Bundesliga break isn't what it used to be

Of the major European leagues, Germany's Bundesliga has the longest winter break -- a little more than four weeks -- but it isn't what it used to be. Thirty years ago, the Bundesliga took 11 weeks off.

As recently as two years ago, the Bundesliga broke for six weeks. In 2016, play resumed after four and a half weeks, and that was still too long for Bayern's then-coach Pep Guardiola.

"It's boring going so long without playing," he said.

Guardiola could speak as Bayern was the runaway leader, eight points ahead of second-place Borussia Dortmund.

This winter was different for several reasons. The destinations of German clubs, for one. In years past, Turkey -- in particular, the province of Antaly -- was the go-to winter playground but not this January. No German team traveled to Turkey -- down from 16 clubs in 2016 -- because of the Turkish government's crackdown on dissent and terrorist attacks.

Another reason the winter break is different is that there is something to play for. Bayern Munich is the favorite but only takes a three-point lead over promoted RB Leipzig into Week 17, the last day of the first half of the season.

Several contenders probably wish they had a longer break as they will be short-handed when play resumes this weekend:

1. Bayern Munich. Thiago Alcantar was injured during winter camp in Qatar and Chilean Arturo Vidal injured his ribs in the Telekom Cup last weekend. On top of that, Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Javi Martinez have come down with the flu since returning home.

2. RB Leipzig. The Bulls' 3-0 loss to Bayern four days before Christmas. It dropped them out of a tie for first place with Bayern and star Emil Forsberg's red card puts him out of action for their next three games.

3. Hertha Berlin. Hertha's problem isn't injuries or sickness. It will begin the restart without Ivorian star Salomon Kalou, who is at the African Cup of Nations. He has scored 19 goals in 41 games over the last season and a half.

6. Borussia Dortmund. BVB is also without its best striker. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is at the African Cup of Nations, where he is playing for host Gabon. Marco Reus and Sven Bender are injured, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Ousmane Dembele have been training on their own.

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