding center-forwards is outstanding to see. At least in German football, the position isn't quite a dying art just yet compared with the rest of Europe.
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Schalke's prodigious pair, Leroy Sane and Max Meyer, are two of Germany's brightest prospects. Sane, since nailing down a starting place this season, has been exemplary for the Royal Blues. The 19-year-old has scored four and assisted four this season, but his talents are gripping. 20-year-old Meyer, a small, smart playmaker, is equally as impressive. Both players could command greater fees than another Schalke star, Julian Draxler.
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More than a passerby
Elsewhere, Julian Weigl's performances at Borussia Dortmund have taken many by surprise; the 20-year-old is a future Germany midfielder in the making. Mahmoud Dahoud, the first Syrian to play in the Bundesliga, arrived late in the year, but the 19-year-old's deft passing skills have been key to Borussia Mönchengladbach's revival under Andre Schubert recently.
Borussia Moenchengladbach via GeChristian Verheyen
The best business
It's one of the perennial talking points: who has done the best business this season? While Douglas Costa has been a good find at 25 million euros, the likes of Julian Weigl, who cost two million euros, is certainly noteworthy. Another impressive coup for Bayern Munich has been the loan deal for winger Kingsley Coman, the French U21 international.
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But perhaps the deal of the summer was Javier Hernandez's switch to Leverkusen for eight million euros. The Mexican has gone on to score 19 in 22 for the Bundesliga club. For Mainz, Yoshinori Muto has scored seven league goals since signing for two million euros as a replacement for last season's top scorer Shinji Okazaki. Vladimir Darida to Hertha Berlin and Johannes Geis to Schalke are two other impressive moves from the summer transfer window.
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The biggest busts
Picking out complete busts in the Bundesliga is challenging. But deals from Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke to bolster striking options top the list considering transfer fees. Josip Drmic cost around 10 million euros and has scored only one Bundesliga goal for the Foals. Franco Di Santo, meanwhile, commanded a fee of six million from Werder Bremen, but he has only popped up with a single league goal for the Royal Blues.
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Arturo Vidal, who cost around 37 million euros, hasn't delivered the sort of performances that helped Juventus to the Champions League final last season. Neither Claudio Pizarro nor Aron Johansson have been able to keep Bremen out of a relegation battle this season. And finally, Kevin Kuranyi's prolonged return to Germany with Hoffenheim has been a complete failure.