Bundesliga: Mario Mandzukic and 20 Players to Watch in Germany This Season

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2012

Bundesliga: Mario Mandzukic and 20 Players to Watch in Germany This Season

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    Germany's top flight, the Bundesliga, is about to kick off for the 2012-13 season.

    Arguably now having the third best league in European football, Germany holds a whole host of talent in its highest division—and not all of those players are at the top two or three teams.

    An exciting mix of the tactical and the technical, the German league promises to be one of huge interest for the casual fan and die-hard follower alike this season.

    With that, here are the top 20 Bundesliga players to watch out for this season.

    You'll no doubt excuse the missing big-name stars such as Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mats Hummels—we completely bow to their magnificence on the pitch and they will undoubtedly star again this season, but they are already household names the world over and would be watched regardless.

Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund

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    Twenty-one goals in his final season with previous club Borussia Moenchengladbach propelled Marco Reus to the forefront of creativity in German football, sealing himself a place on the national squad for Euro 2012 in the process.

    He also snared a move back to his youth side Borussia Dortmund, who shelled out a reported €17.5 million to land their man.

    The move was agreed back in January and he will now fight for a place in the reigning champions' team alongside the likes of Mario Gotze and Jakub Blaszczykowski.

    Reus effectively replaces Shinji Kagawa, who left for Manchester United this summer.

    A talented and tricky wide attacking midfielder, he can play on either flank and is adept at dribbling past opponents one-on-one—but his goal tally shows he has become much more than just a winger.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Borussia Moenchengladbach

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    Just 20 years of age and already twice capped by the full German side, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in the world.

    Blessed with top reflexes and a penchant for extraordinary saves, ter Stegen has only been in the Borussia Moenchengladbach team for barely more than a season, but made himself a fan favourite and a firm first choice at club level.

    He will come under increased pressure this season to maintain his form and really push Manuel Neuer for a place on the German team.

Xherdan Shaqiri, Bayern Munich

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    Pace. Skill. Dribbling ability. An eye for goal. Great work rate.

    All key attributes in the modern day winger and especially prized in those who can play on their opposite foot and flank.

    Xherdan Shaqiri, newly of Bayern Munich, is one such player who has all those assets at his disposal, and more.

    Shaqiri has been one of the most vaunted players across Europe for 24 months, and now will face the scrutiny of the watching world to determine whether or not he can live up to the massive expectations placed on his shoulders.

Benedikt Howedes, Schalke

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    Benedikt Howedes is the captain and first choice centre-back of Schalke 04, the team he has played for during his entire career to date.

    Howedes is strong, a great tackler and has great vision, while his tall stature also helps him in the air.

    Seen by many as—along with Mats Hummels-the best centre back in Germany, he was perhaps a little unlucky not to feature more prominently at the European Championship.

    If Schalke have any kind of success this season, it will be built off the back of their fine defence, led by Howedes.

Marko Arnautovic, Werder Bremen

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    Is anybody else yet fed up waiting for Marko Arnautovic to fulfill his potential?

    An outrageously talented and skilful individual on the ball, he has yet to display any such consistency and application needed to be a massive success in the game.

    In fact, despite spells with Inter Milan on loan and two years with Werder Bremen, he has not managed to score more than a handful of league goals in a season since his final campaign at FC Twente, where he scored 12 times in 2008-09.

    If he gets it together to become a professional player, as opposed to a talented but carefree one, the 23-year-old could make himself one of the best players in the league.

Andre Schurrle, Bayer Leverkusen

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    Another of Germany's Euro 2012 squad, Andre Schurrle is a terrific wide forward with an eye for goal and a forceful, direct style of play.

    Less "twinkle toes" than "thunder thighs," he will burst past defenders with his strength and acceleration before looking as often as possible to shoot from the left edge of the box with his right foot. He does still have the skill to beat a defender without mere pace, of course.

    More goals will be expected of him this season as he adjusts fully to playing from wider areas instead of centrally, but he is a real threat for Bayer Leverkusen.

Hiroki Sakai, Hannover 96

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    One of Japan's 2012 Olympics stars, Hiroki Sakai, has just recently joined Hannover from former club Kashiwa Reysol for just €1 million.

    The attacking right-back is an exciting addition to the Hannover squad, and showed his talents on the big stage in London this month.

    Strong in the tackle, technically proficient and calm in possession, Sakai could be one of the standout players from outside the biggest clubs this season.

    Hannover can be confident they have landed themselves a bargain.

Granit Xhaka, Borussia Moenchengladbach

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    If Xherdan Shaqiri was the player who was most coveted and valued at FC Basel, then Granit Xhaka was the greatest facilitator of them all.

    A very talented but hard working midfielder, Xhaka becomes one of several excellent prospects in the Moenchengladbach team for the 2012-13 season.

    Still only 19 years of age, he has played six times for Switzerland, scoring once, and looks set to be one of the linchpins that they build their talented new team around.

    Xhaka is tough tackling, composed in passing, and has boundless energy.

Milan Badelj, Hamburger SV

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    The latest graduate of the Dinamo Zagreb production line has flown the coop, with Hamburger SV winning the race to capture playmaking midfielder Milan Badelj.

    A technically superb midfielder with both feet and with a wonderful range of passing, Badelj had already decided not to extend his contract with his former club, opening the door for a summer move.

    The Croatian will fit in well with Hamburg and should be a ready-made replacement for the outgoing David Jarolim.

    Badlj could easily be a star of the division within a single season.

Mario Mandzukic, Bayern Munich

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    One of the success stories of Euro 2012, Mario Mandzukic starred for Croatia in the group stages, scoring three times.

    His subsequent move to Bayern Munich came about after he scored 20 times in two seasons in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg.

    An imposing, strong and powerful figure who can play as a centre-forward or as a wide attacker, Mandzukic will be expected to challenge Mario Gomez for a first-team place and be a spearhead for the attack.

Ivica Olic, Wolfsburg

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    And in the reverse of that move, Ivica Olic left Bayern Munich in the summer after the expiration of his contract and joined Wolfsburg.

    Olic is a dead-eye shot with his left foot, but is deceptively powerful in the air and fast over short distances. His ability to play wide as well as up front means he is adept in different formations.

    Wolfsburg will be hoping he can slot in and remain injury-free over the coming season, something which he did struggle with at Bayern.

    If Olic does stay fit, he could help his new side improve on last season's eighth-place finish.

Garra Dembele, Freiburg

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    Freiburg broke their transfer record last summer when they brought in centre-forward Garra Dembele from Levski Sofia in Bulgaria.

    Having netted 26 goals in 24 league games for his previous side, he was expected to reach similarly impressive heights in the Bundesliga, but it didn't quite happen for him.

    In his debut season, Dembele managed just a solitary league goal for his new club, with only 12 appearances.

    This time around he will be hoping for far more game time and luck in front of goal as he bids to live up to his record transfer status.

Julian Draxler, Schalke

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    One of the leading lights in the division of the teenage players, Julian Draxler is bound for superstardom.

    Draxler has proved a versatile midfield figure, capable of helping out with both defensive and offensive play for Schalke.

    Though he is only 18 years of age, Draxler is already a player who has drawn much attention from around Europe. A third-place finish for his club last season means he will be playing Champions League football this term, which will further help him improve his experience and development.

    He is already capped once for the full German national team and has played well over 50 times for his club.

Luuk De Jong, Borussia Moenchengladbach

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    After two consecutive transfer windows full of speculation and transfer rumours, Luuk de Jong eventually made the somewhat surprising move to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

    Since then, 'Gladbach have steadily added huge quality to their squad, and they could well now be on the verge of really challenging for a Champions League spot after their fourth-place finish last season.

    De Jong is one of several brought into the club on the back of the sale of Marco Reus.

    A goalscorer, a presence in the box, and having managed a rate better than one goal every two league games for Twente, de Jong will be expected to offer a similar potency for his new club in the Bundesliga.

Kevin De Bruyne, Werder Bremen

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    Chelsea winger Kevin de Bruyne has been sent out on loan again, this time for the entire 2012-13 season to Werder Bremen.

    A player who relies heavily on his pace to quickly beat a man and provide a chance for his teammates, de Bruyne is direct and reliable and will hope to assist many goals next season.

    Long term, he aims to become a fixture at Chelsea, having only appeared in preseason friendlies for them until now.

    In total he played over 100 games for Genk.

Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Schalke

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    One of the most well-known—perhaps, the most well-known—player on the list, but still one who has yet to fully convince all his detractors.

    Klass-Jan Huntelaar has played in four of the best leagues in Europe and scored goals for every team he has played for since his loan spell at AGOVV.

    Huntelaar is a goalscorer.

    He has totaled very close to 250 career goals thus far, plus an additional 32 for the Holland national team.

    Schalke have a reliable, top-class finisher at their disposal and Huntelaar will guarantee them goals.

David Alaba, Bayern Munich

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    Bayern Munich's sprightly young left-back, David Alaba, made his big breakthrough last season in defence after spending much of his youth as a wide midfielder.

    Alaba has pace to burn and is confident with the ball at his feet, providing a perfect platform for launching Bayern's attacks from the back.

    His stamina is also a big plus point for the role he plays in, being required to overlap on the outside of Franck Ribery in attack.

    Despite being just 20 years old, Alaba already has 17 caps for Austria.

Vaclav Pilar, Wolfsburg

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    Czech Republic wide attacker Vaclav Pilar had a massive effect for his national team during Euro 2012, winning plaudits for his inventive displays and battling performances.

    Wolfsburg sealed his signature before the tournament for just €1 million, which worked out well for them—had they waited until after the tournament, he likely would have cost a significant amount more.

    His dribbling sees him best opponents in one-on-one situations, and his movement off the ball will be a big positive for him and his team alike.

Emre Can, Bayern Munich

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    A player without a Bundesliga appearance to his name thus far now, Bayern Munich's Emre Can is a fantastic talent and will be a fine addition to the Bavarians' midfield this term after being promoted from their second string.

    He has great passing ability, a fearlessness in the tackle and more than the odd burst of speed with the ball at his feet. Can could become a key figure in the Bayern team when he gets his chance.

    He might not play 25 or 30 games just this season, but he is well worth watching as he takes his first steps at the top level.

Theodor Gebre Selassie, Werder Bremen

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    Our final player is another who impressed hugely in the Euro 2012 tournament, Czech Republic's Theodor Gebre Selassie.

    The former Slovan Liberec full-back is an athletic and attacking presence down the right flank from the back line, and will be showcasing his abilities for Werder Bremen this season as they look to build on last year's ninth-place finish.

    Gebre Selassie will look to continue his impressive European Championship form into his debut season in Germany.