Top 25 Bundesliga Players 2011/12 (15-11)

Next up on our countdown of the season’s best performers is a group of some of the most familiar and recognizable faces in the Bundesliga over the years.  It includes a football icon in his own right, a record breaking striker, a player with one of the great comeback stories this season, a local hero and one of the up and coming stars of the league.  See the rest of our countdown here.

15. Raul

In what proved to be his last season in the Bundesliga the Spanish Legend only reaffirmed why he was so long considered a football legend and also why he will be so sorely missed, by both Schalke and Bundesliga fans alike.  Already endeared to Schalke supporters for his phenomenal first season with the club, he didn’t skip a beat this season in showing his value for the Gelsenkirchen-based club at the ripe age of 34 and improving on his memorable first season. Continuing his role as the forward and playmaker behind Huntelaar, Raul inspired Schalke to a Champions League spot while managing to better last season’s 13 goals and 5 assists with 15 goals and 6 assists. More than that he served as the talisman and on-field leader in the absence of Benedikt Höwedes and the departure of Manuel Neuer.

The question now remains just how coach Huub Stevens will replace the Spanish forward considering how influential he has been in two of Schalke’s best ever seasons. It was beneficial for players like Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby to be understudies to Raul but yet no visible signs were made during his spell at the club that there were any alternatives – perhaps indicative of just how irreplaceable he truly was.  It is hard to imagine Huntelaar’s record breaking season without Raul’s great service behind him, something the Dutch striker readily admitted to this season and a testament to his value as a player.

14. Sebastian Kehl

After Nuri Sahin’s departure, one of Dortmund’s key players last season and arguably the leauge’s best, many questions were raised whether Klopp would have to re-adjust in order to maintain Dortmund’s momentum without disturbing its free-flowing football. Injured for most of last season, the side’s veteran and captain stepped in and proved to be a perfect addition and successor in midfield. His experience and drive almost served as an iron-willed reminder that this side had what it took to go on and repeat the success of last season. Moreover it was his ability to partner Bender, Gündogan, and Leitner on different occasions, that showed his consistency & versatility and formed the tactical core of this record-breaking side.

With Dortmund’s phenomenal second season behind us now, questions will again be asked if Klopp’s men can repeat the herculean task of winning yet another championship, something no side has managed to achieve other than Bayern since the 1970’s.  With the inevitable departure of yet another key player in Shinjji Kagawa it will certainly seem even more difficult but if captain and leader Sebastian Kehl can remain fit, it doesn’t seem unlikely.

13. Lars Bender

A player with the face of an angel and the engine of a tank, Lars Bender has quickly gone from Bundesliga newcomer to one of the most complete players in the league.  The departure of Arturo Vidal left an unimaginable gap in Leverkusen’s midfield, figuratively and literally.  Rolfes’ inconsistency was a poor substitue, Ballack’s feud with coach Robin Dutt only added tension and Reinartz was moved between defense and midfield so much it even obscured the role for the player.  Up stepped Lars Bender.  Considered the more offensive and well rounded of the Bender brothers, his ability to join the attack coupled with his great anticipation and tackling made him the ideal replacement for the box to box role Vidal filled admirably for so many years.

In a season plagued with injuries, off pitch drama and on field disappointments, Lars Bender was one of the few redeeming and consistent parts at Bayer Leverkusen.  Despite the increased pressure, participation in multiple competitions and and consistently changing squad, Bender was the perfect model of professionalism and performance, never relenting, never giving up and always driving his team forward.  Bender also improved considerably going forward and pitched in with 4 goals and 3 assists of his own.  He completed an impressive 85% of his 1167 passes and won nearly 60% of his duels.  At season’s end he was rewarded with an inclusion in Joachim Löw’s provisional squad for the EUROs.  It was nothing less than he deserved.

12 Claudio Pizarro

What would Werder Bremen have done without Claudio Pizarro for the last couple of seasons? Most Bremen fans would prefer not to ponder the answer. The Peruvian international has once again been instrumental in the River islanders attack this season, providing 18 goals and 5 assists in a difficult season for the club: Werder Bremen has scored 49 goals this season, Pizarro was involved in roughly 47% of all of Werder Bremen’s goals, a truly remarkable statistic.

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. 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. More impressive than anything else perhaps is the importance of the goals he scores.  His goals alone have earned Bremen 14 points this season, without which the club would have been in the relegation zone.  The much dreaded question of how Werder Bremen will fare without Pizarro is going to be answered next season. The Peruvian has chosen to leave Werder after the 2011/12 season, leaving a huge hole in the current Werder outfit.

11. Lukas Podolski

It is more than ironic that FC  Köln attacker Lukas Podolski had his best Bundesliga season during a campaign in which he played under a manager that stripped him of his captaincy and was dismissed with four games left in the season.  Additionally, Podolski flirted with EPL side Arsenal in the winter transfer window and later saw his beloved Billy Goats demoted to 2. Bundesliga. Podolski knocked in 18 goals during the 2011/2012 campaign, 17 of which came from his lethal left foot.  He started 28 matches and was subbed in just once, playing over 2500 minutes while completing over 80% of his passes, creating 138 offensive chances for the Billy Goats and providing seven assists in the process.  Prinz Poldi was more often than not the only consistent attacking threat for the club, and was a perfect 3 for 3 from the penalty spot.

There always hovered a cloud of skepticism over Podolski ever since his disappointing time with Bayern in which only scored 15 goals in 71 league games. His return to Köln signaled a new dawn for the player though and the potential that was always there finally blossomed this past season. A more mature, determined and intelligent footballer basically carried Köln this season and despite being unable to keep his club up, he went out playing his best ever football for the club. All eyes will be on Prinz Pold in June at the Euros and again in August when he debuts for the Gunners and if this season is any indicator then we can expect quite a few goals from that famous left foot.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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