To top off the Hinrunde, we at the Bundesliga Fanatic carefully surveyed all club and player performances this season and noted those who have particularly stood out. In our first part, we saw some of the league’s best goalkeepers featured along with two brothers who seem to be getting better and better each year. In our second part, we see Germany’s crop of young talent side by side with some of the league’s veterans.
Here are our 10 best performers of the 2011/12 Hinrunde.
10. Lukas Podolski
Regarded as one of the biggest talents to come out of Germany in the last decade, Lukas Podolski has finally been able to play at a consistently high level, scoring 14 goals and assisting another 4 during the Hinrunde. Prior to this season, the Polish born German international had a personal record of 13 goals in one season, meaning that he already eclipsed his own record just halfway into the season. Much of Podolski’s success can be attributed to Köln’s new coach Ståle Solbakken, who gives Podolski the creative freedom and a free role in his 4-4-2 system. Podolski is an “artist” who would fare well at any big team on earth according to the Norwegian. While many people would dispute that, most people would agree that his left foot may be unrivaled in the league. His good shooting technique and understanding of Solbakken’s system has helped the Köln favorite to play the best Hinrunde of his career as well as Köln’s best first half of the season finish in a decade.
9. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
26 goals in all competitions, 15 goals in 16 Bundesliga matches, a goal every 91 minutes. Suffice to say, Huntelaar has made goal scoring look easy this season. The Dutch striker came to Germany having “failed” to live up to his expectations in Italy and Spain but after an extended settling in period last year, he has come alive and cannot seem to stop putting the ball in the net. Huntelaar has not only taken the pressure off and given Raul more freedom to express himself but he provides Schalke with a consistent goal scorer for the first time since the days of Ebbe Sand. Often labeled as just a “poacher, Huntelaar has, to his credit, expanded his skill set. While mostly operating in the opponent’s box trying to pounce opportunistically, Huntelaar’s reading of the game has improved, as has the variety of his goal scoring. The striker scored 3 goals with his head and 4 with his weaker left foot all while being involved in 64 goal scoring chances. At this rate, Huntelaar is on course to break Klaus Fischer’s record of most Bundesliga goals scored in a single season by a Schalke player, set all the way back in 1976 (29 goals).
8. Mario Gomez
The 26 year-old striker from Riedlingen continues to amaze with the sheer consistency of his goal scoring. In sixteen Bundesliga matches this season, Gomez has scored 16 goals, along with 9 goals in 9 matches in the Cup and Champions League. In the league this year, he has taken 58 shots, with 37 being on target, and added three assists along the way while completing 78% of his passes. What’s more, he has created 79 scoring chances while converting three of four from the spot. “Super Mario” very much continued where he left off after a brilliant 2010/2011 campaign. Although 13 of his 16 Bundesliga goals this season have come against clubs from the bottom half of the table, Gomez demonstrated his pedigree by scoring both goals in Bayern München’s CL win over Manchester City and getting the only goal against FC Zürich in their second leg CL playoff. Currently only Cristiano Ronaldo (21), Lionel Messi (17) and Robin Van Persie (17) have scored more league goals this season amongst Europe’s big five leagues. Even more impressive, Ronaldo has taken 112 shots, RVP 94 and Messi 80, while Gomez’ only needed 58 to get all his goals. Although the poacher’s role is somewhat discredited considering the nature of his goals, the ability to out-position and out-muscle defenders in front of the net and use either foot, head or another part of the body to coolly beat the goalkeeper, remain invaluable skills, and few do it better than Gomez.
7. Bastian Schweinsteiger
If it wasn’t for the serious shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League against Napoli in November, Bayern’s midfield maestro would surely rank higher on our list. Nevertheless, under the reinstated stability of Heynckes, Schweinsteiger has returned to the form that made him one of the worlds best in 2010. Bayern’s dip in form following his absence was affirmation of the midfielder’s influence in the team. Schweinsteiger is dubbed the “Xavi of German football” for a reason. His meticulous passing and metronomic control of games has made him Bayern and Germany’s most important player. The first name written down on Heyncke’s team sheet, Schweinsteiger is the organizer and spiritual leader of the side, always lifting his teammates level of performance and adding a certain level comfort and security others can rely and build on. The 27-year old was very much behind Bayern’s impressive unbeaten run and clean sheets at the start of the season. Equally adept at defending as he is going forward, Schweinsteiger has once again elevated his game and established himself as the heart of Bayern.
6. Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos is becoming the player everyone anticipated since he demonstrated his potential at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup, where he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Now 22, and re-united with Jupp Heynckes, who coached Bayer Leverkusen where Kroos played well on a year and half loan, Kroos’ game is brimming with confidence and achievement. The midfielder has earned his way into the regular Bayern lineup, and is seventh in league minutes played this Hinrunde behind Neuer, Badstuber, Lahm, Müller, Ribery and Gomez. Considering that Kroos was a fringe figure just a couple of months ago, the rate of his progress is quite impressive. Kroos 88% passing accuracy, combined with his ability to win almost 57% of his challenges this Hinrunde point to the maturation of a complete player. He has five assists in league play, and has scored twice in Champions League against Villarreal and Napoli, and also scored for the German NT in friendly matches this fall against Poland and the Ukraine. The maturation of Kroos, particularly defensively, makes him the complete player, and he was chosen recently as the top attacking midfielder in Germany by the publication Kicker. For more on the development of Kroos, click here.
5. Mats Hummels
Good in the air, utilizing brute force in every duel and otherwise a terrible ball player. That is how many would describe a stereotypical German defender. While those stereotypes might be grounded in some reality considering some of the players who have come out of Germany in the past, Mats Hummels very much defies this description and typifies the new breed of German defenders. The Dortmund center back is nearly unbeatable in the air, but he is also an excellent passer of the ball, and has the kind of vision for the game a playmaker would be proud of. Hummels’s passing has very much became a trademark of his game, spraying long balls that often times splits a defense and leads to a goal scoring opportunity for his team. One of the most impressive stats that exhibits how good the centre back is at reading the game is the fact that Hummels has only committed 8 fouls in his 1288 minutes on the pitch so far this season. Hummels is very much the proto type of a modern defender, and has continued as the league’s best defender. The future is very bright for the former Bayern youth product, who has only missed 9 minutes in the first 17 matches of the season.
4. Claudio Pizarro
The 33-year-old Peruvian striker is close to reaching legendary status amongst Werder Bremen fans for his Herculean efforts in the Hinrunde. This season Pizarro has proven to be the player who makes the vital difference in Werder’s many close encounters. The former Bayern and Chelsea player has managed a total of 12 goals and 5 assists, meaning that he has been involved in 17 of Werder’s 30 goals, or roughly 56% of their total output. Amongst Pizarro’s best qualities are his first touch, great movement on and off the ball, excellent passing game and his unrivaled killer instinct in front of goal. Having Pizarro at their disposal is the key factors should Werder Bremen want to stay viable candidates in finishing in a European spot. Pizarro is still able to create goals out of thin air at the end of his career, a testament to his physical perseverance an fitness but also his football brain, which does not seem to have aged at all.
3. Mario Götze
Last season was Götze’s break through year as a footballer as everyone learned his name after the prodigious player helped Dortmund to the league title. As impressive as he was last year, this season might have presented the 19-year-old with his biggest challenge to date in his young career. After Sahin’s departure, it was time for the German international to step up and be a leader in presence and performance, a difficult task for any player, let alone someone in just his second full season as a professional. Despite the increased pressure, Götze has risen to the occasion and put in some of his best performances to date for Dortmund. With 5 goals and 5 assists to his name, Götze has proven that last year was just the beginning of something very special. Reminiscent of Mesut Özil, Götze’s vision and natural talent were evident for all to see as Dortmund made a strong case in being able to defend their title. Highlights of Götze’s season so far include his outstanding performances against Hamburg, Wolfsburg, rivals Schalke and Bayern, where he scored the match winner in München.
2. Franck Ribery
With the shackles of Van Gaal firmly removed, the Frenchman admitted to finally enjoying his football again under Heynckes and that has been evident on the pitch throughout the Hinrunde. In arguably his best half a season of football since his first year with the club, Ribery is fittingly back to his best, taking on and beating defenders, being imaginative with the ball and most importantly, helping Bayern win football matches. When Ribery plays and scores, Bayern rarely lose and that has very much been the case this season. In fact, Bayern won all of their 9 matches this season in which Ribery either scored or assisted a goal. The mercurial winger helped Bayern to one of the most prolific Hinrunde performances in the history of the league, scoring an incredible 43 goals in their 17 matches. With Ribery’s help, Bayern went on an astounding 13 match unbeaten run in all competitions and are on course to reclaim the Bundeslita title. More importantly though, with an in form Ribery, Bayern may very well have the best chance since 2001 at reaching and winning the Champions League final staged at their very own stadium later this year.
1. Marco Reus
Undisputedly the best player of the Hinrunde, Marco Reus has taken the league by storm and just last week earned himself a transfer back to his hometown club, Borussia Dortmund, for the 2012/13 season. Reus started the campaign with a bang, helping his side to a surprise win in München on matchday 1 before starring in the demolition of Wolfsburg, Bremen and rivals Köln before the break. With 10 goals to his name this season Reus has already equaled last season’s total as well as creating 4 others for his teammates, that is 56% of Gladbach’s total output this year. Reus has been involved in a total of 107 goal scoring chances this season. But Reus is much more than a goal scorer. In his new free role behind Mike Hanke, Reus flourished and made best use of his pace, technique and work rate, running defenders ragged and leaving them behind to catch their breath. It would be unjust to label Gladbach a one-man team considering Favre’s great work and his defensive reorganization of the team but it is difficult to imagine Gladbach sitting in a Champions League spot without the performances of Marco Reus.
Dante, Martin Stranzl, Tony Jantschke, William Kvist, Martin Harnik, Daniel van Buyten, Mario Mandzukic, Raffael, Sergio Pinto, Jan Schlaudraff, Firmino, Anatolyi Tymoshchuk