We here at Bundesliga Fanatic enjoy lists and the banter they inspired as much as anyone else. To that end, we’ve taken the opportunity to fill a bit of the winter-break void with our choices for the top 20 players of the Hinrunde, which we will unveil in four installments of five players to help carry you to next Friday night’s Rückrunde start.
Our second installment includes FC Augsburg’s anything-to-win keeper, Leverkusen’s steal from Dortmund, the motor that keeps Mainz’ M&M machine rolling, ‘Gladbach’s enthusiastic captain, and one of the Bundesliga’s biggest social-media stars.
If you missed part one, get caught up with numbers 20-16 before scrolling down!
15. Marwin Hitz
The Swiss international seems to make headlines whatever he goes. Last season, he scored a spectacular last-minute goal to save team a point against Leverkusen. This season, he enraged the entire city of Cologne by destroying the patch of the pitch where Anthony Modeste’s plant foot would slip while taking his penalty. Hitz saved the shot and caused an outrage that was heard all around the world.
Putting that particular cheap trick aside, one has to say that the Augsburg goalie is playing a rather brilliant season so far. He has kept out 72% of all shots coming his way and kept five clean sheets to his credit. Not a bad stat for a goalkeeper who has been playing behind a defence that has been struggling for most of the season. Of is 67 saves this season, six denied goals on clear-cut chances.
14. Kevin Kampl
Ah, the comfort of Fußball familiarity. After a flat half-season in Dortmund, Kampl rejoined his old Austrian boss, Roger Schmidt, at Bayer Leverkusen. Sporting the Bundesliga’s most distinctive platinum wheat-stock ‘do, Kampl has emerged under Schmidt’s coaching as one of the league’s swiftest and most-aggressive midfielders.
At Leverkusen, Kampl seems much more at home as a deeper holding-ish midfielder, responsible for stopping opponents through tackles, interceptions, or pocket-picking. However, the young Slovenian makes even more-significant contributions with his dribbling abilities and (surprisingly) his function as a passing cog/relay in setting-up Leverkusen attacks. Kampl attempts about 49 passes per match, of which 80% are completed – a fine rate given the frenetic nature of Schmidt’s attacking schemes. Moreover, because of his ball-handling abilities, Kampl participates regularly in the final-third with key passes and movement. This season, Mr. Platinum Hair is becoming one of the Bundesliga’s box-to-box finest.
13. Yunus Malli
Rumblings about the young Malli’s name began last season. This season, his name has joined the mainstream as a legitimate Bundesliga star. At the Winterpause, Malli has scored a club-leading eight goals (35% of Mainz 05’s goals), including a hat-trick performance against Hoffenheim. However, Malli doesn’t only score goals, he helps create them. Despite having only one assist, Malli leads his club with about 1.5 key passes per match; meanwhile, his club-leading 2.2 dribbles per match surely spark the final-third movement and positioning that have led teammates Argentinian Pablo De Blasis and Japanese Yoshinori Muto to strong attacking performances.
Although Malli’s passing decision-making (his completion rate is a relatively paltry 73%) and defensive contributions need improving, the 23-year-old is the linchpin behind Mainz’s surprisingly dangerous “attack of the little men.” After all, M05 sit at a well-deserved eighth in the table. Malli’s dribbling skillset and shooting abilities mean that defenses must always tightly mark him, allowing the likes of De Blasis and Muto to menace.
12. Granit Xhaka
Whether it’s due to his hard, physical style or his penchant for making plays he has to know will get him booked, Bundesliga fans have long known that “Granit” sounds like the appropriate first name for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s hard-headed and granite-willed defensive midfielder.
As crucial as Xhaka’s play has been to the rise of the Foals since beginning the season with five consecutive losses, it may be the Swiss international’s elevation to team captain that has most-greatly altered the overall posture of his team. Xhaka took the armband when Andre Schubert arrived to replace departed Lucien Favre, and there has been no looking back. His most-notable leadership moment came the week leading to the Foals’ match against Bayern, when he would not stop talking about how his team would not cower before the league leaders and that anyone can be beaten. On the Tuesday before the match, it seemed like little more than cheeky bluster. Once ‘Gladbach had handed Bayern their first loss of the season by a 3:1 margin, you had to just admire Xhaka’s nerves of steel . . . or granite, as it were.
11. David Alaba
On social media, he may be known as the guy who takes pictures of Franck Ribery sleeping, but fun social-media persona aside, David Alaba is one of the best players currently playing in the Bundesliga. The 23-year-old Austrian is flexible, able to play both in the centre of midfield and on the left side both in attack and defence. Guardiola has used that flexibility to his advantage time and time again, often giving Alaba a free-range role that was difficult to figure out for the opponent.
Alaba’s strong points include his excellent understanding of how the game is evolving around him, his sweet passing skills, and a great defensive mindset (not that he needs it that often, given that he’s playing for Bayern). All in all, the Austrian is one of the most-complete players the Bundesliga has to offer and one of the best players on the left wing in Europe (if not the best).
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