With Bundesliga about to resume in a week’s time, German clubs have been making good use of the longest winter break among Europe’s top leagues. To plan for the second half of the season, clubs have been setting up their winter camps all over the world. This precious time has given clubs time to address the injury issues, draw new strategies for the second half action, bring in new players in the transfer window play friendlies with the local clubs in the respective countries and also to savour the long break. To some it has been fruitful and to some it was a mixed set of events. Lets take a look how the winter break has gone for the top clubs of Bundesliga.
The league leaders have gone to Doha,Qatar for the third consecutive year for the winter training camp. While Pep Guardiola would be happy to strike names off his injury list as David Alaba and Holger Badstuber returned to regular training and gained some important playing time in the club friendlies, Javi Martinez,Mehdi Benatia and skipper Philipp Lahm have entered recovery process and are soon expected to be back to full fitness. But the club’s tour has come under speculation from many high profile names and some parts of the media due to the ongoing issues with Human Rights Violation in the country. Bayern’s friendly against Al-Hilal in the wake of Blogger Raif Badawi’s punishment for criticizing officials of the Arabic nation, has irked many sections of football. But with two victories in the friendlies against Qatar’s All-Stars and Al-Hilal have set the Bavarians on the right path for the second season half in what looks like a third consecutive Bundesliga title.
Jurgen Klopp’s men travelled to La Manga in Spain to get over the first half nightmare which they ended in relegation zone. The Ruhr club have brought the services of Slovenian international Kevin Kampl from Salzburg for 12 million Euros with ongoing speculation over Marco Reus’ future. The training sessions have all been good for the Yellow and Blacks, but it was in the club friendlies they got hit with injuries. Though they won all their three friendlies against FC Sion, FC Steaua Bucuresti and FC Utrecht with a 1-0 difference, they lost Kevin Grosskreutz, Erik Durm and veteran Sebastian Kehl to injuries. Despite all the transfer rumours linking him with the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid doing rounds, Marco Reus has been in scintillating form in the club friendlies and will come as a sigh of relief for Jurgen Klopp. Though the Signal Iduna Park side’s participation in Europe next season seems highly unlikely, revival is certainly on the cards as they look determined to make it out of the relegation zone in the season’s second half.
Die Werkself made a trip to the United States to set up their winter training camp in the sunny state of Florida. The Bay Arena club has been the most active German club in the January transfer window as Croatian defender Tim Jedvaj has made his loan move from AS Roma permanent. Philipp Wollscheid was sent on loan spell to Premier League outfit Stoke City. Defender Andre Ramalho arrived on a free transfer from Red Bulls Salzburg reuniting with his former coach Roger Schmidt. Though Tim Jedvaj had to return to Germany following a hamstring injury in training, the team received a defensive boost in the form of Kyriakos Papadopoulos who returned back to training after recovering from a long-term shoulder injury. The club friendlies didnt go as planned for the club as they lost to Brazilian side Corinthians 2-1 in the Florida Cup after beating another Brazil-based club Fluminense 3-0. And surprisingly FC Koln the second visiting German club in the states and the recently promoted side from Bundesliga.2 defeated Fluminense in the finals to win the inaugural Florida Cup. The squad seems to be pretty content after their trips to the famous Disneyland and Universal Studios. But with clubs like Augsburg, Hoffenheim,Schalke and Monchengladbach breathing down their neck, Schmidt’s men cannot afford to slip-up if they have to play Champions League football next season.
It has been a busy winter break for new coach Roberto Di Matteo as the ex-Chelsea manager had to deal with number of injury concerns during the club’s trip to Doha in Qatar which was the fourth winter training camp on the Arabian soil. The Royal Blues had a long list of players nursing injuries with the likes of Jan Kirchoff,Sead Kolasinac,Jefferson Farfan,Joel Matip along with star forward Julian Draxler unable to make the trip. Di Matteo’s side received an injury blow early in the training camp as the club’s No.1 Ralf Fahrmann strained cruciate ligament which will keep him from starting in the second half opener against Hannover 96. Things weren’t going well for the Gelsenkirchen side as they lost 2-0 to Dutch side Ajax in their first friendly. Matija Nastasic arrived from Manchester City on loan which has been the only purchase for them in this January window. Second friendly against Sudanese club Al Merrikh ended in a 2-2 draw before the club returned to Germany. The midfield and defensive section problems seem to have eased a bit with key defender Atusto Uchida fully recovered alongside Jan Kirchoff and new signing of Matija Nastasic. Kevin-Prince Boateng recovering a minor blow in the friendly against Al Merrikh and Sidney Sam remaining injury free covers up for top scorer Maxim Choupo Moting’s absence due to the African Cup of Nations.
Junior Malanda’s tragic death the day before Wolfsburg travelled to their training camp in South Africa left everyone in disbelief. The second placed team in Bundesliga had to postpone their flight to Cape Town as a result of this unexpected incident. Cape Town didn’t offer good conditions to the training as the players struggled under the scorching equatorial sun. The Wolves havent been active in the transfer window except for the signing of Xizhe Zhang from Chinese League as they trained far away from the other Bundesliga clubs. Tributes came pouring in from various sections of fans for the late Junior Malanda. Team mate Ivan Perisic removed his jersey to reveal another jersey with Junior’s name after scoring the winner in a 4-3 win against Chippa United FC paying an emotional tribute to the Belgian. Local team Ajax Cape Town were defeated soundly by the Wolves in a 4-1 rout in the first friendly. Good news for Dieter Hecking is that there are no new injury concerns before the team left South Africa. Though Leverkusen’s Rudi Voller recently quoting that the 11-point gap between the Wolves and Bayern is impossible to close down, the Lower Saxony club will be determined to get points from the league leaders in their second half opener at the Volkswagen Arena on 31st of January.