Halfway through the season there is no shortage of talking points in the Bundesliga. Not surprising of course considering this is the league that brings us Felix Magath and Uli Hoeness. And where else will you find controversies involving stolen hotel shampoos and club enforced restrictions on nutella products anyways? Of course, the attention belongs on the pitch where some exhilarating football has taken place and some players have particularly distinguished themselves from their peers.
Here is Part I of who we think have been the most impressive players in the league so far this season.
20. Moa Abdellaoue
The 26-year-old Norwegian has been Hannover’s most important player this season. His ruthless efficiency in front of goal is almost unrivaled in the Bundesliga. The former Vålerenga and Skeid striker has managed to score 9 goals in 14 appearances this season, with only 277 touches of the ball. Math freaks will already have calculated that this boils down to an average of one goal per 30 touches, an outrageously impressive chance to goal ratio for a striker. This number won’t come as a surprise to anybody who has seen Hannover in action for the last one and a half seasons. The team’s style is centered around counter attacks, and Abdellaoue’s role in Slomka’s system is to be the striker that lurks up front to get his foot at the end of those attacks. This requires Abdellaoue to find space and time his runs to perfection, something the young Norwegian has done time and time again ever since his arrival from the Norwegian capital of Oslo. He has become invaluable to Hannover and their run in both the league and Europe.
19. Gökhan Töre
The Köln born Turk was amongst sporting director Frank Arnesen’s favorites during his stay at Chelsea, and appropriately enough, accompanied the Dane to Hamburg. During his first half of football in the Bundesliga Töre has won the hearts of Hamburg supporters and captivated audiences across the country with his skills. Töre was voted HSV’s best player of the 11/12 Hinrunde by the readers of Hamburg paper ”Morgenpost.” His qualities include a tremendous technique, speed, a robust physicality and a good eye for his fellow teammates. The busy winger has not only managed to win the Hamburg fans hearts, but ours as well. During his 16 games so far Töre has assisted 6 goals, and 61 shots on goal, taking 17 of those shots on goal himself. Considering that Töre is only 19 years old, it has to be said that he is definitely amongst the best finds of the summer transfer window and quite possibly the breakout young player in Germany this season.
18. Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Lucien Favre deserves most of the credit for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s marvelous up swing in form, and one of the best choices the Swiss has made while being at the club is giving the then 18 year old ter Stegen the nod as the team’s #1. The Gladbach born player managed to slide right into the team, taking immediate leadership over the defense together with Austrian Martin Stranzl and Brazilian Dante, closing up shop and never looking back. Ter Stegen has continued in the same manner this season, and is not only one of the most exciting goalkeeping talents in the world at this very moment, but also one of the best goalkeepers in the league. The player touted as the “next Manuel Neuer” has played a big part in Gladbach’s impressive defensive performances so far. The stats that the 19 year-old boasts are incredibly impressive: 82.81% shots saved, 11 vital stops, 7 clean sheets and only 11 conceded in the first 17 matches of the Bundesliga. Manuel Neuer watch out, this kid is going places
17. Bernd Leno
What a difference a year makes. In the fall of 2010, Leno was playing for the Stuttgart reserves against the likes of Heidenheim, Sandhausen and Babelsberg. Fast-forward a year and Leno was starring in Leverkusen’s historic win against Chelsea to qualify for the Champions League knockout phase. Most impressive of all? Leno did it at the fragile age of 18. It is a meteoric rise seemingly penned by Hollywood’s elite screenwriters yet none of it is surprising considering Leno’s surfeit of talent. Many times this season, Leno has single handedly kept Leverkusen in matches while pulling off save after save. It seems that the bigger the occasion, the better his performance as proven by his matches against Dortmund, Gladbach and Chelsea this campaign. With an inexperienced and continually changing backline, Leno was thrown into the proverbial fire head first and had to learn quick. Even more impressive is the fact that Leno had to fill the shoes of Rene Adler who for the longest time was thought to be Germany’s #1 for the foreseeable future. Not only has Leno filled in brilliantly but Leverkusen were so impressed that they quickly made his loan spell permanent and might even end up selling Adler at the end of the season.
16. Raul Gonzalez
Like an eternal flame, Raul keeps on burning bright. The Schalke favorite has yet to finish his second year at the club and already it feels like he has been there for decades. The Madrid native has become an essential part of the Gelsenkirchen fabric and is equally adored off and on the pitch. In the stands, the supporters sing his name and on the pitch every player looks to Raul for inspiration and guidance. The spiritual leader of the team, Raul has led like a captain and guided Schalke through one of their best ever Hinrunde performances. Not since the 1976/77 season have Schalke scored 38 goals in their first 17 games. After guiding Schalke to the Champions League semi finals last season, Raul remained the heart and soul of the team. This season he has already been directly involved in 15 goals in their 17 matches and created 65 goal-scoring chances. Raul has fully embraced his new playmaking responsibilities and has the best pass completion percentage of any strikers in the league. Thanks to his consistent performances, Schalke sit just three points off first place and cruised through their Europa League group. If the second half of the season is anything like the first, Schalke fans will have even more to cheer about and you can be sure, Raul will return to the stands to celebrate with them.
15. Sven Bender
Growing up, Sven Bender was told by his father that no matter how poor one played in a match, the one thing that a player was always in control of is how hard he worked throughout the 90 minutes. Taking that advice to heart, Bender, along with his brother, have become two of the most industrious and hard working players in German football. Sven Bender’s tireless running and work ethic is the epitome of Klopp and Dortmund’s intense pressing and high-energy brand of football. Few players are more involved and cover more ground than Sven Bender, always being an influential and deciding presence in matches. Unfortunately, Bender’s Hinrunde was cut short after an injury in the Champions League against Arsenal but the defensive midfielder impressed prior to that and won 147 challenges in his 11 Bundesliga matches alone. Bender has also brought more variety to his game this season, getting more involved in the team’s build up and attacks, assisting 4 goals in the process. Kicker rated only Bastian Schweinsteiger a better defensive midfielder than Sven Bender this season.
14. Sven Ulreich
With a plethora of young talented goalkeepers emerging in Germany, Stuttgart’s Ulreich may have gone under the radar but he certainly did not need the limelight to perform. Steadily improving since becoming the club’s first choice last season, Ulreich has firmly established himself as one of the league’s best with his performances in the Hinrunde. A primary reason for the club’s defensive improvement, Ulreich’s form has gone a long way in restoring order and confidence in Stuttgart’s backline. At times, Ulreich has single handedly won his team points, most notably in the matches against Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Schalke and Freiburg. The 23-year old has blocked an impressive 75 shots on goal, a 79% save percentage. Only four teams have a better defense than Stuttgart in the league this season and Ulreich may very well be the key factor in that accomplishment. Stuttgart have made impressive strides to drop their tag as a half a season team and are actually one of the league’s most consistent and balanced teams, something that would not have been possible without Ulreich’s contribution.
13. Juan Arango
Few would have thought that halfway into the season, Arango would lead the league in assists and firmly stand as one of its best playmakers. A year ago, the Venezuelan, along with his team, were struggling for points and bottom of the standings. Arango managed just two goals and three assists in Gladbach’s Hinrunde last season and it looked certain that he would be playing in the second division the following year. A miraculous escape and continued progress under coach Lucien Favre resulted in the best football of Arango’s Bundesliga career. This year the 31-year old has been involved in half of Gladbach’s 24 goals and played a big part in their efficient and dynamic performances. Arango created 45 goal scoring chances in the Hinrunde, more than any other midfielder in the league and has become one of the most dangerous set piece takers. Thee pinpoint precision of his crosses and passes have made Arango’s left foot one of the most valuable assets in the league. If Gladbach are going to maintain their form in the Rückrunde they will need a strong performance from Arango to compliment those of his teammates.
12. Lars Bender
The departure of Arturo Vidal in the summer left a sizable gap in Leverkusen’s midfield. Whether it was the Chilean’s relentless running, leadership or goal scoring, his output was always going to be difficult to replace and Leverkusen felt his absence quite noticeably throughout the season, failing to find the consistency they had last year. The primary reason it wasn’t further exacerbated was Lars Bender’s remarkable form. His consistent performances were an enormous stabilizing factor for a team still in heavy transition. Playing a more defensive role with Vidal in the team, Bender was never able to display his attacking game but this season he has pronounced those traits tenfold and taken on a box-to-box role akin to Ballack at the club back in 2002. Bender has played more minutes than any other Leverkusen player and has arguably been their most valuable player. Bender’s performances have boosted those of Ballack, who was able to play a more advanced role, as well as helping out a fledgling backline. At this rate, Leverkusen fans may yet learn to move on after Vidal’s departure.
11. Robert Lewandowski
Last season Lewandowski was stuck on the bench behind then first choice striker Lucas Barrios, waiting and waiting for an opportunity to prove himself. Barrios’s injury during the Copa America presented Lewandowski with the perfect opportunity to do that and once he took to the pitch, the Pole never looked back. The 5.5 million Euro signing from Lech Poznan struggled at the beginning of the season as an effective replacement for Barrios, but showed good tendencies in the link up play and the vision of a midfielder. Lewandowski’s bubble finally burst after a hattrick against cellar dwellers Augsburg this fall. The top scorer of the 09/10 season in the Polish Ekstraklassa has since managed 12 goals and 4 assists. Lewandowski has created an impressive 53 goal scoring chances and won an astounding 192 challenges, more than many defenders. Long time first choice striker Lucas Barrios has now even asked for a transfer given Lewandowski’s fine form. Knocking the Paraguayan international down from his perch was by no means an easy achievement. Lewandowski has taken the chance he was presented at Dortmund this season splendidly, and his recent good form will hopefully continue.
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