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Bundesliga: 5 questions ahead of the restart

January 20, 2023

The Bundesliga is set to return after a prolonged World Cup break. From the top four to the relegation battle, DW looks at five burning questions before the German top-flight kicks off again.

Edin Terzic stands holding his fist in the air in front of Dortmund's bench
Dortmund have yet to find success since the return of Edin Terzic (middle)Image: Neundorf/Kirchner-Media/picture alliance

Can Edin Terzic steer Borussia Dortmund back on course?

When Edin Terzic returned to the dugout to replace Marco Rose, the hope was for Borussia Dortmund to return to the heavy metal football that won them the German Cup in 2021. That aspiration has thus far turned out to be a pipe dream, with BVB sitting in sixth place and nine points off Bayern Munich.

Dortmund have run into their fair share of hard luck under Terzic. Sebastien Haller, their chosen replacement for Erling Haaland, has yet to play due to a cancer operation. Oft-injured captain Marco Reus was also unavailable with a calf issue, though he could make his return soon.

That said, Terzic has not got the best out of the talent at his disposal. Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen, two recent big-money signings, have yet to hit the ground running, nor has Anthony Modeste, who scored 20 goals last season for Cologne but has found the back of the net just twice this season.

Dortmund's defense, which was supposed to receive a boost from signings Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle, has conceded two goals or more in seven of their 15 Bundesliga matches.

All this has happened while Rose, who was let go after just one season, has breathed new life into RB Leipzig. Dortmund can still be a top-four team this season, but Terzic surely has his work cut out for him.

Can Freiburg keep the pace?

Vincenyo Grifo holds his fingers up in a 'v' shape while his teammates surround him
Vincenzo Grifo (middle) celebrates a goal for Freiburg with his teammatesImage: Robin Rudel/IMAGO

This season has seen two of the Bundesliga's cult clubs, SC Freiburg and Union Berlin, ascend to previously unimaginable heights. Union led the Bundesliga for seven weeks, while Freiburg enter the new year in second place.

Sustaining a title challenge is difficult, though, and Union have already fallen off the pace, collecting just one point in their final three games ahead of the World Cup break. Whether Freiburg will suffer a similar fate remains to be seen, though FiveThirtyEight, a statistics and analysis website, still gives them a 56% chance of remaining in the top four.

Head coach Christian Streich, who has led the club for 11 years, will undoubtedly continue to keep the expectations low, especially with the club also having to deal with Europa League fixtures. That said, Freiburg fans have every reason to dream their side can qualify for their maiden Champions League campaign.

How much will Bayern Munich miss Manuel Neuer?

Maneul Neuer standing in front of the goal post with his arms outstretched
Manuel Neuer's injury leaves Bayern Munich with a big question mark in goalImage: Sebastian El-Saqqa/firo Sportphoto/picture alliance

After Borussia Mönchengladbach confirmed on Thursday that Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer would be joining Bayern Munich, the answer to this is more positive than originally anticipated.

Though many media outlets in Munich remarked on Sommer's stature — at 1.83 meters (6 feet) tall, he's 10 centimeters shorter than Neuer — his skill is undeniable. His 19 saves against Bayern in their 1-1 draw against Gladbach earlier this season were proof enough.

There is one thing Sommer hasn't done since moving to Germany in 2014: win a trophy. He would be likely to collect at least one in Bavaria — Bayern have a four-point lead atop the Bundesliga table and are still in the German Cup — but whether he can lead them to the European heights the club desires remains an open question.

Though he will sit behind a stout defense that features World Cup finalist Dayot Upamecano and Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, Bayern's high defensive line might be something Sommer might need to adjust to. But as a 34-year-old who has experience on the international stage with Gladbach and the Swiss national team, any adjustment shouldn't take too long.

Whether Sommer will accept a backup role is a problem for another day, but right now, the Swiss keeper has an intriguing opportunity he has otherwise not had in his career.

Will Niclas Füllkrug maintain his scoring pace?

Werder Bremen striker Niclas Füllkrug holds his right fist in the air
Niclas Füllkrug celebrates one of his 10 goals for Werder Bremen this seasonImage: Carmen Jaspersen/dpa/picture alliance

The Werder Bremen striker's 10 goals this season earned him a well-deserved spot in Germany's World Cup squad. With two goals and an assist in three games, he was one of the nation's lone bright spots in what was otherwise a catastrophic group-stage exit.

But now that he's back in the Bundesliga, can the 29-year-old keep up the pace? Some statistics would suggest he's been a bit lucky, but given his shot volume — 46 in 14 appearances, second most in the league behind Gladbach's Marcus Thuram according to Bundesliga.com — suggests that he could continue to find the back of the net even if luck doesn't fall his way.

His best Bundesliga season came in 2017-18, when he bagged 14 goals for Hannover, though that was also the only season in his career in which he played in all 34 league games. If healthy, Füllkrug, who will turn 30 next month, could well surpass that on his way to the coveted Torjägerkanone, Germany's prize for the Bundesliga's top goalscorer.

And in doing so, he would surely contribute to newly promoted Werder Bremen staying up.

Can Schalke save their season?

Schalke defender Maya Yoshida kneels on both knees in the penalty box
Schalke's return to the Bundesliga could be short-lived if they don't improveImage: David Inderlied/dpa/picture alliance

After their disastrous relegation two years ago, Schalke are struggling once more in their return to the Bundesliga. Not only are they rock bottom of the table, they are also five points away from 15th place, the last spot for automatic survival.

Their sluggish start to the season cost head coach Frank Kramer his job. His replacement, Thomas Reis, also seemed uninspiring, having just been let go by similarly struggling club Bochum.

The squad has many players who were crucial to their promotion from the second division last season, but many have yet to prove they are good enough to stick around in the top flight. The fact that seven of their nine points have come at home provides some sort of optimism, but if they intend to continue in the first division, improvement needs to come in almost all areas.

But with the Royal Blues' coffers empty, that improvement will have to come from within.

Bundesliga fixtures:

RB Leipzig vs. Bayern Munich (Friday 20:30 CET)

Bochum vs. Hertha Berlin (Saturday 15:30)
Stuttgart vs. Mainz 05
Wolfsburg vs. Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke 04
Union Berlin vs. Hoffenheim
Cologne vs. Werder Bremen (Saturday 18:30)

Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg (Sunday 15:30)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Sunday 17:30)

Edited by Matt Ford