Team of the Week – Matchday 9 – Where is the middle class?

Only four games ending with two or more goals meant a 19 goal total on Matchday Nine of the Bundesliga, as the New World Order continued its reign. Thanks to Rune Jarstein, the crossbar and some timely clearances, Hertha only lost to Hoffenheim 1-0, becoming the only team out of the top 10 to taste defeat. Nagelsmannia, Rasenballsport and Modeste all continued to trend upwards, while Freiburg (finally an away win!), Mainz and Leverkusen all earned convincing victories, outshooting their opponents 48 to 25 combined. We also saw a vintage Robbendowski performance and a boring goalless derby (Frankfurt vs Gladbach) and a decent one in the Ruhr valley. Another interesting development in recent weeks that continued is the disappearance of the Bundesliga’s middle class: There are eleven teams within 3 points of the Europa League and Schalke are quickly ascending to make it a dozen. On the other hand, the bottom six – Augsburg, Darmstadt, Werder, Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt and Hamburg have four combined wins in the last six weeks with HSV and FCI below the poverty line (wins). Rather than taking this analogy further into a pointless and potentially disastrous political direction (see #MURICA) let’s get to our Team of the Week and meet our performers:

Rune Jarstein – Hertha BSC
Basically the only choice here, as he made two absolutely massive saves to keep Hertha from conceding goals two and three. The stop on Sandro Wagner was brilliant and caused the former BSC man to take his frustration out on the post, while Andrej Kramaric has got to be wondering how on Earth he did not get his fourth goal of the season after the Norwegian flummoxed him. hofi
FYI Hertha BSC, perhaps Fabian Lustenberger to Rune Jarstein being the most common passing combo (12x) isn’t ideal….


Niklas Süle – Hoffenheim got on the end of a great far post delivery from a Kerem Demirbay set piece to score his first Bundesliga goal of the season. The heir apparent to the Hummels/Boateng duo had three shots, four aerials, 73 touches and four clearances while his team held Hertha to just five shots. He and Benjamin Hübner also deserve credit for limiting Vedad Ibisevic to just 26 touches in 79 minutes, and limiting BSC to just four chances created despite making 111 attacking third passes. herch

Naldo – Schalke has had a rough start to his career with the Royal Blues, as early season individual mistakes contributed to his team’s dreadful start. Yet, the veteran Brazilian has eliminated those costly errors, and as a result both his play and his team’s defense improved in recent weeks. The 33-year-old earned man of the match awards in the Revierderby against Dortmund as the last line of defense in the 3-5-2. When his teammates like Leon Goretzka, Johannes Geis, Benedikt Höwedes and Sead Kolasinac who combined for 13 tackles and 17 interceptions got beat, Naldo and Nastasic were there to clear the ball, with the Brazilian succeeding nine times to the Serbian’s six. I mean even TJ Maxx doesn’t have this kind of success with clearances!


Alexander Hack – Mainz is a guy I first noticed after his impressive performance in the 2-1 win against Bayern last season. The 23-year-old who is still on the FSV II roster in the Dritte Liga and has made 66 appearances for the reserves and ended up with seven starts for Martin Schmidt last year. Ten aerials won, six interceptions and four clearances (including one from the goal line) were exactly what you need from a central defender versus a team like Ingolstadt who lead the Bundesliga with 25.2 aerials won per game and are second in long balls per game with 78. hackairhack

AIR Hack winning 78% of his aerial duels is probably the biggest reason why Schmidt started him ahead of more experience CBs such as Niko Bungert, Andre Ramalho and Leon Balogun and boy did it pay off!!


Another Mainz reserve teamer, Suat Serdar was even better: with 8 tackles won and five interceptions, the 19-year-old was a defensive presence, but four dribbles, two key passes means that he got involved quite well on offense. The loss of Julian Baumgartlinger, injuries to Danny Latza (yet to play this season after tearing his abductor in July) and Fabian Frei have given him a chance to fill in next to summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin and the youngster has started to take advantage. His defensive activity ( has him with 24 tackles won) is already notable, and his offensive contributions are a work in progress as the image shows:


He will need to improve his 70% pass completion, but with 273 minutes he has already surpassed last season’s total of 200 and he doesn’t turn 20 until April. Nice to see a homegrown Mainz player progressing through to the Bundesliga, after representing Germany at the youth level from U15 onwards.

Amir Abrashi – Freiburg has been one of the unsung heroes in what’s quickly becoming a nice little campaign for SCF. The Albanian has often got the unenviable task for being the lone CM in a system that does not use the middle of the park, as Christian Streich’s team prefers to counterattack on the wings. Nevertheless, the 26-year-old earned his second Man of the Match award from after scoring his first ever Bundesliga goal in the 3-1 away win at Bremen. In addition, he led his team with 72 touches and five tackles while also making 67 runs – the third most on the matchday among all players. SCF are on 15 points, tied with BVB and SGE, which is one of the sentences I’ve never thought I would write….

Bonus points for trying to find Grifo and Max Philipp on the left side!


Marcel Risse – Cologne started to stand out from Effzeh’s players last year after he and Jonas Hector both were in the top 10 among all Bundesliga players in key passes, despite mostly playing as fullbacks/wingbacks. This year, the 26-year-old is matching and exceeding those numbers with career-highs of two dribbles and 1.8 key passes per game. Risse has already racked up four assists, just two away from his best ever season of six back in 2009/10 with Nürnberg. We all know about Anthony Modeste’s blistering 11 goal start, but did you know that Risse has provided four assists to the Frenchman? In the game against HSV, he made five key passes and completed four of seven take-ons, but his number of ball recoveries were also notable.


While Risse will probably never really excel for an elite team due to his extremely poor passing efficiency (62% career completion rate), he is a very reliable weapon for a second tier challenger that thrives in speed, power and counters and remains one of the more fun players in the Bundesliga to watch.

Kerem Demirbay Hoffenheim apparently has a weekly spot reserved on the squad after another exceptional outing against Hertha.


He got involved constantly and was next to Lukas Rupp and Andrej Kramaric the main creative hub of the Hoffenheim attack, doing it very effectively with 9 of 11 attacking third completions. The former HSV man added five key passes, three shots and a wonderful set piece assist to Niklas Süle for the eventual winner. Even if he was a huge headcase at HSV, he should have deserved more than THREE first team games over THREE years!!!


Arjen Robben – Bayern has an all-time TOTW spot locked up and you could easily see why on Saturday: six key passes, a goal and two assist and some Messi-Suarez type of telepathic understanding with Robert Lewandowski. Getting nearly 60% of your total passes in the attacking third and completing 81% of them is kinda unfair to all of us.


The moral victory for FCA was limiting him to just 3 of 10 on take-ons, I guess.


with sincere apologies to Maxi Phillip who gets left out despite his brilliant solo goal, this was the easiest decision ever:

Robert Lewandowski – Bayern was somehow criticized for his recent performances, as critics cited his lack of production – goalless in four consecutive Bundesliga games, and just one goal since the Werder hat trick and Schalke winner. Seven shots, five on target with two goals and assist is a decent answer and one should not forget that the Pole still leads the league with 4.6 shots per game, while taking 37 of his 41 shots from inside the box.

Yet, he has probably been the second best Bundesliga striker this season, as Anthony Modeste – Cologne overcame a missed penalty in the first half to grab a hat-trick in the last 30 minutes against HSV (another red card, another late game collapse!)modi

I am sure Peter Stöger will agree with me that Toni can go 5 of 11 on passes, when he takes eight shots and scores a hat-trick. I wrote about how Modeste, who almost moved to China in the offseason, has improved in one key area and it is not his career-best four shots per match. The Frenchman has eleven goals mostly because he gets great service from guys like Osako, Hector and Risse leading to him already taken EIGHT shots from inside the six yard line in just 780 minutes! That’s astounding, because in his previous three Bundesliga seasons of near 5000 minutes he managed just 12 combined shots from inside the six. I imagine that’s how you get a conversation rate of 34.5 percent!


Honorable mentions go out to most of Hoffenheim, Marcel Sabitzer and Naby Keita of RBL, Kuba and Caligiuri of Wolfsburg, Geis, Schöpf of Schalke, Hector and Höger of Köln, Grifo and Phillip of SCF, Suttner of FCI and the Thiago/Vidal duo.

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Abel started out watching and playing soccer in Hungary, before falling in love with the Bundesliga in the mid -90s (thanks to Kicker and Sat1's Ran). Now, he's in the USA -- and still loving it all many years later. Abel is faithful to BVB, but also endlessly fascinated by the emergence of new teams and talents from Germany, to the point that he even started a website about it, at Otherwise, you can find him working in publishing, teaching ESL, and/or drinking craft beer - not necessarily at the same time, or in that order. Abel tweets at @VanbastenESL and @BundesPL

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