And here we are. The five best players in the Bundesliga during the 2013-14 season. Most of these won’t come as a surprise and not enough can be said about their contribution this season. An up and coming defender who is on the verge of becoming world class, the league’s best out-and-out striker, a dynamic young Brazilian, a timeless and inspirational captain and the man whose nickname is derived from a cartoon character. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your top five players of the season:
Find the rest of our countdown here.
5. Ricardo Rodriguez (VfL Wolfsburg)
Can I start simply with how cool Ricardo Rodriguez is?
He’s got that long hair pulled back tightly that somehow works with the beard. And don’t underestimate the importance of a good-looking man with a beard. With Diego setting sail for other lands, Rodriguez made sure Wolfsburg was not going to be without in that department.
Plus, he’s Swiss. Cool enough, but the Swiss also happen to be cruising into the World Cup as one of the top seeds, albeit the top seed fans of other nations hopes to draw. But then if you’re the left back for that undervalued side, there’s something cool to that, too.
But Rodriguez is just cool. He’s cool the the point of playing a full 90 minutes in all 34 matches of Wolfsburg’s semi-surprising run into Europe this season. I say it’s semi-surprising because everyone has been waiting for Wolfsburg to perform up to the potential, and it seems this year it finally happened, at least enough to get into Europe.
Same goes for Rodriguez. Everyone assumed he was eventually going to be pretty good, but suddenly he looks really good, whether it’s controlling opposing attacks down his flank, being the point man on set pieces, taking penalties, assisting on goals for teammates, or just plain old looking cool, calm, and collected. Rodriguez is suddenly a crucial part of a young Bundesliga team on the rise. Keep an eye on him.
4. Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)
All hail the 2013-14 der Torjäger! After a fabulous 2012-13, Lewandowski was even better this year, perhaps cementing his status as Europe’s best pure striker. With a brace at Hertha Berlin on the final matchday, Lewandowski guaranteed that die Tojägerkanone was his, thanks to his 20 goals. On a per 90 minute basis, that’s 0.64 goals a match. Oh, and throw in another 6 goals in the Champions League. Lewi managed his goals on only 3.76 shots per match.
Lewandowski was especially devastating in finding spaces to receive/rebound balls for goals, scoring 17 of his Bundesliga goals from “big chance” moments, usually featuring some kind of 1-on-1 situation. He had 36 of these opportunities, easily the most in the Bundesliga. Lewi’s ability to find these dangerous spaces ensures that his high goal production should remain steady for seasons to come. This season also capped a few years of growth in which Lewi’s technical abilities – e.g. footwork – has visibly improved, smoothing out his play, and allowing the Pole to broaden his repertoire of attacking menace.
However, Lewandowski did so much more than just score goals. He had 6 assists and assisted 62 shots (13th best in the league), not bad for a striker. Lewi was also actively involved in the passing game, becoming feared both for his shooting and passing. Finally, Lewandowski wholeheartedly embraced his hard-working role in Klopp’s gegen-pressing: the Pole led the Bundesliga with 42 balls won in the opponent’s 3rd, and blocked the 2nd most shots in the league. Truly, a comprehensively brilliant season from a well-rounded footballer, who will be plying his supreme craft for Bayern next season.
3. Roberto Firmino (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Surely, the most surprising performer this season. The 22 year old Brazilian (from Figueirense) has been with Hoffenheim since 2010, producing a modest number of goals and assists – until this season. Firmino exploded in 2013-14. He scored 16 goals, including many ein super Tor, with 11 assists. A dominating offensive performance, vaulting the Brazilian’s name into “player of the year” conversations and sparking many a transfer market rumor (Chelsea? Liverpool?). For now, the stunning young play-maker is Hoffenheim’s prized star.
Firmino starred as the (mostly) central attacking midfielder on the Bundesliga’s most exciting attacking unit. This role allowed Firmino to showcase his creativity in laying off key passes or creating delightful shots on goal. These opportunities were a function of Firmino’s deft dribbling skills and ability to control the ball amid pacy runs. The Brazilian is an exceptionally skilled footballers, as we learned during 2013-14.
You’ll find Firmino’s name at the top (or very close to the top) of many offensive statistical categories, such as shots assisted (11), “big chances” created (18), various final 3rd passing stats, throughballs, or even total contests attempted and possession won in the opponent’s final 3rd – Firmino is an assertive player in taking on defenders and attackers.
If Hoffenheim were the Bundesliga’s most exciting side this season, the Firmino was the wizard who orchestrated the magic. Hopefully, we’ll get to enjoy him for years to come in the Bundesliga.
2. Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
What Philipp Lahm accomplished this season was stunning. As the consummate rightback in Europe, Lahm walked away from this position and promptly established himself as one of Europe’s best midfielders instead. All in one season. Pep Guardiola (now famously) experimented by playing Lahm as the central engine in the Bayern possession machine. Lahm played his role in Pep’s fluid 4-1-4-1 brilliantly, acting as the main pivot/router for distributing the ball around to the Bayern superstars.
As if on a mission to prove his passing acumen, Lahm was among the league’s top 5 in many passing volume and passing completion stats. The sheer number of his touches and successful completions is staggering (2560 and 2045, respectively). Moreover, his 2,231 passes led the league. Oh, and he completed about 92% of these passes. Although Bayern compulsively circulated the ball, over 60% of Lahm’s passes were forward passes. Lahm looked entirely comfortable both in Pep’s tiki-taka system and in his new role as a holding midfielder.
However, it’s not as if Lahm was confined to Bayern’s own half of the pitch. Nope. He assited 34 shots on goal, even earning 4 assists. He regularly penetrated the opponent’s final 3rd, and was among the league leaders in total final 3rd passing contributions. Anyway you cut, Pep’s decision to give Lahm more space in the midfield might have been the best coaching decision in European football this space. More room in the midfield equated to more chances for Lahm to influence the pitch.
Lahm was all over the pitch. In this sense, 2013-14 was a revelation for football fans, as Lahm’s skill and intelligence was unleashed across the entire pitch, rather than just his usual right flank. And the revelation was so startling, it was as if we all gained a new fußballing superstar. Philipp Lahm, your Herculean transformation enriched us all.
1. Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
It could have gone either way to be honest. Lahm’s accomplishments and tactical transformation deserve a top spot and as many plaudits as he can possibly receive. It’s not every day you see a world class fullback abandon his position and promptly become a world class midfielder. But as great as Lahm has been this season, Marco Reus’ performances, impact and influence at Dortmund were second to none this season.
Let’s start with the numbers. Reus scored 16 goals (only three players had more) and a league-high 14 assists. He was directly involved in almost half of Dortmund’s goals this season. The numbers are even more impressive in all competitions where he had a hand in an incredible 46 goals. Just from a statistical perspective, his impact is enormous. Reus was the engine behind Dortmund’s attacks. Aside from being a prolific goalscorer he was also the team’s primary creative hub.
What makes his performances truly impressive is the context in which they happened, a season where the club was depleted by injuries. Player after player went down throughout the season and Dortmund’s resources were stretched thinner than ever before under Klopp. That would have made things difficult for any player but Reus thrived and instead he picked up his game and helped his side see out the season in better form than any other team in the league. In his last eight games alone Reus created or scored 13 goals.
If Reus was world class last season this year he truly nailed down his place as one of the game’s elite players. With Lewandowski leaving in the summer Dortmund will have to adjust yet again and many will look to Reus to potentially fill the vacuum. And if this season is any indicator Dortmund fans have very little to worry about. Congratulations, Marco. On a truly memorable and remarkable season.
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