The Bundesliga is exciting again, and not only due to RB Leipzig's emergence as genuine title contenders, writes DW sports editor Stefan Nestler. It's also because some of the wealthier clubs are struggling.
A comparison with last season is telling: on the final matchday before the winter break, the title had effectively already been decided.
Bayern had stormed eight points clear of second-placed Dortmund and were a massive 14 points clear of Hertha in third.
The Bundesliga was boring, critics argued, at least when it came to the title race.
And this term? The champions have a new challenger. Top-flight debutantes RB Leipzig have taken the league by storm and remain in touch with leaders, even if you take into account Wednesday's chastening 3-0 reverse in Munich. As we go into the winter break this time, the challengers are just three points behind the mighty Bayern.
The Red Bull-bankrolled, eastern German side, have raised the hackles of football traditionalists everywhere but thy have enriched the Bundesliga with a high-tempo playing style that propelled them to stunning victories over the likes of Dortmund, Leverkusen, Schalke and Hertha.
Hats off to coach Ralph Hasenhüttl and sporting director Ralf Rangnick. Their strategy is paying rich dividends so far.
It's no less exciting below the top two. Several teams who have had sporadic success up to now are showing a good deal more consistency. That goes for Hoffenheim as much as it does for Hertha, Frankfurt and Cologne.
The improved form of Hoffenheim and Frankfurt is particularly striking. Under 29-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim have blossomed into a side reminiscent of the outfit that impressed in their Bundesliga debut in 2008, coached back then by a certain Ralf Rangnick.
Hoffenheim and no less a team than record European champions Real Madrid are the only sides in the continent's top leagues yet to lose a league game.
Frankfurt also deserve a hearty pat on the back. With Niko Kovac at the helm, they are transformed compared with the team that barely avoided relegation last season and strong candidates for a European berth.
These surprise packages all have something in common: They are imbued with a new sense of belief they perhaps did not have before. And they are also profiting from the patchy form of some of the league's traditional powerhouses.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern are not the all-conquering juggernauts they were under the Italian's Spanish predecessor, Pep Guardiola.
Dortmund, meanwhile, much to the chagrin of coach Thomas Tuchel, have developed a worrying habit of falling behind in games before the players wake up, if they wake up at all.
Leverkusen and Schalke, considering the potential of their squads, have disappointed, while Gladbach appear to be in freefall and the sacking of coach Andre Schubert on Wednesday merely put him out of his misery.
Full of surprises
Despite winning their last two games before the winter break, wealthy Wolfsburg could not disguise the fact that the Wolves of recent seasons have mutated into nervous-looking squirrels who are finding it desperately hard to bring home the points.
Deep pockets have been no guarantee of success, something that pleases tradition-minded fans, makes the competition more exciting and is generally good for the league.
At the other end of the table, a war of attrition is taking shape between the likes of Hamburg, Ingolstadt, Bremen and Darmstadt. It is tough to predict who will suffer the dreaded drop to the second division at the end of this season.
In other words: as 2016 turns into 2017, the Bundesliga is full of surprises, at the top, as well as at the bottom.
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