The Best and Worst in German Football in 2013

It has been a great year for German football. The Champions League final this spring featured for the first time in the competition’s history two German teams on the pitch, Bayern have been breaking records left, right and centre and the Bundesliga seems to produce exciting story lines and talents almost on a weekly basis it seems.

But, what have been the stand out players and moments, both good and bad, in the calendar year 2013? Our team of editors sat down to give their views about the subject!

Cristian Nyari, Editor in chief

Best player: Philipp Lahm.  There’s easily a case for Franck Ribery who should also win the Ballon d’Or for his great performances in 2013 but Lahm has been the backbone of this team, both symbolically in the locker room and also on the field, especially under Pep Guardiola.  He has taken his game to a new level playing in midfield and proved that he is not just the world’s best fullback but one of the game’s elite players.

Worst player: Assani Lukimya.  Not that Werder Bremen’s troubles in 2013 were down to just one player but Lukimya is representative of a team who had the worst calendar year in a long time in club history. They conceded 74 goals in 2013 and the former Düsseldorf player didn’t distinguish himself in any of the games he played in. He is also a player who was brought in to improve their defense but has failed to really improve over the course of time.

Most surprising player: Max Kruse.  If 2013 was all about Bayern as a team in Germany, then it was all about Max Kruse on an individual level.  The former St. Pauli and Freiburg player has been one of the Hinrunde’s standout performers after already establishing himself as one of the league’s best last season with Freiburg. Kruse also made the leap to the national team in 2013, not bad for a player who was in the second division a little over a year ago.

Highlight: Bayern’s treble last season. They followed it up with two more trophies this season but Bayern did what no other German team has last season in a truly unforgettable season.  The most impressive thing of all? They made being the best German team of all time look easy throughout the season.

Low point: Nürnberg’s historically disastrous Hinrunde.  The first club to go without a win in the first half of the season and their inability to break through despite playing well towards the end. All in all, they are a club who should be doing better but a combination of terrible individual errors with some bad luck leaves them mired in the relegation race when Europe was a goal at the beginning of the season.

Favourite moment: Freiburg qualifying for Europe. Few teams were more exciting last season than Freiburg under Christian Streich.  They went on to lose five key players but when they were together it was a delight to watch.  Freiburg pushed the tactical boundaries playing without a recognized striker and the passion displayed by the team and coach were unmatched.

Hopes for 2014: More stability, especially for some of the bigger clubs like Hamburg and Schalke who just always seem a step or two behind truly reaching their potential.  Whether it was Hamburg sacking Fink or Schalke’s seeming inability to make changes when necessary, these are two clubs that could compete with the likes of Leverkusen and Dortmund but always get in their own way.

Niklas Wildhagen, Editor in chief

Best player: Franck Ribery. It takes the Frenchman 67 minutes on average to be involved in one goal in the current season. His performances last season were amongst the key factors of why Bayern managed to win the treble, and he simply continued to go from strength to strength.

Worst player: Assani Lukimya. The centre back was a decent defender at Bundesliga 2 side Fortuna Düsseldorf, but he has shown time after time that he doesn’t have what it takes to compete at Bundesliga level. Some of Lukimya’s defending is of such poor standard that it can be considered heart attack inducing if you are a Werder fan.

Most surprising player: Andre Hahn. 32 appearances in the Bundesliga and 6 goals sounds like a decent return for a midfielder, but it might not be eyebrow raising. However, one has to keep in mind that Hahn wasn’t educated at one of the many youth academies in Germany and that he was playing at third tier level in all of 2012. Hahn is considered to be amongst the candidates to replace Sidney Sam at Bayer Leverkusen which says a lot about his performance in 2013.

Highlight: The Champions League final. Fathers all over Germany have told their sons about the time when Germany had four teams featuring in the Uefa Cup semi final. I wasn’t born back then, but having two German teams in the Champions League final is something that I thought I’d never see. Bayern and Dortmund proved me wrong on that count, and furthermore, they did it in magnificent fashion.

Low point: Kiessling’s phantom goal.  It’s sad to see that avoidable mistakes can decide games. Wrong refereeing decisions have been amongst the talking points on almost every match day so far this season, and the most controversial one came in the game between Hoffenheim and Leverkusen when Kiessling headed the ball through the side netting. The technology to help the referees exists(and Dr. Felix Brych’s could have put it to good use in that case given that his view of the situation was blocked), and close goal decisions needn’t be controversial or, indeed, wrong.

Favourite moment: Elversberg coach Dietmar Hirsch confusing his players with sex talk. To get his players horny for a win Dietmar Hirsch told them that the goal they had to defend was like their girlfriend. Nobody should touch that woman, on the other hand side, the goal on the other side was like the opponent’s girlfriend and getting with her was something the team should try. An impotent performance saw Elversberg lose 5-0 against Borussia Dortmund II in the end.

Hopes for 2014: Germany winning the World Cup. The national team haven’t won a title since their 1996 Euro win. The kids born back in that year are now old enough to buy cigarettes and booze(which could ultimately lead to them having kids of their own or at least some dreadful displays on the dance floor). Germany’s current crop of players have gotten close to winning a tournament on many occasions, and now might just be the time to reap the just rewards for the excellent work which has been done in youth academies all around the country.

Aleix Gwilliam, Editor

Best player: Robert Lewandowski. A bit of a controversial one here but, overall, 2013 was a fantastic year for Robert Lewandowski, the year he established himself as one of the top strikers in Europe and the world and in which, despite not having won a single trophy, he grew the most as a player. There may be cases for Bayern players to what they won but no Bayern player or any other stood out more than Lewandowski in 2013, both in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League, especially with the 4 goals he scored against Real Madrid in the semifinals.

Worst player: Olivier Occéan: Occéan signed for Eintracht Frankfurt on the back of an excellent season for Greuther Fürth in the 2. Bundesliga. However, the step up to the Bundesliga seemed one too big for the Canadian striker, as he managed to find the net for his new club only once in 19 matches in all competitions. Armin Veh lost patience with him and he was subsequently moved to Kaiserslautern last summer. Many thought that, being back in the 2. Bundesliga, Occéan would find his form again but 3 goals in 17 matches are all he has been able to return.

Most surprising player: Roberto Firmino. The way Firmino stepped up his game in Hoffenheim’s relegation fight in theRückrunde last season and his excellent performance so far in the Hinrunde this season is something that’s more suited to an experienced player rather than to a 22-year-old Brazilian. Not only were his goals or assists key in keeping Hoffenheim up but he has been the cornerstone of his team’s gung-ho style this season, making Hoffenheim one of the most thrilling teams to watch this season. His form has slowed down in the latter weeks of the Hinrunde but if he duplicates his Rückrunde form from last year, no doubt he’ll be in a different shirt in 12 months time.

Highlight: Bayern’s 7-0 aggregate win against Barcelona in the Champions League. Bayern proved last season, with the two Champions League matches against Barcelona, that it was possible to beat the most successful club of the 21st century by attacking them and not by placing 11 men behind the ball and sitting tight in your own area. Bayern physically and skillfully dominated Barcelona in what was the death of the woefully-named ‘tiki-taka’ style (lacking a better way of expressing it) and the passing of the torch from the previous best team in Europe to the current one.

Low point: There weren’t many low points for German football in 2013 but perhaps from a sentimental point of view, the sacking of Thomas Schaaf was a low one. Schaaf’s 14 years in charge of Werder Bremen were 14 years of mostly success (1 Bundesliga title, 3 DFB Pokals and 2 runners-up medals, success in Europe with regular Champions League qualification, UEFA Cup runners-up…) but when success dried up and with the previous departure of Klaus Allofs to Wolfsburg, the dream team had been split and Schaaf was on his own and was sacked after another lacklustre league finish.

Favourite moment: Borussia Dortmund’s performances in the Champions League were a joy to behold if not also terrible for people suffering from heart problems. The 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid and the subsequent nail-biting return leg were amazing but their last-second defeat of Málaga at home to qualify for the semi-finals was a moment that nobody can forget. Some say it was offside, some will say that Málaga’s second goal was also offside, but what cannot be argued is that it was a great footballing moment and poetic justice for the most exciting team of 2013.

Hopes for 2014: The Bundesliga is in danger of becoming a one-team league. WIth Dortmund’s success in recent years, many said it was a two-team league and that it was in danger of becoming another La Liga or SPL. However, with Dortmund’s demise this season and Leverkusen’s recent inconsistency, it could very well be the case that Bayern win this league again in March. My hopes for 2014 is that teams like HSV, Schalke and Werder Bremen can build towards becoming top sides again and that Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Leverkusen can continue to grow in order to make things more even and exciting at the top of the table.

Travis Timmons, Editor

Best player: Franck Ribery. Again. The Frenchman has 6 goals and 7 assists as Bayern attempts a repeat treble. To say Ribery is indispensable to Bayern is an understatement.  He is the backbone upon which this historically great side is built. Of course, others have more goals and assists, but no other player has a greater impact in creating scoring opportunities and orchestrating attacks on his club than Ribery. Although he probably won’t beat CR7 for the Ballon D’Or, he certainly is the Bundesliga’s most valuable player.

Worst player: Koen Casteels (goalkeeper, Hoffenheim). I should say was the goalkeeper at Hoffenheim, as he’s been benched in favor of Grahl. Casteels bears much responsibility for Hoffeheim’s  (tied for) league high 38 goals conceded. Luckily, Hoffenheim scores as many goals (36), otherwise Casteels could be the holiday scapegoat in Hoffenheim. Although it’s hard to separate keeper performance from the rest of the backline’s performance, Casteels made glaring mistakes, fumbling shots, coming off his line, or misjudging shooters. Sure, Hoffenheim’s backline needs work, but expect fewer goals conceded without Casteels in goal.

Most surprising player: Adrian Ramos (forward, Hertha Berlin). The Columbian striker is tied for the Bundesliga lead with super-forward Robert Lewandowki with 11 goals. Ramos spearheads a dangerous Hertha attack, forcing opponents to keep tabs on his movement, lest they punished with his crafty finishing. Ramos’ surprising success is analogous to Hertha’s surprising success during the Hinrunde – the striker’s play symbolizes the capitol city club’s “we’re here” statement through 17 matchdays.

Highlight: Matchday 12. The SGL Arena in Augsburg. The final scoreline: FC Augsburg 2 – 0 Hoffenheim. Sure, a relatively obscure moment for a Hinrunde “highlight,” but this match more than any other tells the story of FC Augsburg’s delightfully enjoyable season thus far. After last-second relegation escapes two years in row, FCA appears to have evolved their narrative as thy finished the Hinrunde 8th in the table. The win against Hoffenheim represents a sort of turning point – when Augsburg began playing into its full strength, despite the club’s positive metrics (Total Shots Ratio, defensive shot prevention, etc.). Turning the corner with a clean sheet against the potent attacking force of Hoffenheim makes FCA evolution all the sweeter.

Low point: Dortmund’s injury plague (Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer). And I don’t say this as a passionate BVB man. Dortmund’s loss of its backline through injuries has been the Bundesliga’s loss as well, as the thrilling play of BVB has been muted and muddled since the injury plague. A healthy Bundesliga – and, by extension, a healthy Bundesliga Champions League coefficient or even a healthy German mens national team – needs a healthy Dortmund. BVB’s injury issues can’t help but spark some pathos in Bundesliga viewers. The Hinrunde couldn’t have come sooner for Klopp’s squad.

Favourite moment: Stefan Kiessling’s “ghost goal” against Hoffenheim. I watched this game live, and when Kiessling “scored” his “goal,” I thought my eyes tricked me. It was one of those moments when suddenly ghosts, aliens, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and Big Foot suddenly exist. Or Willy Wonka’s teleportation device (Mike TV!). Of course, we now know that Leverkusen’s goal-netting inexplicably had a hole – albeit a small one – which Kiessling’s foot somehow found. Alas, we do live in a disenchanted world. At least the goal stood.

Hopes for 2014: A healither BVB. Gladbach qualifies for the Champions League. Either FCA or Hertha qualify for Europe. Oh, and that Bayern loses at least one match in Bundesliga play, just to restore our humanity.

Gerry Wittmann, Founder

Best Player:  Phillip Lahm  I find picking a best player as difficult as picking a best movie, best book, best album.  Nonetheless, we are ending 2013 with the Bundesliga in arguably the finest form of its fifty years, and no player exemplified excellence during 2013 more consistently than Bayern Munich’s Phillip Lahm.  The 30 year-old defender, with the stature and appearance of someone half his age, may exude an innocent look but he is a cold-blooded destroyer of the hopes of Bayern’s opponents with his defending, passes, crosses, experience and leadership. One never talks about the current form and fitness of the Munich-born Lahm, because he is consistently excellent.  A former ball boy for Bayern, he’s been with the club since 1995 (except for his loan spell at VfB Stuttgart) and truly represents the organization’s commitment to being the best with his own ability to shine at right back, left back and now in Bayern’s midfield.  There may be players as good, but there were none better in Germany this year.

Worst Player: As an individual who never had even a minute fraction of the footy talents of anyone playing professionally, I feel obligated to abstain from nominating a worst player. #Diplomacy

Most Surprising: Player Shinji Okazaki, Mainz 05  In a move not widely heralded, Mainz were able to pick up Japanese international Shinji Okazaki this summer on the cheap from VfB Stuttgart,and the forward has had a festive season in the Carnival city.  After only scoring one league goal for VfB during the 2012/2013 campaign, Okazaki has scored eight times in 2013 league play for Mainz after netting only ten times for Stuttgart in league play over two and a half seasons.  Okazaki has also been in good form for Japan, scoring seven goals in fourteen 2013 international contests to help Japan claim their ticket to Brazil 2014.

Highlight: A great Champions League final featuring Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.  When the Bundesliga Fanatic was founded in September, 2010, one objective was to help create awareness of how good the too-often overlooked Bundesliga was.  The 2013 Champions League final made us look like prophets.

Low point: The absence of goalkeeper Tim Wiese from the Bundesliga since Hoffenheim’s match against Eintracht Frankfurt last January 26.  Here’s hoping that the colorful shotstopper can get it together and again become a regular in the Bundesliga.

Favorite Moment: The October announcement of the multi-year deal between the DFL and 21st Century Fox which should greatly increase the availability of watching Bundesliga matches in many parts of the world.  The TV revenue won’t hurt the league, either, but personally, with current Bundesliga American TV-rights holder GolTV no longer available on many satellite and cable subscription packages, I am overjoyed (if impatient) to be able to watch Bundesliga games on my big-screen television.  It will be interesting to see what model Fox follows in its presentation of the Bundesliga — here in the U.S. NBC televises every EPL match, while BeIN Sports televises the matches of the “big clubs” in Italy, Spain and France.  The thought of Fox adopting something akin to the NBA League Pass model, which makes all the league’s games available live and archived on a subscription basis for viewing via television, computer, tablet, mobile phone and various video gaming systems for one price is almost too much for me to hope for, but whatever happens beginning with the 2015/2016 season will be a huge improvement on the current viewing situation for many Bundesliga fans worldwide.

Hopes for 2014: After seven World Cup tournaments played in the Western Hemisphere, no European nation  has been able to hoist the trophy in the tournaments played in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico or the United States.  Here’s hoping that Germany will be the first next summer.  And another all-Bundesliga Champions League final?  Yes, that sounds good, too.

How would you sum up 2013? Let us know below in the commentary section!

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