20 Players to Watch in the German Bundesliga This Season

Stefan Bienkowski@@SbienkowskiFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2013

20 Players to Watch in the German Bundesliga This Season

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    As the new Bundesliga season draws ever closer with the preliminary round of the new campaign just one week away, the ever-constant scramble from one club to the next to finalise and solidify squads for the coming competition draws quieter and quieter. 

    Players have transferred, loans have been finalised and coaches have set out their tactics; the Bundesliga is all but set for the new season. 

    As such, it wouldn't be a new year in Germany's top division without a groundswell of excitement surrounding some of the biggest and brightest prospects in European football at the moment.

    Therefore, we bring you the top 20 players to keep an eye on this season, from the brightest prodigies to the most exciting world stars, in the German Bundesliga. 

20: Nils Petersen (Werder Bremen)

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    In a season that most Werder Bremen fans will consider as the worst in recent memory, a rare spark of hope that consistently shown throughout the troublesome campaign was provided by ex-Bayern striker Nils Petersen.

    The 25-year-old striker, who found little joy at Bayern Munich since joining in 2011, was initially on loan at Bremen for a season before all parties agreed on a permanent transfer this May. Now Petersen goes into the new season as the main striker for a club that truly appreciates his talent. 

    With just four goals less than Bayern star striker Mario Mandzukic in the league last season, don't be surprised if he manages to overtake his Bavarian counterpart in the goalscoring charts and once again show his true worth for Bremen this season. 

19: Giulio Donati (Bayer Leverkusen)

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    Bayer Leverkusen have had a very efficient summer transfer window. Just as the sale of Andre Schurrle was countered with the acquisition of Heung-Min Son, the Factory squad were quick to cover the hole left behind by Real Madrid-loaned Daniel Carvajal with the signing of Giulio Donati at right-back. 

    The young Italian full-back has little experience at Bundesliga, with the majority of his career spent in the Serie B with Lecce, Padova and Grosseto whilst on loan from Inter Milan. Yet what we saw of the youngster at this summer's U-21 European Championship for second-place Italy was that of a competent and ambitious full-back. 

    He should pick up plenty of game time at Bayer, whilst also benefiting from the patience that the club allows its young, developing players. 

18: Joselu (Eintracht Frankfurt)

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    Despite a debut season at Hoffenheim last year that most professional strikers would scoff at, Joselu, at the tender age of 23, still has plenty of time to cement himself as a competent Bundesliga striker. 

    At a club that few players find comfortable, the former Real Madrid Castilla top goalscorer should benefit from his loan to a club that creates an abundance of chances yet haven't quite found the perfect striker for its system. 

    Five goals was all the Spaniard accomplished last season. If he can settle in at the top of Frankfurt's system, Joselu could and should quite easily double or triple that. 

17: Patrick Herrmann (Borussia Monchengladbach)

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    Slight in build yet ambitious, strong-spirited and as skillful as he is quick, Patrick Herrmann does well to remind Gladbach fans of a young bright-eyed and bushy-tailed forward who once set the Borussia Park alight not so long ago. 

    Although far from any record Marco Reus set at Gladbach two years ago, five goals and six assists last term is a decent return for a young forward on a team that spent much of last season assessing the damages of losing Reus and Dante in the same transfer window and struggled desperately to stay in the top half of the table for much of the campaign. 

    Yet eighth position was Gladbach's in the end, which offers a comfortable position for coach Lucien Favre to rebuild his squad. Within that squad you can be sure to see plenty of Herrmann, aged just 22 years, this season as he continues his march up the league table with his boyhood club in hand. 

16: Leon Goretzka (Schalke)

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    In a summer that has seen Schalke heavily reinvest in a squad that finished just two places below local rivals Borussia Dortmund, one signing that has truly stood out among the crowd is young midfielder Leon Goretzka. 

    At just 18 years old, the midfielder walks into his debut season for this Schalke squad as very much a raw talent, with the potential to truly shine at the club. As shown by the constant legal battles that went on throughout the summer between the Royal Blues and Goretzka's old club, Bochum, the former Germany U-17 captain was well regarded at the Veltins Arena and a player that they were simply desperate to sign.

    Despite remaining a fair distance away from a regular first-team position, don't be surprised if we see more and more of this promising midfielder in the coming season.  

15: Kevin Volland (Hoffenheim)

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    Following a season that saw Hoffenheim escape relegation from the Bundesliga by a single goal, it would seem fitting that the most important player on the squad to date is young striker Kevin Volland. 

    Last year, the 21-year-old scored six goals and assisted a further 12 in his inaugural season in the German top division and was quickly established as a dependable forward whilst Hoffenheim went from one disaster to the next. 

    With Markus Gisdol now in charge of the first team and a little stability finally settling around the club, it'll be interesting to see how the young German striker can perform without the added worry of his club falling down around him. 

14: Adám Szalai (Schalke)

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    In a summer transfer move that many criticised as nothing more than Schalke filling their boots with able squad players, Adam Szalai joins the Royal Blues with a hunger to prove himself as a fit and able replacement to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at the head of their attack. 

    With 13 goals and three assists in the Bundesliga last season, Szalai arrives at the club with some respectable credentials (especially when compared to Huntelaar's 10 goals and four assists) and should push the settled striker to his limit as both competent forwards battle it out for the solitary striker position. 

    If Szalai can dethrone the Dutch international, then we should expect a lot more goals. Thirteen goals in one season is good for a limited side like Mainz, but something close to double that is necessary for any striker at Schalke. 

13: Daniel Caligiuri (Wolfsburg)

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    In what seemed like a bitter end to a fairytale story, the news of Daniel Caligiuri's future transfer from Freiburg to Wolfsburg just a few weeks before last season's end struck home just how quickly good players can get snatched up from one club to the next.

    Throughout Freiburg's impressive season, Caligiuri was consistently relied upon to create chances, finish moves and offer an out-ball to a team that relied upon its strength as a unit over its individual abilities. 

    As such, it should suit the left-sided midfielder to join a club that relies deeply on the ability of each of its star individuals, while adding a little balance and hard work to some of the more flamboyant forwards on the side. It seems unlikely that Caligiuri's hard-working nature won't pay off on this brighter stage.

12: Moritz Leitner (Stuttgart)

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    As someone who many Borussia Dortmund fans considered a natural and fitting long-term replacement for Mario Gotze, Moritz Leitner stunned most with an unexpected loan move to Stuttgart this summer, just months after the very man who was keeping him out of the side made his move to Bayern Munich. 

    Although much more of a central midfielder compared to Gotze, Leitner does come from the same school of thought as that of the new Bayern playmaker in the manner in which he controls the ball and looks to create chances. 

    This temporary move to Stuttgart is exactly that, and before too long Dortmund will be keen to bring the young midfielder back home after the two-year loan, where he will hopefully slot straight in to the first team. 

    Until then, experience is required, and we should see Leitner truly thrive in a squad full of attacking quality that should give him enough game time to shine at Stuttgart. 

11: Marco Rojas (Stuttgart)

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    In one of the more imaginative moves of the summer transfer window, Marco Rojas' move from Melbourne Victory to Stuttgart has offered an interesting scope into the possibility of an accomplished player from the Australian A-league succeeding in the Bundesliga. 

    On his side, he has the glaring advantage of joining a club that is desperate for strikers at the moment, with Vedad Ibisevic being the only member of the squad with more than 15 goals last season. Stuttgart is also a relatively small squad in general, ensuring that the New Zealand international is destined for plenty of game time. 

    Having scored in his debut for Stuttgart, if Rojas can reach anything like the 15 goals he scored for Melbourne last season, then at the prime age of 21 years old, the Swabians may well have a wonderful prospect on their hands this season. 

10: Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach)

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    Despite accomplishing no more than 15 starting appearances for Gladbach in a disappointing debut season last year, the young Swiss midfielder is still very much a part of Lucien Favre's plans at Borussia Park. 

    As can happen with young players, Xhaka needed a season to adapt to the quicker, more physical nature of the Bundesliga, but he has shown in preseason friendlies throughout the summer that he is a lot more comfortable than he was last year. 

    Usually deployed in the central midfield, the youngster offers a real bite to any midfield with his ability to close down and effectively break up attacks. If Xhaka is truly settled, and the potential is still there, then this central midfielder may well grow into one of the best in the league. 

9: Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)

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    Hardly anything of a secret or surprise for the coming season, yet after a summer of transfer-window duels between Dortmund and Bayern Munich over the signature of Robert Lewandowski, the subplots and potential fallout are too tasty to ignore.

    As the Polish striker showed against Bayern in the DFB Pokal final last week, there seems to be no illusions over his intentions for the coming season: Lewandowski wants to continue scoring goals and winning trophies.

    As such, it would seem foolish to suggest any other striker throughout the league to follow more closely. With a committed Lewandowski, Dortmund have the ability and firepower to match and even surpass Bayern. Without him, they may not stand a chance. 

8: Max Kruse (Borussia Monchengladbach)

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    Another player who looks set to help Gladbach regain their former glory under Lucien Favre is German international forward Max Kruse, who recently joined the foals from after a fantastic season with Freiburg in which he scored 11 goals and created eight assists.

    Kruse provides Gladbach an array of options in his ability to play across the entire front line, as shown for Freiburg last season. He also performed well in a number of different roles whilst in these positions. 

    At just 25, the German forward is only just approaching the peak of his career, and at Gladbach, a side full of inventive footballers, he should really be able to shine in all areas of his game.


7: Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen)

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    In much the same manner as Robert Lewandowski, Stefan Kiessling has been included in this list simply because of the influence he will have on this coming season. 

    Bayer, currently Germany's third-strongest side, will be challenging for top league honours as well as a respectable campaign in the coming Champions League. For Kiessling, this is the final year to truly show national team coach Joachim Lowe just what his Germany side is lacking.

    With 26 goals last season, Kiessling—who recently signed a two-year extension with the club—scored nearly three times as many goals as second-placed Andre Schurrle (11) and can be quite conservatively appointed as one of the key reasons Leverkusen finished third.

    With a point to prove and the added incentive of proving himself in Europe at the highest stage, we may be in store for Stefan Kiessling's best season yet. 

6: Heung-Min Son (Bayer Leverkusen)

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    One of the most exciting prospects for this coming season doesn't come in the form of a fancy export or some brand new youngster on the scene, but that of Heung-Min Son, a Bundesliga player for just over three years who has made the move from Hamburg. 

    Son's move has caused such a stir mainly due to the fact that he chose Bayer Leverkusen over Dortmund, but also due to his incredible ability and what he could bring to a club like Leverkusen (who are already so close to breaking the Dortmund/Bayern duopoly). 

    With 12 goals and two assists for Hamburg last season, Son offered a level of performance that few across the league could match. And when we consider that he was often the standalone performer for the troubled northern club, it doubles just what the 21-year-old South Korean could potentially do on a top-flight side.

    In Son, Bayer have signed a match winner and a player who could truly define their fate for the coming season. 

5: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)

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    In a move that took most of Europe by surprise, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's transfer and five-year deal to Borussia Dortmund was as brilliant as it was unforeseen.

    While the continent's media were focusing on just how BvB were going to replace Gotze with Heung-Min Son, Kevin De Bruyne or Christian Eriksen, the club were quietly putting the final touches to one of the best transfers across Europe. 

    In Ligue 1 last season, Aubameyang scored 19 goals and created nine assists for Saint-Etienne, as he became one of the standout performers in not only French football, but the entire sport. 

    Dangerously quick, light on his feet and with a perfect eye for goal across the entire final third, Aubameyang offers Jurgen Klopp the expertise and flexibility of two or three average signings while maintaining a level of quality that will surely make him one of the best throughout the entire Bundesliga. 

4: Julian Draxler (Schalke)

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    In many ways, last season was the official crowning of Julian Draxler as the rightful prince of Schalke's Royal Blues. 

    Whether we consider him a goalscoring winger, a playmaking forward or an attacking midfielder, Draxler was absolutely pivotal to Schalke's late charge up the Bundesliga table, where they finally finished in the remaining Champions League position in the nick of time. 

    With the flutter of new signings throughout the summer to continue their quest to catch Leverkusen, Dortmund and Bayern Munich, Draxler offers a starting point from which Jan Keller is likely to build the foundations of this new Schalke side. 

    Praise and pressure come in equal measure for the 19-year-old at this point in his career, but what the young German international promises is something truly special. For Schalke, a bright prospect begins to blossom, and for the rest of the Bundesliga, a spectacle for all. 

3: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)

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    Thiago Alcantara offered all the non-drama of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang transfer whilst maintaining the sheer promise of a Julian Draxler-type when he unexpectedly showed up at Bayern Munich's gates last month.

    Since then, the young Spaniard has been ever-present in Pep Guardiola's side, as they prepare for the new season amidst a change in management and style of play.

    The new coach has made little effort to hide his affection for the ex-Barcelona player, and as seen from such friendlies and June's U-21 European Championship (which Thiago's Spain side won), the young midfielder is more than happy to indulge his new coach. 

    If Thiago does indeed remain a first pick for Guardiola and cements himself as a vital member of the squad at just 22 years old, the Bundesliga may well be in store for not only one of the best players in the league, but one of the best in the world. 

2: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund)

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    When Mario Gotze left Borussia Dortmund, there was initially a huge panic. For such a talent to leave under such circumstances was almost unheard of and left the club with little chance or time to evaluate proper alternatives.

    As the summer season went on, and little news came out of Dortmund regarding any possible transfers, fans began to worry and critics began to question whether the club had any genuine targets in mind.

    Then Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived.

    For a not-so-modest fee of €27.5 millionMkhitaryan arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk with not only the ability to potentially offer an alternative to Mario Gotze, but with the brute power and determination of a club that meant business behind him; this was Dortmund's answer to what Bayern and Gotze had done.

    Despite picking up an ankle injury that should keep the Armenian forward out of action for about four weeks, Dortmund and Klopp fully expect Mkhitaryan to pick up where Gotze left off and help them maintain the pressure on Bayern Munich throughout the campaign. 

    For Dortmund, this risk was a necessary one, but a risk nonetheless. If Henrikh Mkhitaryan doesn't reach the sky-high expectations put upon him and his four-year deal, then there's a good chance that Dortmund won't, either. But if he does, and he embraces the Bundesliga like any great player would, then the former champions may well have a player who can turn the tide for them once more. 

1: Mario Gotze

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    As if by some miraculous reason it wasn't obvious who would be No. 1, it is perhaps fitting to quickly run through exactly why Mario Gotze is the No. 1 player to keep your eye on in the Bundesliga this season. 

    From the darling prodigy of Borussia Dortmund to the very first acquisition in Pep Guardiola's campaign to conquer all of European football with Bayern Munich, Mario Gotze perhaps best epitomises everything that most casual Bundesliga fans struggle to appreciate about the Bavarian champions. 

    Of course, the move was ultimately the young Gotze's, and it is well within his right to search for greener pastures in Munich, and it might just decide how the Bundesliga will pan out over the next season. 

    Already arguably the best player in the league, Gotze scored 12 goals and assisted a further 14 in 34 games for Dortmund last season, as they marched toward a comfortable second-place finish in the league and a spot in the Champions League final. 

    An incredible record for any player, let alone one who's only just turned 21, Mario Gotze is quite simply one of the most promising, if not already proven, players in European football today.

    With his move to one of the best clubs on the continent, he has not only sealed his own fate but possibly that of the Bundesliga as well. And for that reason alone, all eyes will be on Mario Gotze this coming year.