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Bundesbag Week 18: Dreaming of a warmer sun

Believe it or not, this season's Winter Break was a short one. Most years there is very little change from January when our lazy German friends finally deign to return from their training camps in the far east to play some football. But 2010 is a World Cup year and the DFB decreed that the beach towels would need to be rolled up early and everyone had to be back at work by mid-January. Bad for those players looking to top up their tans, good for the rest of us and Bayer Leverkusen who chose to stay in Germany.

And it is the Bayer club that our returning round-up begins with. Mindful of the number of false dawns daubed amateurishly on the horizon down the years, the Winter Champions were anxious to get the season off to a flyer and regain their momentum in what may prove to be a monumental season for them. Jupp Heynckes' team are perfectly poised to win the Bundesliga. Their opponents last Saturday were this season's surprise package Mainz at home. Just the sort of fixture that a nervous team can slip up against. Indeed, after 8 minutes the banana peel had been thrown down by the away team after Tim Hoogland put the 0-Fives a goal up.

Leverkusen didn't lose their bottle though and went 2-1 up with goals from Michal Kadlec and Tranquilo Barnetta. They extended their advantage thanks to a splendid goal by attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. Remember that name as Kroos is on loan from Bayern and is set to be a major star of the future. Nico Bungert struck again for the visitors proving that Mainz are no more pushovers now than they were in the Hinrunde. However, Leverkusen were not to be denied and Eren Derdiyok settled the nerves shortly thereafter. 4-2 was the final score and the Bayer club are up and running.

Not far behind are Bayern Munich who made short work of Hoffenheim on Friday. The Bavarians have rediscovered their shape and seem to have sorted out their back four. Holger Badstuber has improved greatly in the full back position while Martin DeMichelis and Daniel Van Buyten, while not the ideal centre half pairing, at least seem to know each other's names. In fact it was DeMichelis who opened the scoring with Miro Klose sealing the 2-0 win. Franck Ribery has to come back yet and if he and Arjen Robben can stay fit, they look set to tear up the Bundesliga along with Olic, Gomez, Muller and co.

Having said that, the Munich club are only in third place thanks to the dogged determination of Schalke who continue to notch up the wins despite a relatively inexperienced squad. One can only assume that their Svengali coach is giving them the strength of two men. Personally, I can't see them last the distance but what do I know? The Royal Blues were victorious over a poor Nurnberg side who sacked their manager Michael Oenning before Christmas. His replacement? Who else but the custodian of the finest pair of eyebrows in all of Germany. That's right, Dieter Hecking is back and as always, he's got his work cut out for him. Hurrah!

The chasing pack for the title appears to be emerging. Hamburg will be disappointed not to be a closer to the summit after beating Freiburg 2-0. Dortmund were magnificent at Koln where they went 2-0 up with two goals from centre half Mats Hummels (or Hummelles as the bumbling ESPN commentator called him). Unfortunately the 21 year old let the occasion get to him and Koln forced two highly very unlikely and very very late equalisers against their local rivals. With the Dortmund fans suddenly muted in the away section, all seemed lost. However, in true Koln fashion they conceded a last minute winner from Kevin Gro├čkreutz. A talented player with an atrocious haircut. People have been imprisoned for less.

Elsewhere, Eintracht Frankfurt did the double over Werder Bremen with a messy but effective goal by Marco Russ. 'Gladbach need to be careful not to get sucked into a relegation scrap. They lost 2-1 at home to Bochum. This time last year, Wolfsburg began their epic run to the Championship. A similar feat looks unlikely after losing 3-1 to Stuttgart. And of course Hannover lost again, this time to Hertha.

Whoa whoa whoa wait wait wait back up a minute. Hertha? Won? That's right readers, Hertha Berlin who had only won once in the league so far this season have now won twice. And it was not just any win, mind. This was a 3-0 away win. Lukasz Piszcek, Rafael and 'Fanis Geikas were the lucky players to have their names etched into the fabric of Herta's tapestry of legends. It's worth pointing out that their previous win was also against Hannover so it could be a matter of the Berliners holding the Indian sign over their opponents. However, for the optimistic punter who enjoys a long shot this could be the start of the greatest comeback since Elvis donned the leather pants and wiggled his finger to the tune of "Hound Dog".

Hannover were wretched and it's hard to see them bouncing back from what must have been a soul destroying defeat. The board were furious and sacked their manager Andreas Bergmann. Former Schalke coach Mirko Slomka has been charged with trying to turn things around. He is their third manager of the season. The Bundesbag wishes him well.

That's it. Results and tables here.

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