Feature: German Bundesliga to kick off second half

BERLIN, Jan. 12 -- Bayern Munich top the Bundesliga table 11 points clear of their nearest rival. In the same time, bottom of the table FC Cologne has only managed to score six points. These are the extremes that kick off the second half of the 2017/2018 Bundesliga season.

2017 Bundesliga Champion Bayern Munich is in a relatively comfortable position ahead of its curtain-raiser against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday evening. At this point, the fifth consecutive national title seems to be just a formality for the Bavarians. Down at the bottom of the table, lowly FC Cologne needs a miracle to avoid relegation.

The future of Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes is still under discussion at the Allianz. Club leaders Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge are optimistic that they'll be able to convince the 72-year-old Heynckes to stay for another year, as the Bavarians have not been able to find a suitable replacement. On top of this, the futures of stars Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Arturo Vidal are uncertain.

German international Jerome Boateng has warned his side to stay focused despite the 11 point lead. "A bad start, a difficult second game and you get under pressure. In the first half we were eight points behind Dortmund, now we are 11 points away. Things can quickly change," the 29-year-old said.

Bayern striker Thomas Mueller demanded a better performance in the second half of the season. "There have been too many games we just narrowly won. There has been too much cheating through in the last games, what we need is more dominance," the German international said.

Against Bayer Leverkusen, Heynckes will have to replace Robert Lewandowski due to a knee injury. Sandro Wagner will replace the Pole and lead the line for Bayern.

Cologne striker and former Bayern Munich professional Claudio Pizarro is hoping for a possible miracle as several established clubs are in danger of relegation. In 2013, FC Augsburg turned things around with only nine points at the halfway mark of the season, but Cologne will need to better that performance if they want to stay in the Bundesliga.

There is plenty of action elsewhere as FC Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach all battle for Champions League qualification while VfL Wolfsburg, SC Freiburg, VfB Stuttgart, FSV Mainz, Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV try to cement their positions in top flight German football.

Things are tight this year, as second placed Schalke is only four points clear of Eintracht Frankfurt in eighth.

Schalke faces Leipzig on Saturday evening and fans are eager to see if Schalke's ongoing renaissance will continue. New manager Domenico Tedesco will have to prove that his side has the staying power to continue its impressive performances from first half of the season. Schalke has been known to be inconsistent in the past, but they have attracted attention with their excellent team spirit and pragmatic style.

The progress of Borussia Dortmund is also one of the big stories coming out of the Bundesliga, as the team battles to rekindle its team spirit and try to be less reliant on their talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon international raised quite a few eyebrows at the club when he turned up to the club's winter training camp in a private Learjet.

Lately Aubameyang's behavior has been causing headaches for manager Peter Stoeger, and there are rumors that this might be the striker's last season at the club. Aubameyang was the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season with 31 goals, so it's more than likely that Stoeger will need his top striker to contribute if he wants his side to secure Champions League qualification.

Meanwhile, the situation could not be worse for Bundesliga heavyweights Werder Bremen (16th) and Hamburg (17th).

In 2014/2015 Hamburg successfully fought off relegation but since then, things have not really improved at the club due to drama behind the scenes.

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