So, the Bundesliga season is at an end yet again. And cue the galas and awards. In a year that has gone some small way to upsetting the more usual order of German football, it was the free-spirited Schwarzgelben of Jürgen Klopp’s youthful Dortmund side that swept aside all other contenders to hoist aloft the Bundesliga trophy. Their vibrant brand of football matched only by the fervent support emanating from the largest free-standing, single-tiered kop in Europe. With an average age under 23, the herbstmeisteren carried their early season form into the latter half, eventually taking the title by seven points from Bayer Leverkusen. The behemoth of Bayern, a further three points adrift.
At the wrong end of the table, it was a tearful goodbye said both to the enigmatic St. Pauli, and by their erstwhile coach – Holger Stanislawski. Joining them in 2.Bundesliga next season will be Eintracht Frankfurt, who amassed just eight points after Christmas, plunging from seventh place, and European contention. Running completely contrary to Frankfurt were Borussia Mönchengladbach, whose decision to dispense with Michael Frontzeck – replacing him with Lucien Favre, as one of 18 managerial changes in the division – was vindicated, as they saw off Bochum (2-1 on aggregate) in the play-off.
And so to reflection. Below is my Bundesliga Team of the Year. I’ve looked beyond the basic, trying to quantify the importance and impact of key individuals to their respective teams. Some are natural selections, but others may seem a little more unusual. Hopefully I’ve given some insight into my reasoning, but please let me know what you think, and who you would pick.
Oh, and as Head Coach…..It has to be Jürgen Klopp. A veritable genius who absolutely oozes the enthusiasm and passion of his side; long may it continue!
Manuel NEUER, 24, Schalke 04
Twelve months ago, the Königsblauen icon was a relative unknown outside Bundesliga circles. But fabulous displays in South Africa, and a monumental role as captain in Schalke’s progress to the Champions’ League Semi-Final have finally confirmed a €25m move to Bayern. Keeping 11 clean sheets, and averaging over 3 crucial saves per game in a side that finished 14th just served to underline the contribution he made. Despite being seen by some of the Schalke hardcore as deserting the Club, he has been a rock for them, and nobody will have agonised over the decision to move on more than the affable Gelsenkirchen native.
|Heiko WESTERMANN, 27, Hamburg SV
With 69% of duels won, and just 4 yellow cards from 33 fouls committed, the 6’3” centre-half slipped seamlessly into his new side after his €7.5m summer move from Schalke. An ever-present during the season, the low points of his campaign came with an own-goal in the 6-0 hammering at the hands of Bayern, and a lost bet with Gerald Asamoah (after a 1-0 derby defeat to St. Pauli) that resulted in him having to wash his former team-mate’s car, in public!
|Per MERTESACKER, 26, Werder Bremen
The Hannover native has racked up 75 caps for his country, and his form of 2010-11 suggests that Bremen’s decline came very despite him. Another with a 69% success rate from his one-to-ones, he picked up just a single yellow all season, and was guilty of just 18 fouls. Completing 82% of passes attempted also suggests his distribution is an oft-overlooked factor of his play.
|Neven SUBOTIC, 22, Borussia Dortmund
One of the most coveted defenders in Europe at present, the Serb averaged almost 50 passes per game, and committed less than one foul per game. However, his role is far more influential to the success enjoyed by Dortmund this year, and he provides the perfect foil to allow the likes of Sahin and Kagawa to push higher up the field as he steps out of the back four.
|Benedikt HÖWEDES, 23, Schalke 04
Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to a young man yet to rack up 100 Bundesliga appearances comes in just how much he was missed in the first leg of the Champions’ League Semi-Final tie with Manchester United. He has a very calm manner, and his pace is a real asset to the side, allowing him a versatile reputation that has finally won international recognition in Joachim Löw’s most recent squad.
|Marco REUS, 22, Borussia Mönchengladbach
The Foals remarkable second half of the season – picking up a huge 26 points, third only behind Dortmund and Bayern – owes a huge amount of credit to the talismanic midfield general. In 32 games, Reus completed 69% of his passes, and weighed in with 8 assists and 10 goals. The 94′ minute strike that levelled the first leg of the play-off match with Bochum, according to his Chairman, put his price tag at €25m! The embodiment of the box-to-box midfielder.
|Arturo VIDAL, 24, Bayer Leverkusen
The former Colo-Colo midfielder was a pivotal figure in Leverkusen’s demonstrative march to qualification for next year’s Champions’ League. Featuring prominently in all but one of his team’s league fixtures, the Chilean showed no ill-effects of his World Cup exploits. Indeed, his return of 10 goals and 11 assists placed him fourth on the overall Bundesliga scorers list. Still only 24, the platform of Europe’s elite competition is a just reward for a tremendous campaign.
|Thomas MÜLLER, 21, Bayern Munich
The 2010 World Cup top scorer and young player of the tournament was another who hit the ground running as the season dawned, reinforcing Bayern’s decision to extend his contract to 2015. He scored the opener in the Supercup game with Schalke, then did likewise in the opening matchday against Wolfsburg. While injuries and poor form plagued those around him, Müller went on to lay on 11 assists in the league (19 in total), while registering 12 goals himself. With a pass completion rate of 72% and an ever-present record, he was a shining light in the inclement climate of Bayern’s toils to third place.
|Arjen ROBBEN, 27, Bayern Munich
Despite an injury-ravaged season – Robben did not make his first league appearance until 15th January – the impact The Flying Dutchman made in the second half of the campaign was the very definition of being “like a new signing”. In just 14 appearances (just 834 minutes), the former Chelsea and Real Madrid star provided 8 assists and 12 goals himself, outscoring every other player in the Bundesliga during his time on the pitch. It’s for that impact that he merits a spot in the team of the year.
|Mario GÖTZE, 18, Borussia Dortmund
Labelled by Matthias Sammer as “one of the best talents we’ve ever had”, Götze broke into Jürgen Klopp’s already young side last season at just 17. This year, he was a veritable mainstay of the title-winning side, representing the exuberance and energy of the team. Ten years on from joining the Club, the 2010-11 season saw him net six times, and act as the supply line for another 11 goals for Die Schwarzgelben. His November call-up to the National Mannschaft represented a watershed moment as he became the first player born in the unified country to achieve this honour. Yet he carries the generational weight with ease and grace far beyond his years. The German youth system has done it again.
Mario GÓMEZ, 25, Bayern Munich
Transferred from Stuttgart for a German record fee of some €35m twelve months earlier, Gomez initially struggled to shake off that burden. However, this season saw him break those shackles, netting 28 times – including no less than five hat-tricks. Averaging a goal every 87 minutes, and from every 2.82 shots on target, Gomez took his overall Bayern tally to 38 from just 61 games. In doing so, he has relegated the erstwhile Miroslav Klöse not only to the bench, but to the scrapheap. He led the line superbly, and racked up his 100th Bundesliga strike as Bayern hammered St. Pauli 8-1 to cement their Champions’ League qualification berth. With the absence of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben for most of the season, it was only through Gomez’s goals that Bayern even retained a hope of that qualification going into 2011.