Never Mind The Ballacks

Who can stop Bayern?

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Manuel Neuer

Mirko Slomka this week gave his Hannover squad a 128-question survey that poked its nose into every nook and cranny of their lives, asking for their opinions on a wide range of subjects from nutrition and their family to their sex lives.

"Through these tests I know how best I can get through to each player," said Slomka, though exactly what sort of insight he gained from the response to the statement: 'I'm proud of my erotic experiences' is anyone's guess.

Peter Boltersdorf, the club's 'motivation consultant', added: "There is a sense to it. You could motivate someone who likes scoring goals by showing them a video in which they are doing that well."

Again, the video needed for the player who answered Ja to the question 'I am what you could call sexually unrestrained' may not be family viewing. But, as the Bundesliga squads prepare to come back from their holidays, there are plenty other slightly less awkward questions to be asked — and answered — before we get back into the swing of things.

1) Can anyone stop Bayern?

With just three points between Bayern and the Ruhr Valley duo of Dortmund and Schalke, it would be foolish to suggest the title race was a one-horse affair. And yet, it is. While Dortmund — as Uli Hoeness pointed out — don't have the 'distraction' of European football, Bayern managed to do the double and reach the Champions League final a couple of seasons ago with a squad inferior to the one they have now. The top three now will very probably be the top three — in the same order — at the season's end.

2) Who'll emerge from the pack?

Last season, Mainz and Hannover bullied the big boys. This season, Mönchengladbach have taken up the mantle, even if they are a sleeping giant. Bremen, Leverkusen and Stuttgart will need to be far more consistent if they are to deprive Lucien Favre's men of Champions League football. Those with ambitions of reaching the Europa League will need to be more wary.

Wolfsburg have — as ever under Felix Magath — indulged copiously in the transfer window, but their January business looks far better than most of that done in the summer. Don't worry that they haven't bought any big names: had anyone outside of Teplice heard of Edin Dzeko before he moved to VW-Stadt? If the cosmopolitan cocktail of personalities in the squad can gel, then they have the makings of a potential top-six finisher.

A point and a place behind Wolfsburg, Thorsten Fink's Hamburg can bridge the seven-point gap to sixth-placed Leverkusen, especially with Robin Dutt's men more concerned with their Champions League tie with Barcelona until mid-February. Eight league games unbeaten since Fink took over, they feasibly could have had two wins — and four points — more but for the brilliance of Hannover's Jan Schlaudraff and Augsburg's Mohamed Amsif.

3) Who's next for the sack?

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Felix Magath

Can Magath work a second wunder at Wolfsburg? Or could he be on his way out?

Babbel and Sorg have gone in the last month, joining Michael Oenning on the sidelines. While Marco Kurz, Thomas Tuchel and Jos Luhukay appear safe regardless of results, Dieter Hecking looks likely to be the first managerial casualty of 2012 with Nuremberg struggling to recapture their early season solidity. Perhaps Felix Magath, too. Yes, he's been backed to the hilt and beyond by VW, but surely even the credit earned by his title win in 2009 would be used up if he cannot get his new-look squad to outshine their immediate predecessors.

4) Who'll go down?

They may or may not get a boost from a new man in charge, but Freiburg will still end up finishing in the bottom two. Augsburg will join them, returning to the second tier at the first time of asking with their fight and attitude not enough to compensate for the lack of sheer quality in their ranks. The race for the play-off place is much more difficult to predict with Kaiserslautern, Mainz and Nuremberg looking the most likely candidates right now. Remember Eintracht Frankfurt last season? On the verge of Europe at Christmas, in the second division come May. Surely not even Michael Skibbe can't pull off that miracle at Hertha, too.

Ian Holyman - Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

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