After a long cold pause, the Bundesliga resumed this weekend in the exciting and unpredictable fashion we’ve come to love. Schalke and Hannover played out what will go down as one of the most memorable Bundesliga matches in recent memory while Leverkusen, Dortmund and Bayern all continued their fine form atop the table. Freiburg and Mainz neutralized each other in a highly tactical match while Gladbach, Hoffenheim, Nürnberg and Hamburg all split points. The matchday was capped off the way it started, in exhilarating fashion, with Augsburg avoiding a last minute comeback and securing their first away win of the season. The Bundesliga is back and better than ever and here are the players who stood out on the first matchday of 2013.
Oliver Baumann – As expected from two of the league’s most astute coaches, Mainz vs. Freiburg descended into an extremely tactical matchup but it was Mainz who were the more dangerous side and were it not for Baumann, Christian Streich’s team would not have gotten out of there with a point. Freiburg are now unbeaten in their last six away matches, their best run in 12 years. Baumann made three incredible saves and earned his seventh clean sheet of the season.
Mats Hummels – It was his center-back partner, Felipe Santana, that got on the scoresheet but Hummels was Dortmund’s imperious presence at the back throughout the match. He won over 80% of his duels and completely nullified Bremen’s attack. Whether it was beating Petersen in the air, anticipating Elia’s runs or positioning himself against Hunt and De Bruyne’s attempted through balls, Hummels was always in the right place at the right time. Typical of his play, he was again important in Dortmund’s build up and their lightning quick transitions.
Sebastian Boenisch – When Leverkusen gave Boenisch a lifeline after he found himself without a club few would have expected him to have much of an impact but the 25-year-old kept his head up, worked hard in training and has earned some important playing time for his new club. Against Eintracht Frankfurt, Boenisch got the start and gave a great account of himself. He scored the opening goal and did a good job on Aigner for the remainder of the game. Don’t be surprised if Lewandowski and Hyypia start him more often this season.
Lukasz Piszczek - How Piszczek was snubbed at FIFA’s award ceremonies earlier this month still remains a mystery. Dortmund’s fullback has been one of the best, if not the best, rightback in Europe over the last 12 months and kicked off 2013 in equal form. Against Bremen, Piszczek owned the right wing and set up two of Dortmund’s goals. His energy and pace means that whoever plays ahead of him has the license to cut inside and drift, knowing that the Pole is always there to cover and occupy defenders.
Mario Götze – Only Ribery had a better first half of the season than the prodigious Dortmund attacker. Against Bremen, Götze’s goal in the 19th minute all but decided the match, that’s how dominant Dortmund were. Popping up on the right, left, in the center, Götze was virtually unstoppable and none of Bremen’s defenders could touch him. Götze’s seventh goal of the season is also a new personal best for him in a single season. Bremen on the other hand had to do with their second biggest home loss in league history and had Götze to thank for it.
Lewis Holtby – After officially announcing his move to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, Holtby vowed to the Schalke supporters that he would give it his all until the end of the season. Against Hannover, Holtby was true to his promise and delivered a match winning performance. With two assists and a goal, Holtby saw off a stubborn Hannover that continually threatened to get back into the game no matter how many times Schalke took the lead. No player ran more than Holtby, no player covered more ground than Holtby and no player contributed more to the game than the future Tottenham midfielder.
Diego – Once again, Diego was the difference for Wolfsburg. Since he rediscovered his form with the club earlier this season Diego has become an instrumental part of the team. With five goals and four assists, he has been a part of half of his team’s goals this season. Against Stuttgart he scored his team’s first with a fantastic long range shot and assisted the second. It was only Wolfsburg’s second home win this season and their first clean sheet there in almost a year.
Jefferson Farfan – The Peruvian winger scored the first of nine goals in the season’s most memorable match to date but that’s not the only reason he is on this list. Konstantin Rausch must have felt he was trapped in a nightmare trying to defend against Farfan. Much like anyone else who tried to get near him. If Holtby was the heart of Schalke’s win, Farfan was the motor. He also set up Holtby’s goal later in the game and was a nuisance all game long.
Mario Mandzukic - The battle for time between Mario Gomez and his name sake will be one of the more interesting narratives of Bayern’s Rückrunde. Against Greuther Fürth, the Croatian was preferred and justified his coach’s selection with the two decisive goals. Mandzukic scored his very first goal for Bayern against Fürth and put in another solid shift on Saturday. It wasn’t a vintage Bayern performance by any means but an important one in maintaining their commanding lead, one which may not have happened were it not for Mandzukic’s nose for goal.
Andre Schürrle – Schürrle continued his fine season with Leverkusen with another impressive performance. This time against high flying Eintracht Frankfurt. In that game he unselfishly created Kiessling’s goal and took the team’s third himself with a fantastic turn and finish from an awkward angle. Performances like Schürrles’ are the reason why Leverkusen remain the only side in the league without a loss at home this season.
Sascha Mölders – Mölders’ contract extension came just at the right time, for both him and Augsburg. Second from last, Augsburg will need Mölders’ goals if they are to stay up this season. Since coming back from injury, the striker has scored six goals in seven games, adding two in their important game against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Sunday. The goals may have been opportunistic but Mölders always works hard for his team and helped earn Augsburg their first away win of the season. There is hope yet.
Coach of the Week
Makrus Weinzierl – Augsburg celebrated their first win since October and their first on the road on the entire season and are now just a single point off the relegation playoff spot. It wasn’t easy. Weinzierl missed eight players going into this game and gave three players their league debut. He made Daniel Baier the sole anchor in a 4-1-4-1 and gave Mölders added support with Ji, Koo, Werner and Moravek playing off him. And for the most part it worked. Augsburg deservedly went up 3-0 and while they barely avoided a win in the end thanks to Fortuna’s second half comeback, it was arguably their most important result of the season.
Raphael Schäfer, Alexander Madlung, Daniel Carvajal, Felipe Santana, Ilkay Gündogan, Jakub Blaszczykovski, Gonzalo Castro, Szabolcs Huszti, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Stefan Reisinger, Stefan Kiessling