Six UEFA Champions League hopefuls are yet to return to action in 2015 as they enjoy an extended winter break. But as we discover, it is not all sun and relaxation.
Article top media content
While domestic challenges are coming thick and fast for ten UEFA Champions League hopefuls, the six others are still in the inviting clutch of their winter break. But it is not all rest and winter sun – there are plans to make, strenuous training sessions to do and, for Bayer 04 Leverkusen, evasive alligators to catch – UEFA.com trades in its snowshoes for a pair of flip flops and investigates.
FC Basel 1893
Only FC Shakhtar Donetsk have a longer break than the Swiss champions – it will be a day shy of two months since concluding 2014 at Liverpool FC that Basel return to competitive football. Eight points clear atop the Super League, Paulo Sousa's side have been in Marbella, southern Spain, tuning up with an eye trained on last-16 opponents FC Porto. Adama Traoré may provide added insight following his move from Vitória SC.
FC Schalke 04
Forced to hit the ground running after his October appointment, Roberto Di Matteo has been afforded time and space to really get his ideas across. And where better than Doha, Qatar, where temperatures are in the early 20Cs all this week? Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is in the somewhat warmer climes of Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations and there are also several injuries so Di Matteo is integrating a few youngsters.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
How to find the balance between business and pleasure? Reinforcing a high-pressing game was the focus for coach Roger Schmidt's training camp in Florida, while a permanent deal for Tin Jedvaj was evidence of industry behind the scenes too. Morale received a further boost with NBA matches, a visit to Disney World and, more unusually, an alligator hunting expedition. Borussia Dortmund, Leverkusen's opponents on 31 January, have been warned.
Jürgen Klopp's side will resume their campaign joint-bottom of the Bundesliga after Dortmund's torrid first half of the season. The solution? "We are dramatically improving the physical requirements," Klopp said from La Manga, Spain. "I wish training could have been broadcast to the world so everyone could have seen the intensity and focus of the lads." Some things have not changed, though: Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl have both picked up knocks.
FC Bayern München
Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez and Thiago Alcántara are all out for Bayern but such is the depth of Josep Guardiola's options that Pierre Højbjerg (on loan) and Xherdan Shaqiri have both departed. The return of David Alaba and Holger Badstuber has helped, and the message at their training camp in Qatar was clear: more of the same. If Bayern beat VfL Wolfsburg next Friday they will open up a 14-point lead in Germany and, unlike last term, Guardiola says his side will not ease off until June.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk
How does 19 days in Brazil sound? Pretty good seems to be the message from Shakhtar and their 14 Brazilian first-teamers. Mircea Lucescu's men will not play a competitive game between matchday six and the first leg against Bayern (spare a thought for Chelsea FC who will tot up 15 matches in the interim). Five friendlies and beach training sessions are being used to get them up to speed. "It is very important to play against teams with different styles; we will get that here," Lucescu said.