Goals keeping one horse race Bundesliga interesting
Goals are keeping the Bundesliga exciting even if the title race has a familiar feel with Bayern Munich racing away at the halfway stage.
Only two games were settled by just one goal in the last round before the winter break, with all but one of the rest featuring four goals or more. Bundesliga defenders are having a hard time defending.
Bayern's early troubles have been quickly forgotten, as has Borussia Dortmund's best-ever start to the league after its collapse. Meanwhile, Schalke has proven resilient under new coach Domenico Tedesco and quietly moved into second, two points ahead of Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, which appears to have found consistency after an unsteady start under Heiko Herrlich.
Cologne already looks doomed after making the worst start by any side since the league began in 1963, while Hamburger SV the only remaining surviving founding member faces yet another battle to avoid its first demotion.
Bayern has an 11-point lead and already looks certain to clinch a record-extending sixth straight title. Jupp Heynckes has overseen 15 wins in 16 games across all competitions since returning as coach and few believe the side will undergo the type of collapse that hit Dortmund's title challenge. Dortmund was leading by five points but then failed to win in eight games and is now 13 points behind Bayern.
"We've rarely been able to celebrate Christmas in as relaxed a mood as this year," Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.
Second-place Schalke will be concentrating on qualification for the Champions League and consolidation in Tedesco's first season. Leverkusen, Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach and Hoffenheim have similar aspirations.
Perhaps no player has benefited as much from Heynckes' return as Arturo Vidal. Heynckes, who worked with Vidal at Leverkusen from 2009 to 2011, said he was unhappy with the Chile midfielder's condition when he arrived, and warned that he would not play many games unless there was stark improvement "because there are other players that are ahead."
Vidal stepped it up in training and responded with a man-of-the-match performance against Augsburg, scoring one and setting up another goal in a 3-0 win. He scored in each of Bayern's next three league games and kept his starting place for the last two.
Other players to impress: Christian Pulisic, one of the few Dortmund players who looked determined to drag the side out of its slump; Alfred Finnbogason, who chipped in 11 goals and set up three more for Augsburg; and Leon Bailey, whose performances for Leverkusen have been capturing attention.