2. Bundesliga’s 20 Brightest Talents: Part IV

Here’s the final part of our series featuring the 20 biggest talents in the 2. Bundesliga.

In case you missed them or would like to revisit them: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Kevin Kraus (22) – 1. FC Heidenheim

The newly promoted side Heidenheim are currently playing some of the finest football in the second tier. Their central defender Kevin Kraus has been one of the reasons for their splendid start to the season. After his stint at Eintracht Frankfurt II and Greuther Fürth Kraus had mostly played for the two clubs Under 23 sides, but after joining Frank Schmidt’s side he started to get the chance to compete at a higher level. At first he managed to break into a side which played some of the finest football in the third division upon joining them on a half year loan deal in January 2014. The deal was made permanent and Kraus managed to keep hold of his place, putting in some of the finest defensive performances in the second tier.

1 goal and 1 assist isn’t a bad stat for a defender, but after his first seven matches in the second tier there’s little doubt that he is the rock in Heidenheim’s defence. His passing is excellent, he’s strong in the air and on the ground and has decent pace. Kraus might not be the sort of player who may join Bayern München one day, but he is certainly a candidate to join a mid-table Bundesliga club 2 or 3 years from now.

Rani Khedira (20) – RB Leipzig

Yes, Sami’s little brother.

But NO, definitely not just Sami’s little brother.

The RB Leipzig squad currently finding plenty of success in 2. Bundesliga is largely the same as the one that ripped through 3. Liga last season, with the primary exception being the arrival of Khedira from VfB Stuttgart directly into a regular role in the Leipzig midfield.

Whether Rani can reach the same heights as his older brother, who has both a World Championship and a Champions League title among his 2014 collection alone, will always be part of any discussion about the latest Khedira-family entry into the world of professional German football, but the younger brother has already established himself as deserving of his own reputation, having started each of RB’s 13 league and two cup matches as a pivotal figure in one of the 2. Bundesliga’s top two defenses with just nine goals conceded to date. Quick passing of the ball between the back four and defensive midfielders as the squad moves forward in possession is a key component to Leipzig’s game, which puts Khedira and his strong running abilities right in the center of a lot of the action.

Yet, all Khedira can say about his play is a common lament of a footballing perfectionist, “I must get better, wing even more balls, create chances, and score goals.”

And if you’ve seen him work, you won’t worry so much about whether the younger Khedira is going to play like his famous brother, rather whether he’ll be as good as he intends to be.

Yussuf Poulsen (20) – RB Leipzig

The inclusion of Poulsen on this list has to be the all-time most-obvious pick of all time . . . assuming you’ve seen him play.

Poulsen’s talent, size, and speed are undeniable, even for the many who despise RB Leipzig.

Worse news for the haters? Poulsen’s not yet completely put his game together.

Despite the young Dane’s presence near the top of the goal-scoring table, his six goals hardly shine a bright light on how many chances he creates with his speed and visibility. Poulsen seems preternaturally drawn to the right spot to be a target for teammates. It helps, of course, that he’s 1.93 meters tall (and has really cool hair). Should Poulsen develop more of a finishing touch as he matures, the way many scorers do, expect to be hearing this kid’s name often in the Bundesliga news, whether it’s as a goal-scoring machine or as a heavily pursued transfer target.

Kevin Stöger (21) – 1. FC Kaiserslautern

The young German is equally comfortable playing wide or in the central attacking midfield position. Last summer, Stöger joined the club, on a 2 year loan, from VFB Stuttgart. However, he didn’t make his league debut until the final month of the season and the player admitted that he was looking cut his loan deal short as he was getting frustrated at his lack of first team opportunities. Even so, Stöger made a big impression in the final month of the season, he scored a superb goal against Dynamo Dresden and impressed with his eloquent distribution and composure when on the ball.

Kostas Runjaic clearly saw enough in the player that he decided not to end the loan deal and Stöger has already repaid that faith in the opening month of this season. The player had an excellent 45 minute cameo, against 1860 Munich, in which he helped turn the game on its head and lead a 10 men Kaiserslautern to a 3-2 win, from 2-0 down. Since then, Stöger has started all but 1 game, contributing 1 goal and 1 assist and putting in some excellent performances in this time. If Stöger continues to play to such a high level, it will prove difficult for Kaiserslautern to convince Stuttgart to part with the player on a permanent basis but there is no doubt in my mind that Stöger will be playing Bundesliga football within the next 2 seasons.

Christian Gartner (20) – Fortuna Düsseldorf

The 20 year old Austrian has long been touted for success, in his homeland, after making his debut, for Bundesliga outfit SV Mattersburg, just 1 month after his 17th birthday. It took him another 2 seasons before he fully established himself in the senior side but the central midfielder made such a big impression that Fortuna Düsseldorf, then a Bundesliga side, came calling. After 3 months with the club, Gartner finally made his debut in Mike Büskens penultimate game in charge of the club but he made enough of an impression that he started every game that Oliver Reck took charge of that season. Gartner has established himself as a big part of a Fortuna side, with he and Sergio Pinto impressing in the “double six” positions. Gartner has played at every youth level for Austria and he is expected to receive a senior call up in the near future. Gartner’s ability to read the game and great passing range makes him a valuable asset to the team and whether it be with Fortuna or another team, expect to see Gartner playing at a higher level, sooner or later.

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