Bayern Munich head coach Niko Kovac feels the strength of this year's Bundesliga is part of the reason why his side are second in the table.
Borussia Dortmund are six points clear at the top going into the winter break, with Bayern having been inconsistent under new coach Kovac.
A run of five straight wins has cut Dortmund's advantage, with Bayern appearing to be back on track in the last few weeks, while third-placed Borussia Monchengladbach have also impressed.
Bayern have won the title six years in a row and Kovac is relishing a battle with Dortmund over the second half of the campaign, which his side start at Hoffenheim on January 18.
"I feel we're the Bayern from the start of the season again, that we've restored our ease and confidence – and that the lads are fired up to give it everything and put up a fierce fight against Borussia Dortmund," Kovac told Bayern's website.
"It was a half year with many facets, very emotional, and certainly not boring. We had many good periods but also had to weather difficult ones. However, taken altogether we're on a good track, and at the end of the day our conclusion to the six months is positive.
"Of course we wished for a good start. We worked very hard for it during pre-season. We dominated the matches. The lads wanted to assert themselves after the arrival of a new coach. The performances in training and in matches were correspondingly strong.
"Unfortunately we then had a little barren spell. The coaching staff thought about it a lot: the reasons why. Maybe we allowed ourselves to be influenced too much by what was suggested: that we're unbeatable and that we'll clinch the championship title again with a huge cushion.
"It creeps into your consciousness, and then everybody ends up lacking one or two per cent. In total that's not enough. In my opinion the Bundesliga is much more balanced and stronger than last year, which is why we had to fight. But the lads have recovered."
Kovac was under pressure in October after a run of four games without a win in all competitions but the former Eintracht Frankfurt coach says he ignores criticism.
"I kept it away as far as possible. I wanted to be free in my decisions, only relying on my impressions from training," he continued.
"I stuck to it until the winter break. I've basically passed up on media reports for four to five months. I feel good this way, it isn't a burden. That's the crucial point. If things become a burden you aren't free in your decisions, but you must be free.
"Things are very fast-paced in this business. What was good yesterday might be bad the next morning. You have to keep calm. My coaches always told me that in the past. Fortunately I had some very good coaches. I never panic."
Kovac's tactical tinkering has been highlighted, with chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge criticising Bayern's rotation, although he denied attempting to influence the coach's decisions.
"I'm not a friend of the rotation," he told Kicker. "The football industry is a high-performance society, it's about performance, and the best in training and in the game should probably be reused in the game that follows, to boost performance.
"My point of view may also be related to my generation when the squads were even smaller, when there were 11 top players who virtually always played.
"We have had talks that Niko Kovac appreciates very much, but of course training, tactics and team composition are always exclusive to the coach. There is no discussion."
Kovac and Bayern could be without Rafinha for the 2019-20 season as he has confirmed he plans to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this campaign.
"My cycle at Bayern is coming to an end," the 33-year-old Brazilian told SporTV. "There are many things that can happen in the next six months, but I think it's my last year."
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