There have been some historic moments in the Bundesliga this season – stories that will be remembered and retold as long as football is a widely supported sport. Aside from the relegation battle that just wouldn’t end, the European race that went to the final day, and the earliest ever Champions being crowned in the final week of March, there have been some stunning overall performances by players across the league, and we at TBR wanted to give some of them recognition – ahead of a World Cup where many of them won’t even play. It’s weird how football works.
5. Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino has been on the Bundesliga scene for a few years now, impressing many and more importantly playing a leading role in his three and a half years at 1899 Hoffenheim. At just 22, the Brazilian attacking midfielder has been touted as a prospect for a while now and began to live up to expectations in 2012/2013 as Hoffenheim narrowly avoided relegation, in no small part down to Firmino’s contributions in the final third.
With a better pre-season and the stability that the continuation of last season’s saviour Markus Gisdol afforded them, Hoffenheim went on to bigger and better things in 2013/2014, becoming one of the league’s most attractive teams going forward, if one of the most cringe-worthy at the back, having one of the worst defensive records in the league. Firmino has been part of an attacking contingent in Sinsheim containing the likes of Kevin Volland and Anthony Modeste, two players who’ve weighed in with their weight in goals and assists this season, but the Brazilian has been the player to really make the difference going forward for the Baden-Württemberg club, with 16 goals and 12 assists making him one of the league’s most dangerous attackers. This has all been achieved from an offensive midfield position, leading some to perhaps misguidedly tout Firmino as a potential replacement for names as luminous as Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund; while Firmino is certainly as dangerous as Lewandowski, he’s not a target man, and operates at his best when he can link up with men around him, which is why Modeste and Volland in particular have helped Firmino flourish this year.
Having had such a good year, speculation is abound about his playing situation for 2014/2015, but in March Firmino signed a new three year contract, keeping him at Hoffenheim until 2017 – whether this is to help drive his potential price up or because Hoffenheim have sold him the idea of them becoming a club with true European ambitions remains to be seen, but what is clear is that many clubs across will covet Firmino’s signature.
4. Daniel Baier
A 30 year old midfielder with very little in the way of Bundesliga first team experience until a couple of years ago, who perhaps hadn’t been heard in many circles outside of Germany before, may seem an odd choice in a “top 5 players of the season” article. Yes – point taken – but not including Daniel Baier would be an insult to both him and his club FC Augsburg, both of whom who have enjoyed the best seasons of their footballing lives over the past year or so.
An ever present for Augsburg – playing every minute of all 34 Bundesliga games in 2013/2014 – Baier is the key man at a club who confounded the pre-season expectations of many and landed comfortably in mid-table, still with a flickering hope of a Europa League place on the final day. Baier has been at Augsburg since 2010 – first appearing on loan in 2008 while the club were in the second tier – and has therefore grown alongside the club during the peak of his career. With a passing rate of 80% this season, Baier has proven himself to be excellent on and with the ball, with three assists and 47 key passes from a deep lying midfield position helping supply an Augsburg frontline with relatively sparse forward know-how, as well as the likes of Tobias Werner and Andre Hahn on the flanks.
Baier may not have the most exciting future of the players in this list – his age and relative lack of top-level experience probably playing a large role in his non-selection in the Germany World Cup squad when compared to players who’ve had similarly impressive seasons in his position, such as Mönchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer and the more established names from Bayern, but given his achievements this season he deserves some sort of international recognition, and TBR is clearly the best platform for that!
3. Marco Reus
Probably the most established name on the list, having played a leading role in Dortmund’s magical run to the 2013 Champions League final, Marco Reus has enjoyed a sparkling 2014 since switching to the “Number 10” role in Jürgen Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 system, following on from a consistent if not entirely impressive Hinrunde, while he and a large proportion of the Dortmund squad suffered with injury.
With 16 goals and 13 assists in the league, Reus has undoubtedly had an impressive season statistically – topping even the aforementioned Firmino in the league, despite having a larger workload with continental and cup games flying thick and fast – and his influence on the Dortmund team has increased since the loss of Mario Götze last summer. Reus’ combination plays with Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang remain in need of development, at least when compared to those between him and Götze, but Reus has still been a key part of a Dortmund team who, despite a lack of major silverware this season, have had an excellent year – beating last year’s points total in the league, coming close to the semis of the Champions League while running Bayern close in the DFB Pokal final. A word must also be said about his partnership with the departing Robert Lewandowski, which was at times telepathic towards the end of 2013/2014.
Reus will quite rightly be one of Germany’s key players in Brazil this summer – if he can carry on his vein of form in international colours, he will boost Germany’s chances massively, especially with very few of Bayern’s German international contingent having standout 2014s so far.
2. Ricardo Rodriguez
Part of the VfL Wolfsburg team who will quite rightly be in the Europa League group stages next term, Ricardo Rodriguez has shone all season long at left back from both a defensive and offensive standpoint. The Swiss defender broke through a couple of years ago, but has been the undisputed first choice for the Wolves this season, without any injury problems. Indeed, like Baier at Augsburg, Rodriguez is the only other outfielder man in this list – and indeed, in the entire league – to have played every minute of every game this year – and with it 34 excellent performances.
Rodriguez has been a model of consistency, with defensive problems rarely coming from his flank, while the defender has also popped up at the other end with five goals; two from penalties and another two from free kicks, highlighting his danger from both set pieces and open play. Incredibly for a defender, the wide man has assisted 9 goals for his club, a side who aren’t particularly prolific when compared with a lot of other clubs in the league. At just 21, too, Rodriguez has a bright future and has been quite rightly identified as one of the best full backs of the future, if not now.
With a place in the Swiss World Cup squad assured, Rodriguez can look forward to a prosperous tournament in a talented squad, and even potentially a move to a larger club, whether within or outside of Germany – Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid are all reputedly interested.
1. Marc-Andre ter Stegen
The only goalkeeper on the list and by far the best goalkeeper in the league this season, ter Stegen has quite rightly earned a move to FC Barcelona to replace their long term number one, Victor Valdes. The 22 year old goalkeeper had previously spent 18 years at Borussia Mönchengladbach – joining as a 4 year old – and has spoken of the painful dilemma at leaving the club to further his career. He proved this, and claims that he’s probably the most talented young goalkeeper in the world, over 34 games where he – like Baier and Rodriguez, played every minute of the 2013/2014 season – just like in the past two seasons.
With an average of 1.26 goals conceded per game, with a relatively makeshift defence in front of him for vast swathes of the season, ter Stegen still managed to keep 9 clean sheets, which is impressive, as he’s essentially acted as the stabilising element in the Borussia defence at such an early stage of his career. Aside from one notable gaffe – the miskick against Braunschweig – ter Stegen has had a virtually faultless season, generally only standing out for being such a strong influence on his team.
With 100% of all contested claims made, and excellent distribution, ter Stegen has essentially been the start of all Mönchengladbach attacks, getting the ball out to defenders and building slowly from the back. After one final successful season, it’s a shame to see him leave the Bundesliga, but exciting to see how his career goes from here.