The Bundesliga isn’t always the first league that comes to mind when European football is being discussed, whether it be in pubs and cafes or on internet forums. A large percentage of these conversations, especially on Youtube, tend to focus on what people see as the ‘best’. Which country has the best league? Spain or England? Who is the best player in the world? Messi or Ronaldo?
The answers to these questions are always subjective at best, forever tainted to some degree or other either by where one comes from or who one supports. Football fans in England will almost unanimously agree that the football on show in the Premier League is more exciting than that of La Liga, that the teams are more equal, that it’s a more difficult league to win because anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Spanish fans will counter these arguments by responding that Real Madrid and Barcelona would humiliate nearly all the teams in the English top division, such is the gulf in quality. They would go on to say that, while Real and Barça may very well dominate the league, teams such as Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Málaga, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao – from their ‘best-of-the-rest’ category – would no doubt fare very well against the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham. Supporters of both Messi and Ronaldo point to the incredible goal scoring statistics of their ‘chosen one’ as evidence of his claim to be the world’s top footballing dog.
However, in the midst of this frenzied to-ing and fro-ing, there is a league that produces exciting, fast-paced, attractive football alongside a high level of technical skill, with a level of equality that means that, in the last 10 years, 5 different teams have had their hands on the championship trophy. Add to that the fact that this is a league known for blooding, developing and having confidence in youngsters. It’s a wonder that this league never gets a say in the ‘who is the best’ discussion…
The 2012-2013 Bundesliga season has seen many exciting story lines emerge. Borussia Dortmund, champions for the past 2 years, find themselves in 3rd, 12 points behind a resurgent Bayern Munich at the halfway stage. Eintracht Frankfurt, promoted from the Second Division, have climbed their way up to fourth, level on points with Dortmund. VfL Wolfsburg, champions just four years ago, are struggling in lowly 15th position, while things are not much better for traditional powerhouses Schalke 04 (7th), VfB Stuttgart (9th), Hamburger SV (10th) and Werder Bremen (12th).
With its mix of established stars (Arjen Robben, Frank Ribéry, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar) and young talents (Mario Götze, Julian Draxler, David Alaba) the Bundesliga constantly throws up interesting matches. Although Bayern have claimed the Herbstmeisterschaft (‘Winter Championship’) with 13 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss so far, conceding just 7 goals, it would be far from wise to write off either Dortmund or second-placed Bayer Leverkusen just yet.
With the amount of talent on display at every team, Longpuntupfield wanted to make a list of the players we’re most looking forward to watching in 2013. We could have made a list of about 50 players but, with regret, we decided that a list of 10 was more acceptable. Some are very well-known, others not so much.
Our 10 players to watch:
Marco Reus – Winger
Marco Reus is a supremely talented player. Signed by Dortmund from Borussia Mönchengladbach at the start of the season for a hefty fee (around €17m), he’s already making that look like a bargain. His main weapon is his blistering pace, even with the ball at his feet. At 23 he still has his best years ahead of him.
Takashi Inui – Winger
Takashi Inui impressed so much in his debut season in Germany with VfL Bochum last year that he was snapped up by Frankfurt in order to help them survive relegation, and his performances so far this season have justified that decision and then some. With 5 goals from left wing already (just 2 off from his total in the whole of last season), Inui’s speed and movement off the ball have paid dividends for Frankfurt. His link-up play with midfielders Alexander Meier and Stefan Aigner has been especially impressive.
Zoltán Stieber – Winger
Zoltán Stieber impressed scouts so much in his youth that he was invited to England to have trials at several clubs. He was apparently signed by Arsenal before the deal fell through, and was then snapped up by Aston Villa. He never managed to make his Premier League debut for Villa, and has ended up at newly-promoted Greuther Fürth via TuS Koblenz, Alemannia Aachen and FSV Mainz. With Fürth currently struggling at the foot end of the table, Stieber’s goals and energy will be vital during 2013.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Winger
Shaqiri is a player we’ve liked for a while now, since his days at FC Basel in the Swiss Championnat. When he agreed to sign for Bayern for around €11m, we will admit that we didn’t know if it was the best move, mainly considering that Bayern aren’t really lacking in the winger department. However, Shaqiri has had a good run of games in his debut Bundesliga season so far and looks to have settled quickly. His stocky frame and low centre of gravity make him a powerful runner and he knows how to put a mean spin on a ball.
Alexander Meier – Attacking Midfielder
Alexander Meier isn’t a name that anyone outside of Germany is likely to know. Meier isn’t a young talent excelling in his first competitive season: he’s 29 years old. However, Alexander Meier is the league’s second top scorer with 11 goals, one behind Stefan Kießling of Bayer Leverkusen. Standing at a massive 6ft 5in, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Meier had scored most of his goals with his head, but he has a slick touch for such a big man, as demonstrated by his stunner against Freiburg.
Toni Kroos – Attacking Midfielder
Toni Kroos is one of the most gifted young midfielders playing today. Will be an ever-present for Bayern and the Nationalmannschaft for the foreseeable future.
Granit Xhaka – Central Midfielder
Granit Xhaka was also part of the FC Basel side we mentioned earlier, and he was scooped up by a Borussia Mönchengladbach side fresh off a brilliant 4th place finish last season. Gladbach used some of the money from Reus’s departure to sign Xhaka, though Xhaka wasn’t bought as a direct replacement. More of a holding midfielder, Xhaka is calm and strong on the ball, keeping it simple when simple is needed but able to apply quality too. At just 20 years of age he already possesses many of the characteristics to be a world-class midfielder in the future.
Marc-André ter Stegen – Goalkeeper
Marc-André ter Stegen leapt to fame when he was introduced into the Gladbach first team towards the end of the 2010-11 season as they stood on the verge of relegation. His stellar performances in the reserve team had prompted coach Lucien Favre to put faith in the young keeper, and ter Stegen repaid this faith by keeping 4 clean sheets out of a possible 5 and helping his team avoid relegation via the playoffs. At the start of the 2011-12 season he was given the number 1 shirt and has never looked back. A commanding presence for one so young, he loves to pull off acrobatic saves.
Mario Götze – Attacking Midfielder
Not much needs to be said about Mario Götze. Just watch him play.
Juan Arango – Left Winger/Midfielder
At 32 years, Arango is the oldest player on our list, but don’t let that fool you. Arango is the owner of one of the best left feet in the game. One of those players that is incapable of scoring a dull or ‘routine’ goal. A set-piece specialist and a fan favourite.
Other notable mentions include: Kevin Trapp (Eintracht Frankfurt), Stefan Kießling (Bayer Leverkusen), Håvard Nortdveit (Gladbach), David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (Dortmund), Daniel Carvajal (Bayer Leverkusen), Edgar Prib (Greuther Fürth), Ádám Szalai (Mainz), Dante (Bayern Munich), Mario Mandžukić (Bayern Munich), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Lasse Sobiech (Greuther Fürth), Oliver Baumann (SC Freiburg), Stefan Aigner (Eintracht Frankfurt), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich).