The second half of the season kicked off in Germany and many of the questions that lingered over the winter break were answered.
Can RB Leipzig keep up with Bayern? Yes, although it helped that Eintracht Frankfurt was reduced to 10 men after 131 seconds, when goalkeeper Lucas Hradecky was sent off at the start of a 3-0 win.
Will the surprise contenders Hoffenheim (won 2-0 at Augsburg), Hertha Berlin (lost 3-1 at Leverkusen) and Cologne (drew 0-0 at Mainz) be able to sustain their form? What about Borussia Dortmund, in sixth place at the break; can it get back into the top three? Winning 2-1 at Bremen pushed it up to fourth.
And which new signings will work out? In the cases of Wolfsburg, for whom Paul-Georges Ntep was outstanding, it looks positive; the same can be said for Schalke’s new No. 9, Guido Burgstaller, who waited until the last minute to score the winner against Ingolstadt.
The one question for first-place Bayern Munich is one of a longer-term impact. The club remains at the top, but needed to work hard–and rely on some late Robert Lewandowski brilliance–to edge past Freiburg on a freezing Friday night. But the question is regarding the future of 35-year-old Xabi Alonso, who will reportedly retire at the end of the season. It appears there won't be a China pay-day or MLS stint for one of the classiest midfielders of his generation.
Xabi Alonso has won titles at Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. He won three international tournaments in a row for Spain from 2008-2012. And among his coaches were some of the best around: Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, Jose Mourinho in Madrid, and, in Germany, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti. He is smart and articulate–and already expected to be a great coach. There will be a race to sign him up on the sidelines this summer, whether it’s as an assistant, following the Zinedine Zidane path to managing a top club; as part of a youth set-up like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool; or even at Real Sociedad, where he began his career.
One thing is certain: You can expect to see his famous quote about tackling, which he gave in a 2011 interview with The Guardian come up a few times.
"I don't think tackling is a quality," he said. "It is a recurso, something you have to resort to, not a characteristic of your game… You will need it, but it isn't a quality to aspire to, a definition. It's hard to change because it's so rooted in the English football culture, but I don't understand it."
Admit it: you’re already excited about seeing him patrolling the touchline, in charge of a team.