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Bundesliga: Darmstadt's future hinges on bold decisions to avoid the winter blues

Darmstadt's rip-roaring approach has been mellowed as the league's toils become just a routine. Without a win in four, the Lillies are facing a period that will come to define their first Bundesliga campaign since 1982.

Darmstadt 0-0 Cologne

If Darmstadt secures a second season in Germany's top division, the club will look to Cologne as a model of stability and progression. Friday's stale 0-0 draw certainly reflects the style of play towards the bottom of the league, yet the pair are hitting their respective ambitions of stability down to a tee.

But what's clear is that Peter Stöger's men are ahead in this cycle. What will concern Darmstadt is keeping their head above the water, even if they aren't deterred by relegation back to the second-tier. That Bundesliga status, however, does hinge on how it deals with the final months of 2015, the moves made in January and before the relegation battle eventually becomes a question of attitude rather than anything honed on the training pitch.

When looking at previous seasons, the fate of Paderborn is precisely what Darmstadt will look to avoid. Paderborn began last season, their maiden year in the top-flight, with a care-free, plucky streak and were on 15 points by matchday 10. The novelty factor soon wore off and the club was relegated straight back to the second division. Germany's top league, as conservative as it can be outside of the leading pack, remains a cut-throat environment.

Bundesliga SC Paderborn 07 gegen VfB Stuttgart

Paderborn's first year in the Bundesliga came to an end with two wins from last 13 games

The trend of sharp nose-dives towards the bottom is rather solid over the last five seasons. Teams who have gone on to be relegated have suffered initially around winter, compounded by poor dealings in the transfer window and when deciding the fate of their coaches. Fortuna Düsseldorf had 10 points from the first 10 games in 2012/13, while Hertha Berlin and Cologne had earned 13 points by matchday 10 of the previous campaign.

Kaiseslautern, the third side relegated in 2011/12, had 11 from their first 10. Among the most noteworthy collapses in recent seasons, Eintracht Frankfurt collected 16 points from the first 10 games of season 2010/11, but still managed to suffer relegation.

Fußball Bundesliga 34. Spieltag Hannover 96 - Fortuna Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf went through three different coaches but still went down in 2013

Embrace changes

Darmstadt's modest resources will hardly scratch the surface compared with Kaiserslautern and Frankfurt, but the coming weeks are the biggest test of Dirk Schuster and his team. Grinding out early points was impressive, however reenergizing the group before its too late is now their number one priority.

Schuster's 4-4-2 shape is rudimentary, but the game plan has been executed well thus far with eight of 14 goals this season coming from set-piece situations. Marcel Heller, blessed with searing pace, has scored five goals and set up another this year, while service is laboured elsewhere with Dominik Stroh-Engel, top scorer for the past two seasons, yet to hit the mark.

Now Darmstadt are more predictable to read. Heller was ineffectual against Cologne's left-back Jonas Hector and the sprinkle of half-chances were down to the midfield effort of Jerome Gondorf. Elsewhere, Sandro Wagner was poor and options off the bench didn't lead to a change in approach.

Schuster and the club's management have some difficult decisions to make if it's serious about staying in the Bundesliga. Before the league resumes towards the end of January, blending together a sizebale group of new players with different characteristics might be Darmstadt's best chance of survival. High-risk, high-reward.

Having gone into half-time at 0-0 for the 14th time in 2015 (32 games), the inefficencies are distinct. The scoreless draw at home to the Billy Goats moves 12th-place Darmstadt on to 15 points, while Cologne are on 20 points and just on the outside of the European spots.