It's half time in Germany's football season. With 153 Bundesliga matches played, who deserves a pat on the back or even a slap on the chops over Christmas? DW's Mark Hallam shares his list of the naughty, and the nice.
The Good, the Bad and the Undecided –This "team" of storylines half-way through the season will seek to single out five of the best, five of the flops and one Bundesliga riddle where the jury's not just "out," but holding its baffled heads in despairing hands.
Let's start at the top of Jolly Saint Nick's "Nice" list - because there's really only one place to begin.
*Insert your Bayern Munich favorite here*
Take your pick, there's no lack of choice. Maybe you've enjoyed the rejuvenated Franck Ribery terrorizing right backs across Germany, or Thomas Müller's nine goals and nine assists in 16 games. No? Then perhaps it's summer signing Dante or the league's most accurate passer, Holger Badstuber, who caught your eye? Let's not forget the ever-present Philipp Lahm, or lively new boy Xherdan Shaqiri.
There's more than one reason why Bayern has a nine-point league lead, with 44 goals scored and 7 conceded in the first half of the season. Coach Jupp Heynckes deserves a hefty pat on the back for making all this happen - but given the expectations at Bayern, he's probably just under pressure to map out a route to Wembley for the Champions League final. It's tough at the top.
It was hard to see what Hamburg gained when they signed Rene Adler. Jaroslav Drobny was no slouch between the sticks and Adler's career was in tatters after over a year nursing a knee injury.
A few months later, Adler has just won 76 percent of the vote in a Hamburger Morgenpost poll (with more than 30,000 participants) seeking HSV's player of the season to date. German football magazine Kicker assigns Adler an average rating of 2.2 (think of that as a "B+" if you're not up on European grading) for the season; second-best in all the Bundesliga.
When do we start calling for national team keeper Manuel Neuer's head? His Germany job once looked destined for Adler anyway.
"Maiburg," or is that "Freinz"?
Sorry, there's just not time to talk about both Mainz and Freiburg. But spare at least a thought for the fifth- and sixth-placed teams in the Bundesliga.
Under passionate coaches Thomas Tuchel and Christian Streich, both these southern sides are punching well above their weight.
Daniel Caligiuri, Cedric Makiadi and Max Kruse have all stood out for Freiburg; while Adam Szalai and Nicolai Müller, along with Daniel's brother Marco Caligiuri have done a lot of the heavy lifting for Mainz.
The two sides deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as they will meet in the German Cup quarterfinals in February - their trumped-up European dreams live on two fronts, for now.
All those Arangoools
The Venezuelan captain and Borussia Mönchengladbach left-winger, Juan Arango, may yet turn Germany's "Goal of the Season" shortlist into a one-man highlight reel.
Maybe you like a a first-time shot from 44 meters out on the left touchline looping lazily into the net, or a curling near-post free-kick in stoppage time to win the game? Arango's left boot has provided those and more for your viewing pleasure in the past four months.
It's hard to single out individuals with newly-promoted, fourth-placed Frankfurt.
First-choice midfielders Pirim Schwegler, Sebastian Rode, Alex Meier, Stefan Aigner and Takashi Inui form a unit so solid that Frankfurt don't need a strike force. And that's just as well, because they lack one: 27 of Frankfurt's 33 goals have come from midfield, 11 of them from big Alex Meier alone.
Honorable mentions go to all the Bundesliga teams in European competition (none have yet been eliminated), Stefan Kiessling, Szabolcs Huszti, Aaron Hunt, Roman Neustädter, Ja-Cheol Koo, Bayer Leverkusen as a unit, Gonzalo Castro and Hiroshi Kiyotake. And a special mention to Borussia Dortmund players Mario Götze, Marco Reus and several others (three of them Poles) – although they have been brilliant in other competitions they have not (yet) really shone in the Bundesliga.
Having sufficeiently swooned, let's now pour a healthy portion of Christmas scorn on the Bundesliga's underachievers.
Wolfsburg was at bottom of the Bundesliga, with complaints even from Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn ringing in the board's ears, when they sacked their 2009 savior Felix Magath in October.
The side's still languishing in 15th, but matters have improved. The starting 11 is more predictable, number 10 Diego is beginning to look like a star again, and one might imagine a slightly less frenzied dive through the winter transfer window under Magath's presumed permanent successor, Bernd Schuster.
"The Hunter" seemingly mislaid his rifle months ago as he dallied over a contract extension with Schalke. Now that the veteran Netherlands striker has signed on the dotted line, he can seek the goal-a-game form that secured him the Bundesliga's top scorer award last season. After scoring two in his first two league outings, Huntelaar has gone ice cold - netting just another three since.
The Hunter has been hitting the target in the Champions League as usual; but Schalke, winless in seven in the Bundesliga and now sans Dutch coach Huub Stevens, would surely welcome an increase in production at home.
Goalie Tim Wiese nearly took the full brunt of this one; having arrived from Werder Bremen, taken the captain's armband, flapped at set pieces like a timid hatchling, and then lost his place to Koen Casteels.
But the league-high 41 goals Hoffenheim have shipped this season shouldn't all be attributed to Wiese, or to departed coach Markus Babbel, for that matter. Kicker doesn't give a single member of the Sinsheim troupe an average rating higher than 3.5 (C-) - an understandable verdict.
Augsburg and Greuther Fürth have fewer points, but if we're talking about returns per euro spent, Hoffenheim is fighting only Wolfsburg for last place in the league.
Where are you, o Flying Dutchman? We miss you. Are you enjoying the fresh impact of Xherdan Shaqiri and the Ribery renaissance? The bulletproof Thomas Müller's got the right wing sewed up, too.
Is this the beginning of the end?
This is the end.
Bayer Leverkusen's Brazilian playmaker signed with SC Corinthians on Thursday, December 20 for an estimated fee of 2.5 million euros - or about one fifth of what he might have sold for just a season ago.
The 24-year-old only managed six appearances as a substitute in the Bundesliga under coaching duo Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski. Leverkusen failed to win any of the three in which he played more than five minutes.
The club sought to bring its old star back up to speed with regular Europa League outings, but to no avail. Gonzalo Castro's successful reinvention as an attacking midfielder marked the demise of Leverkusen's number 10.
And finally, the enigma in our festive XI:
Losing Marco Reus, Dante, and Roman Neustädter was never going to be easy. They're now regulars with Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke, which says all you need to know.
But is the transition a comparative success or failure under Lucien Favre?
Having written before the season started that "Favre shopped shrewdly," this reporter now has his doubts. Granit Xhaka has looked unconvincing in the middle of the park, while multi-million euro striker Luuk de Jong has one (admittedly beautiful) goal and a lot of time either injured or riding the pine to his name.
Gladbach are eighth in the table, but that's thanks in no small part to six goals and six assists from Juan Arango. And a 32-year-old in the form of his life is hardly a stable foundation on which to build.