We kick off our list of the Bundesliga’s Top 25 best performers during 2014/15 with a former Chelsea striker who had the best season of his career, a defender who is leaving the Bundesliga, a midfielder whose performances have improved after Roger Schmidt took over at Leverkusen, and two (of many!) Foals.
25. Franco di Santo (Werder Bremen)
After largely disappointing time during his spell in England with Chelsea, Blackburn and Wigan, Argentine striker Di Santo really seems to have found a home in Bremen and enjoyed his best goal-scoring season hitting 14 goals in total for the Grün-Weißen.
While Werder were woeful in defence for large parts of the 2014/15 campaign, they had no such worries in attack with the 26-year-old the go-to-guy on numerous occasions.
Of his 14 goals, the pick surely had to be his strike against SC Freiburg on matchday 24 during Werder’s 1-0 win. Controlling a right-wing cross inside the penalty area, he turned towards goal and netted an outrageous curling effort into the top corner from the left-hand edge of the box.
He bagged three in his first four games this season as well as braces against both Mainz and Hertha Berlin. At one point this term he’d scored 12 in 18, which was just one less than he managed in all his 92 appearances for Wigan.
As well as providing an experienced foil for youngster Davie Selke, Di Santo provided the focal point for Werder in attack as the North Germans remarkably pushed for a Europa League berth in the Rückrunde.
The only down side for Werder following his impressive season is the fact that clubs from the Bundesliga, Spain, Italy, England and Holland are all reportedly interested in signing the striker. Borussia Mönchengladbach have denied transfer rumours, but Werder no doubt will have plenty of other suitors to fight off this summer. (Mathew Burt)
24. Kevin Wimmer (1. FC Köln)
Kevin Wimmer’s defensive prowess was well-known in the Köln area from his anchoring the central defense in the FC’s record-setting 2. Bundesliga title run in 2013-14. The Billy Goats returned to the Bundesliga on the strength of having allowed the fewest goals ever in a full second-league season.
But it takes doing such things on a much bigger stage to catch the attention of clubs traditionally fighting at the top of the English Premiership table, such as Tottenham Hotspur, who were sold on Wimmer as part of their future well before Köln set a new Bundesliga record, with nine scoreless draws in a season.
Wimmer, naturally, was not the only constant between the successful pair defense-led seasons for Köln, but he was the most-consistent outfield player on a back line that established early its reputation for organization, positioning, and well-timed tackles. He missed only one match in the fight to stay in the league, and that due to suspension. Otherwise, Wimmer provided a constant flow of strong 90-minute performances that served as the bedrock to coach Peter Stöger’s strategy. (Randall G. Hauk)
23. Gonzalo Castro (Bayer Leverkusen)
He’s been at Bayer Leverkusen since he was 12-years old, but Gonzalo Castro will hardly have had a better season for the Werkself. Such has been the level of his performances this season that there was no shortage of suitors willing to activate a clause in his contract allowing him to move for €11 million a year
before his current deal expires. Borussia Dortmund won the race for the 27-year-old making him the club’s first acquisition of the Thomas Tuchel era.
This season with Leverkusen has seen the versatile midfielder as one of the club’s most consistent performers with Roger Schmidt’s side fighting it out for a Champions League spot for the majority of the campaign. Although a fourth place finish means a play-off will be required, Castro for one can be more than satisfied with his personal contribution.
He’s made 22 league appearances, scoring two goals and providing nine assists. He added five appearances in the Champions League. While not the spectacular, headline-grabbing player, the fact that Bayern coach Pep Guardiola was reported as expressing his respect for the player and the versatility he brings.
The word ‘versatile’ sometimes means ‘doesn’t really excel in any position’, but in Castro’s case, it’s very much a case of a player well-schooled in across a number of positions. His absence was sorely felt when he had a time on the sidelines with a meniscus injury.
The one-club man, looks an ideal, ready-made replacement should Dortmund part company with Ilkay Gundogan. Either way, Castro will be a huge asset to BVB and great loss for Leverkusen. (Mathew Burt)
22. Tony Jantschke (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
The Foals’ 25 year old German rightback had a breakout season, appearing 31 times (bettered only by keeper Yann Sommer) for the sensational Foals. He’s the best Foal you’ve never noticed, since his invaluable service isn’t obvious to detect. After all, he only scored one goal and had zero assists, yet as a non-creator rightback, he still created 13 chances.
However, accurate forward-minded passing was Jantschke’s most valuable attacking contributions. He averaged over 60 passes a game with an 87% completion rate, which is impressive considering that over 70% of his passes were forward balls, routing the Foals’ attack on. Without Jantschke’s passing magic, many a Herrmann/Kruse/Raffael counter-attack never happened.
Defensively, Jantschke held down his flank by averaging over 5 clearances a match – a high tally – along a couple interceptions at match. This awareness meant he didn’t resort to desperate tackling. However, when Jantschke did get physical, he won a large majority of his aerials and take-ons. A defensive bedrock for Gladbach. Given the national team’s needs at rightback, Jogi Löw has been put on alert. (Travis Timmons)
21. Martin Stranzl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Mönchengladbach’s veteran central defender had a dominant season in helping lift die Fohlen to their long-awaited return to top European through his dependably formidable presence for the league’s second-stingiest defense.
Though the 34-year-old Austrian missed the final eight match days due to injury, he finished the season as the league leader, having won 75% of his individual duels and 80% of his aerial battles. ‘Gladbach lost just one of 19 matches in which Stranzl played, surrendering just nine goals in those matches. Contrast that with the five losses and 17 goals conceded in the remaining 15 matches, and you get the picture of Stranzl as an indispensable fixture in Lucien Favre’s defensive game plan. (Randall G. Hauk)
Ready to move to players 20-16 of our annual countdown? Then click through to part two!