The relegation playoff between Borusssia Mönchengladbach and VfL Bochum officially capped off the 2010/11 Bundesliga season. With another exciting and competitive year under the belt, it is time to reflect on some of the league’s stand out performers. We at the Bundesliga Fanatic went through an extensive selection process to bring to you a definitive list of the league’s most impressive players this season. With the contribution of fellow Bundesliga writers, fans and bloggers we narrowed it down to a list of 25 players, all whom have stood above their peers this year and some who have even reached a peak in their careers.
Throughout the voting and selection process we kept in mind player performances over the course of the season but also considered details like the context, individual roles and overall impact and influence on their teams across their yearlong performances.
So without further ado, here is the Bundesliga Fanatic’s Top 25 Players of 2010/11:
25. Arjen Robben
The Dutch winger set the football world alight last year with his performances in the Champions League and the World Cup. It was arguably the best season of the player’s career after a rather unexpected move to Bayern in the final days of the transfer window. To live up to that kind of performance again is never easy for any player but despite missing the first half of the season Robben’s class once again shone through as he helped a rather inconsistent Bayern make a successful late push for Champions League football.
In just 13 league appearances the mercurial winger netted and impressive 12 goals and 9 assists. It is tempting to imagine Robben’s output had he been fit from the beginning of the season but his proclivity to injury is something all his clubs have had to contend with throughout his career. Nevertheless, going into the final weeks of the season Bayern found themselves competing directly with the league’s surprise package, Hannover, for the final Champions League spot. With five games remaining, Bayern were in the unfamiliar position of chasing Hannover. The club’s disappointing league form had cost Louis van Gaal his job and it was now up to his assistant, Andries Jonker, to win the remaining five games and ensure Bayern participation in next season’s Champions League, something club president Uli Hoeness said is an absolute necessity given that the final will take place in Munich.
Bayern’s players simply had to step up their game. Robben had to sit out the first two games under Jonker due to suspension and while Bayern decisively beat Leverkusen they dropped two crucial points against Frankfurt and remained a point behind Hannover. Suffice to say, there was no room left to slip up. Bayern simply needed to win their remaining games. In stepped Arjen Robben. In the last three matches, Robben scored 3 crucial goals and assisted 6 others to propel his side into that crucial third spot. Bayern scored a combined 13 goals in those three games thanks to Robben. So prolific was Robben’s impact that he helped Bayern finish as the most potent attack in 25 years in the Bundesliga. Robben played a part in 21 of Bayern’s 36 goals in his limited appearances, a remarkable feet but not really surprising coming from one of great players in the game.
Most supporters and pundits agreed that Bayern never would have reached the Champions League final last year had it not been for the individual brilliance of Robben. If Bayern are indeed going to make another push for the final in the coming season, as Uli Hoeness so dearly desires, it is hard not to credit the Dutchman once again for providing Bayern with the opportunity to do so in the first place.
24. Julian Schieber
With 8 goals and 7 assists in the 2010/11 season, Julian Schieber has turned out to beNürnberg’s most important player in what turned out to be a quite remarkable season for “Der Club”. Those numbers may not appear impressive at first but when considering the circumstances they are quite an achievement. Hannover and Mainz aside, Nürnberg have been the surprise package of the Bundesliga and finished just a spot off European football, a stunning achievement considering they barely escaped relegation the season before by winning the relegation playoff at the end of the year.
Schieber made his Bundesliga debut for Stuttgart at the age of 19 back in 2008 but it took him until the 2009/10 season to make a steady impact. He scored his first Bundesliga goal in the first game of that season and soon followed it up with a brace against Frankfurt. Stuttgart’s participation in multiple competitions spread the team somewhat thin but allowed Schieber for plenty of experience including valuable match time in the Champions League. He did not finish the season as strong as he started but Stuttgart kept faith in him and decided his development would be best served with a loan move the following season.
The 22-year old striker arrived at what was originally thought to be a side battling relegation but instead became the heart of one of the league’s most impressive teams. Schieber found his place as the lone striker in Dieter Hecking’s line up. Chosen to lead the line, Schieber’s strength was in his link up with playmakers Ekici and Gündogan and creating a platform on which the rest of the team could build on. His physique may lead others to think of him as a traditional target man, slow and immobile, but it was Schieber’s work off the ball that made him so effective. He was instrumental in pulling defenders away and creating space for his teammates while his tireless running and passing made him a quintessential teammate. Schieber became a de facto playmaker if you will and at one point led the league in assists.
Schieber honed his game a great amount this season, strengthening his aerial and ground game as well as his instincts in front of goal during his loan spell, proving that he is a more multi dimensional players than many thought initially. With Miroslav Klose rapidly approaching the end of his playing days and Mario Gomez failing to translate his club form to the National Team it might actually be Schieber who emerges as a prime candidate in the post Klose era.
23. Christian Fuchs
If one were to think of Austrian football and the Bundesliga, players like Toni Polster and Andreas Herzog immediately spring to mind. Both Polster and Herzog had as notable an impact in their Bundesliga careers as any Austrian plying their trade outside their native country in recent memory. Both Polster and Herzog are now retired and will be fondly remembered by Köln and Bremen fans respectively but since, few Austrians have really made much of an impression in Germany’s top flight. That is until Christian Fuchs’s impressive 2010/11 campaign with Mainz.
The left back from Neunkirchen garnered some praise in his time with Bochum after moving from Austria but it took a loan move to Thomas Tuchel’s exciting and attack minded Mainz to truly get the best out of him. Fuchs was the perfect fit for Mainz’s high-energy pressing game. It did not take long for him to lock down a place in the starting eleven immediately after he came from Bochum. So impressed was Tuchel that by season’s end, Mainz immediately enacted their buy option and locked the Austrian down until 2015. With 8 assists to his name, Fuchs set up more goals than any other defender in the league. His attacking game notwithstanding, Fuchs also played a key role in helping Mainz finish with the league’s second best defense.
Possessing a ferocious left foot, Fuchs contributed through potent set pieces and long crosses amongst other things. Fuchs made 157 crosses to be exact, more than most wingers would complete in a single season. His attributes don’t stop there. Fuchs’s robust built makes him stand out among the many diminutive fullbacks in the game nowadays, which made him quite effective in the air (winning 67% of his aerial duals) and helped him ease past defenders when going forward. Moreover, Fuchs possesses a wicked long throw, which meant that throw ins close to the opponent’s goal were essentially corner kicks for Mainz.
Tuchel trusted Fuchs so much that he played the Austrian in midfield as well as on the right on rare occasion. One of Mainz’s trademarks under Tuchel was their tactical flexibility and rotation. Few players started on a regular basis or were trusted in the different shapes he used. Fuchs was one of the few he used consistently. Only captain Noveski and star striker Andre Schürrle played more games than the Austrian, a testament to one of the most successful loan spells in recent memory. Surely it will be a tough act to follow considering how high Fuchs set the bar for himself.
22. Neven Subotic
Thomas Rongen discovered several diamonds in the rough coaching the U-20 side for the US Soccer Federation, but he screwed up royally when he passed on a young player named Neven Subotic. In his slightly younger days—Neven is still only 22 yrs old mind you –the Serb donned the Stars and Stripes and looked poised to be part of the future in the heart of the US defense. Along the way though, Rongen snubbed Subotic, leaving him off the roster for the U-20 World Cup in 2007 despite being called to the senior side a few months later for a friendly. Presumably, this irked Subotic into his decision to instead declare for the Serbian National Team and before you know it, he assisted the White Eagles to a historic 1-0 victory over Germany at the 2010 World Cup.
Club officials in Mainz and Dortmund might still send Rongen “Thank You” cards for his error in judgment as Subotic has made a star turn since being jilted like a shrew that had just been tamed. Before his move to Dortmund, Subotic first manned the Mainz back line in brilliant fashion and was an integral part of the best 2.Bundesliga defense in the 2007/08 season. Following his impressive showing, he followed his old Mainz manager, Jürgen Klopp, to his new project at the then suffering Borussia Dortmund. At that point Dortmund finished 13th and had the league’s second worst defense.
Now, unless you’ve been sleeping under a large, ornate hubcap, you should probably know how Subotic’s time with Dortmund has gone thus far. Even if you have, Neven and Klopp just woke you up after lifting the title in glorious fashion and splashing celebratory beer on your head. Subotic was again at the heart of Dortmund’s impenetrable defense. Just three years after their horrendous league showing, Subotic’s defensive performances helped Dortmund finish with the league’s best defense, just a goal shy of the Bundesliga record for fewest goals conceded in a season, and of course, Dortmund’s first title in nearly a decade.
Subotic’s key strengths this season were his ability to stay relatively level-headed, maintain positional integrity, and clean up in front of him when his defensive partner, Mats Hummels, made his trademark runs forward to support Dortmund’s attack. A swift comparison with the stats illustrates this point–while Mats tallied 5 goals and only 2 yellow cards all Bundesliga season, Subotic notched a single goal but accumulated 6 cards, including 1 red. Those stats are flattering considering the importance of his role.
And while Hummels was the more elegant and celebrated of Klopp’s fortified spine this season, Subotic was crucial in doing the necessary dirty work without drawing much attention to himself. Just to give you an idea of what Subotic meant to this side, consider the rate of tackles he won (62%) and giving away only 24 fouls all season, which stands above most of his peers in the league. Subotic will not get the credit some of his more celebrated teammates will but he was a crucial yet unsung hero of Dortmund’s historic campaign.
21. Marcel Schmelzer
Four minutes. That is all the time Borussia Dortmund’s blond bomber missed during the 2010/11 campaign. Other than the last 4 minutes of Dortmund’s draw against Sevilla in a Europa League group stage match, the dynamic left back was ever-present throughout his side’s marvelous season. Even his manager, Jürgen Klopp, has marveled at his fitness and stamina. Durability, thy name is Schmelzer. Of course, fitness only goes so far and without the know-how or talent players tend to fall short after a while. Fortunately for Schmelzer, he has both in abundance and is rightfully considered by most as the league’s best fullback this season.
It almost seem like an unfair advantage for Klopp to have such a competent and young left back, a position mind you, that is highly volatile and sought after all across Europe. Just to illustrate Schmelzer’s championship form this past season, consider this–on this list, there is only one other fullback included, and that is Christian Fuchs. While Fuchs showed his quality more so with his crossing and dead ball skills, Marcel demonstrated his by truly being a complete modern fullback.
Borussia Dortmund’s streamlined attacking game requires everyone to join the attack when necessary but the defensive end is equally as important. Klopp’s system requires his players to run a lot in both directions. What makes Schmelzer so outstanding was the fact that he appeared to always be in two places at once. In possession, Schmelzer played almost as a wing forward, combining with his midfielders and attackers in the opponent’s final third and out of it, almost seamlessly, he was found making a last ditch tackle in his own half or covering for his center backs. Schmelzer for example was vital in stopping players like Farfan and Gekas while also adding equally in attack. He completed 61% of his 361 tackles and made 1301 passes and a total of 101 crosses, highlighting just how complete his game as been. His performances rightfully earned his first start for Germany’s this March in the friendly against Australia.
If one concern was to be pointed out it might be an overemphasis on the offensive side to the lad’s game, which worked well when the whole team was pressing and the opponent was not in control but different circumstances could well test that. Also, when Sahin missed the final four matches of the season due to injury, the club sorely missed his stellar distribution from midfield, which spilled over into the performances of his teammates. Now, while Schmelzer remained solid in these matches, it did diminish the team’s game somewhat and allowed the opponent to encroach their half. So Marcel, enjoy your summer at the beach with Jeff Spicoli and the rest of the Ridgemont Highgang. When you return to Dortmund, get in touch with new teammate Ilkay Gündogan and start working on your game some more in order to make it higher up next year’s list.
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