Part III of our list features one of the bargain transfers of the season, one of Europe’s best center-backs, the leagues’ best newcomer, the best 40 million Euros ever spent by a Bundesliga club and arguably football’s best fullback.
See the rest of the list here.
15. Mario Mandzukic
He may not be the league’s leading goalscorer or consistently put away every chance that comes his way, but this season for Bayern, Mandzukic was one of the big difference makers and a key part of their treble-winning campaign. How can you improve your striker department when you have a guy who can score 40 goals a season? Well, you really can’t. But you can improve the overall efficiency of the team and change how it operates under different circumstances That’s exactly what Bayern and Heynckes had in mind when they brought in Manduzkic from Wolfsburg last summer.
Bayern lost goals from their striker by replacing Gomez with Mandzukic, but what they lost they made up in spades with the Croatian. For one, Bayern’s pressing game become a prominent feature of their play – and their success. As such, Mandzukic was the team’s first line of defense and crucial in helping win the ball back and putting pressure on opposing defenses. His intense work rate and continuous mobility offered Bayern a new dimension while also increasing output of the players around him. He was also amongst the match and team leaders in terms of challenges contested and won and recovered balls as if he was a midfielder.
Ribery, Müller and Robben all thrived because of how well Manduzkic brought them into the game. Individually, Mandzukic also had his best ever season in terms of goals, 22 in all competitions. Despite that, Mandzukic always remained humble and put the team above everything else. Heynckes even offered him one of his old goalscoring awards but as we can all predict, Mario turned it down.
14. Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund
For many other players, occupying the 14th slot of a top 25 players list is great news, but perhaps not for Mats Hummels. 2012/13 was a bit of a disappointment for the Dortmund centerback, who many consider to be one of Europe’s – and the World’s – best defenders. Hummels missed around a month with torn ankle ligaments, as well as a knock before the Champions League. So health was an issue for Hummels this season. He was also caught looking awkward defensively this season more than we’re accustomed to seeing from Hummels: ball-watching, exposed positioning, and missed tackles. Regardless of a slightly disappointing 2012/13, however, Hummels would still be a lock to start on almost any starting XI in the world as a centerback.
From a technical standpoint, Hummels still produced some good numbers this season: successful on 79% of tackles, successful on 63% of take-ons, successful on 61% of aerial duels. Hummels also sustained his reputation as one of the premier passing centerbacks in the world, as he completed 83% of his passes and finished 3rd on his team in passing volume. Most importantly, Hummels creeps high up to the midfield circle from where he distributes the ball like a midfielder (indeed, he played defensive midfielder as a youth). Hummels ability to quickly track back on defense allows him to make these midfield forays, as well as his ability to precisely time tackle and blocks.
Don’t let the vividness effect of Arjen Robben leaping over Mats’ leg to score the Champions League final winner fool you. Hummels is still one of the world’s best defenders and a healthy 2013/14 would only cement his reputation further in this regard.
13. Max Kruse – SC Freiburg
The just-concluded Bundesliga season has been a fateful one for attacking midfielder Max Kruse. His performance earned him a ticket to the United States, where he represented Germany well, earning a goal and an assist in the national team’s friendlies with Ecuador and the USMNT. Kruse also found himself a recipient of a four-year contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach beginning next season, where he will try to lead the Foals to Europe, as he did with SC Freiburg this season.
Kruse continued his growth as an attacking force under Freiburg Coach Christian Streich. Acquired from St. Pauli following a 2011/2012 2. Bundesliga season in which the midfielder scored 13 goals with 6 assists, Kruse proved at Freiburg that he could put up similar numbers in the first division, netting 11 times while providing 7 assists for the Breisgau-Brazilians. The 25 year-old displayed versatility in his goalscoring, netting 7 times from his left foot, 3 from his right and scoring once on a headed ball.
Moreover, Kruse displayed durability, playing in every Freiburg league match and starting all but one. He created 199 scoring chances, took 80 shots and completed over 80% of his pass attempts while drawing only one yellow card in 2948 minutes on the pitch. Gladbach coach Lucien Favre will welcome the attacking abilities, technical skills and versatility, along with reliability, that Kruse will bring to his new club and hopefully consider the estimated 2.5 million transfer fee one of the great bargains of the offseason.
12. Javi Martínez – Bayern München
Martínez became the most expensive Bundesliga player in history when Bayern signed him for 40m€ from Athletic Bilbao last summer. The Spanish holding midfielder, being part of Spain’s World Cup and Euro Cup double winning side, albeit in a secondary role, had become one of the most coveted properties in Europe, also thanks to his excellent campaign in Europe with Athletic last season, but yet some deemed the price Bayern paid to be too high.
His success this season has, in no small part, been thanks to Jupp Heynckes and the way he slowly but surely introduced him into the side in order for the Navarran player to adapt to German football. It wasn’t until November that Martínez made that holding midfielder role his alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger his own, but his style of play allowed Schweinsteiger to focus on his creative role, which has been highly beneficial for Bayern this season. His ability to defend without the ball and his excellent ball-playing skills have justified Bayern’s investment in him, as he is surely to improve next season as his adaptation continues to grow.
11. Philipp Lahm – Bayern München
Bayern’s captain has been regarded as one of the world’s best full backs for a long time now. The 29-year-old was an integral part of the puzzle which saw Bayern München claim the triple as the first German team in the history of the Bundesliga.
Lahm’s cool, calm and collected style of play has long been his trademark. His positional awareness and his ability to be at the right place at the right time have been shining through all season. The positional awareness has allowed Lahm to average as few as 0.4 fouls per match in the Bundesliga. Bayern’s captain has truly led his team by example this season.
And whilst the team Lahm has been playing for since he was little boy have broken all sorts of records this season, the right back himself managed to set a few personal records of his own, most notably in terms of assists: 11 assists is a personal record for Lahm, making him 8th on the list of the best providers in the Bundesliga.
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