With the Rückrunde already underway, we have 16 more match-days of the Bundesliga before the World Cup in Brazil. Bayern seem to have one hand on the trophy already but the race for the Champions League spots and relegation still has all to play for. However, there are still a group of players playing for mid-to-bottom of the table teams that we should keep an eye on as they could be the key figures that decide the fate of their team and the league in general come May. Here are five players that we should look out for in the second half of the Bundesliga season.
Josip Drmić – 1. FC Nürnberg
With their first win of the season out of the way, a huge weight has been lifted off Der Club‘s shoulders and they can now get their season back on track and fight to avoid relegation. If they are to achieve that feat, it’s quite likely that it will be thanks to goals by Swiss striker Josip Drmić. Drmić, 21-years-old and of Croatian descent, signed for the Franconians in the summer from FC Zürich for a 2.2m€ fee after a productive 2012/2013 season in the Raiffeisen Super League, in which he netted 13 goals in 31 games. Expectations for Drmić have soared this season and the striker already has 8 goals to his name in 17 games and 14 starts. Drmić is a skillful forward with good technical abilities that enjoys taking his marker on and who has an excellent finishing technique, making him a huge danger inside the box. With five out of his eight goals coming away from home, Drmić is a huge asset that can come good for his team when most needed. Der Club‘s hopes rest on him.
Shinji Okazaki – 1. FSV Mainz 05
The 27-year-old Japanese striker signed for Mainz from Stuttgart for 1.5m€ this summer and many felt this was his last roll of the dice to stay in German football. After two and a half years at Stuttgart, his goal tally wasn’t great at 13 goals in 85 matches in all competitions and he spent much of last season sitting on the bench. With Mainz losing striker Ádám Szalai to Schalke in the summer, Okazaki came as a replacement for the Hungarian and has so far exceeded all expectations. He currently boasts 9 goals in the league, two more than his Bundesliga record of 7 set back in 2011/2012 with 9 games less. Thomas Tuchel has once again got Mainz sniffing at the European spots and while the likelihood of them reaching them is complicated, Mainz have become a very interesting team to watch. Okazaki’s excellent finishing is most definitely his greatest skill, scoring in 24% of the chances he creates, a high number compared to some of the league’s top scorers like Robert Lewandowski (16%), Adrián Ramos and Vedad Ibišević (21%), also taking into consideration the difference in the quality of the providers. It will be interesting to see where Okazaki’s goals take Mainz this season but there is no question about his talent being good enough for the Bundesliga.
Ji Dong-Won – FC Augsburg
Just days after his transfer to Borussia Dortmund next summer was confirmed, Dong-Won Ji made his Bundesliga debut this season for Augsburg against his future employers and scored a goal after just two minutes of being on the pitch, which further increased Dortmund’s poor home streak. It’s Ji’s second spell at Augsburg after a successful loan last year from Sunderland, where the South Korean international had not been able to find his feet in the one-and-a-half seasons he played in the Premier League over 30 months. In a league where the Asian market is currently dominated by Japanese players, Ji is one of the six South Koreans playing in the Bundesliga who have Son Heung-Min as their main star. Ji’s height (1.87 m.) is one of his greatest assets as his aerial ability is a permanent threat to defences, as Dortmund was able to experience last weekend. Able to play on the right wing or behind the striker, Ji has in Augsburg a team where he can play without pressure and who are enjoying the best form of their history. No doubt Klopp will be monitoring him carefully.
Ola John – Hamburger SV
Signed on loan from Benfica this Winterpause, the 25-year-old Dutch winger showed what he is capable of in the first half of last weekend’s HSV-Schalke match. Pace, dribbling and directness are his strongest skills, although his end product is most definitely something he can improve on. Nevertheless, that could be down to his recent arrival and little adaptation to the team so far. He gave Atsuto Uchida and Sead Kolašinac a torrid first half on either wing before slowly fading away in the second half, something of little surprise considering the lack of match practice he has under his belt from his time in Portugal this season. In a team whose wingers (Ivo Iličević, Petr Jirácek, Jacques Zoua…) lack any sense of creativity and stand out for their one-dimensional attacking strategies, John’s flair on the wings could help HSV gain some much-needed points and make them more dangerous and less predictable, two of the three biggest problems they have faced this year along with the abysmal defence. As debuts come, John’s was encouraging and he should improve with the more games he plays in.
Artjoms Rudņevs – Hannover 96
After a decent maiden season with HSV in 2012/2013 in which he managed to score 12 goals, Rudņevs’ appearances this season were few and far between, mostly cameos off the bench with little time to make an impact on the game. The signings of Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Jacques Zoua in the summer added competition to the 26-year-old Latvian, who made just the one Bundesliga start and who scored just two goals, albeit in the DFB Pokal against Oberliga side Schott Jena. Therefore, a move in January was on the cards and Hannover paid HSV 300.000€ for 6 months of his services in early January. Rudņevs’ debut for his new club could not have gone any better, opening the scoring against Wolfsburg in a 3-1 away victory. Rudņevs is a powerful striker and a good header of the ball who should complement Mame Biram Diouf well in the H96 attack. With capable providers such as Leonardo Bittencourt, Jan Schlaudraff, Szabolcs Huszti and Edgar Prib, he should have plenty of service to make an impact in Hannover’s Rückrunde. With his loan up at the end of the season, Rudņevs has 16 matches to earn himself a future in the Bundesliga, since his future at HSV is not looking too rosy, and Hannover may just be the perfect club for him to do so, as Tayfun Korkut’s new appointment as manager might be the spark they needed to reignite their season.
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