Team of the Week – Match Day 24

Another week, another Bayern Munich record being set.  Their win against Hoffenheim set a new league record for most clean sheets in wins and most away wins in a single season.  While Bayern’s unstoppable run continues, both Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen kept up with wins over Hannover and Stuttgart while Augsburg continue to claw their way out of the relegation zone. Schalke were the biggest winners of the day with their first away win in months while Freiburg needed a late goal to salvage a point in Nürnberg.

Goalkeeper

Wolfgang Hesl – The 27-year-old has been in great form for weeks now and was at it again in Hamburg. With points hard to come by in the relegation dogfight, every point will matter for Fürth and Hesl is working wonders in the net for die Franken.  Hesl, who was up against his old club, saved seven of the eight shots directed at him.  He was helpless on Beister’s goal but otherwise, he kept his team in the game as well as any goalkeeper in the league could have.

Defenders

Kevin Grosskreutz – No, this is not an editorial error. You might even find him at striker or in goal in the future. Grosskreutz is Dortmund’s great utility player, having played at left-back, in central midfield and, against Hannover, at right-back for the absent Piszczek. He used his energy well to get up and down the right throughout the game and assisted both of Lewandowski’s goals. With fatigue slowly starting to creep up on Dortmund, Klopp will be relieved to have a player like Grosskreutz around who can fill in anywhere, anytime.

Marco Höger – Another one of the league’s most versatile players.  Höger started at right-back against Wolfsburg and moved into central midfield after Neustädter went off at the break.  Still, he managed to assist a goal in each position and was a big part in Schalke’s best performance in months. It was Schalke’s first away win since October and their biggest win of the season. Höger was their best passer and won 15 duels, an excellent overall performance.

Jonathan Schmid – The third player who normally doesn’t play in defense but had to out of circumstance, Schmid’s cameo at right-back at the weekend was fantastic. He was strong in the tackle, defensively disciplined and always found time to get forward and support his team.  Most importantly, he got the all important equalizer at the end to salvage the result and keep Freiburg’s run for Europe going.

Ragnar Klavan – Augsburg are slowly but surely pulling off the impossible.  After an impressive run of form since the turn of the year came their biggest win of the season yet against Bremen. A big part of that has been their improved defense and they needed to be especially on their game against a dangerous Bremen.  Klavan matched Bremen’s attack pace for pace and brought a great sense of composure in the back line.  If they survive the drop, this performance could be looked back at as a key turning point.

Per Nilsson – It would be unfair to omit Nürnberg’s Swedish defender this weeek.  Despite going off injured in the 77th minute, he was the best player on the pitch by quite a margin.  He won 14 of his 15 duels prior to his injury and held off Freiburg’s dangerous attackers.  The fact that Nürnberg conceded after he came off also speaks of his influence in that defense.  Either way, the 30-year-old had a fantastic outing.

Midfielders

Julian Draxler – Draxler himself said after their win against Wolfsburg that it was his best performance in a Schalke jersey.  He’s not far off either.  Draxler is really starting to come into his own in his new position behind the striker. Against Wolfsburg he scored twice and set up another in their biggest win of the season and their first on the road since October. In the middle, Draxler thrives on the space to use his strong shot and his inherent playmaking skills which were limited out wide.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – Another standout performance from Bayern’s midfield maestro.  Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes was in full praise following his excellent display midweek against Dortmund and against Hoffenheim, Schweinsteiger was again at his absolute best.  He won almost 80% of his duels, a match-high 21 duels won, and should have had two goals after hitting the post twice.

Jermaine Jones – He doesn’t quite get the recognition of others in his position because of his aggressive nature as a player but at his best, there are few defensive midfielders in the league more effective than him.  Against Wolfsburg, Jones was, alongside Draxler, the best player on the pitch.  He won a match-high 19 duels and was a relentless workhorse in midfield.  His link up play is also improving considerably and distributed the ball well to Farfan and Draxler.

Forwards

Robert Lewandowski – The Polish striker becomes the first Dortmund player since Manfred Burgsmüller in 1981 to score in six consecutive matches.  Even more amazing is the fact that he has been directly involved in 38 goals in 33 games for Dortmund this season.  His finishes against Hannover weren’t the most difficult but Lewandowski does well to always get himself into the best possible positions to score. Going by his record and his performance, it’s obvious why the hype surrounding him is so pronounced.

Stefan Kiessling – A player who will never quite get the same attention as a player like Lewandowski but who has arguably been just as important to his team, if not more.  For much of the match, Kiessling was marked well by Stuttgart’s Tasci but when it mattered most, Kiessling really stepped up and delivered as he has so often this season. He stepped up and converted the penalty to equalize and played a part in the game winning goal, completing Leverkusen’s impressive comeback. That’s 12 goals now in the last 8 games against Stuttgart for Kiessling.

Coach of the Week

Jens Keller – Often criticized and never quite given the benefit of the doubt, Keller hasn’t had it easy since taking over for Huub Stevens but things finally seem to be turning the corner. Against Wolfsburg, they ended a streak of seven games without a win on the road and are now unbeaten in their last four competitive games. It’s also the first time the club has won back to back games under Keller.  They’re back in sixth place now and for the first time since their win over rivals Dortmund, Schalke fans can smile optimistically.  And just in time for the Ruhr derby…

Honorable Mentions

Mohamed Amsif, Sven Ulreich, Dante, Sokratis, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Marco Caligiuri, Fallou Diagne, Antonio Rüdiger, Serdar Tasci, Timmy Simons, Andreas Lambertz, Javi Martinez, Daniel Williams, Alex Bellinghausen, Markus Feulner, Julian Schuster, Gonzalo Castro, Lars Bender, Jefferson Farfan, Maximilian Beister

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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