20 Non-German Players to Watch in the Bundesliga This Season

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2013

20 Non-German Players to Watch in the Bundesliga This Season

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    The Bundesliga may be well known for the large crop of young talent emerging from its youth academies, but there are many top-class foreigners who have made their way in the German domestic league.

    Treble-winners Bayern Munich have long relied on imported stars, with Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez, Mario Mandzukic, Dante and David Alaba among their key players. Dortmund have enjoyed a successful spell with Polish trio Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek in their ranks, and this season have looked abroad for reinforcements in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

    The aforementioned are just a few of the many foreign-born stars of the German domestic league. For a rundown of which imports to watch in the Bundesliga this season, click "Begin Slideshow."

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David Alaba

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    Given that he's already won and twice finished a runner-up in the Champions League, it can be easy to forget that David Alaba is just 21 years old. But the Austrian is indeed still a rather young player, and each season until now he has taken steps forward in his development.

    At present, Alaba has little competition for status as the world's best left-back. He has all the skill and technique of a midfielder, but his physicality and tactical discipline make him an exceptional defender as well. And in Pep Guardiola's new system at Bayern, he has showcased the full breadth of his qualities on and off the ball. Still so young, he's far from reaching his peak.

Juan Arango

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    At the age of 33, Juan Arango is nearing the end of an illustrious career. The 115-times capped Venezuela international nonetheless remains a regular starter at Monchengladbach, primarily due to his incredible left foot.

    Last season, Arango produced several stunning goals, from long-ranged blasts to skillful volleys. His quickness will fade with age, but his shooting technique is timeless. As long as he continues to produce, he'll remain a starter—and one to watch.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

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    Ever since Bild found a picture of him posing with a Spider-Man mask, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been the darling of the German press. With a goofy comic reference and his faster-than-Usain-Bolt status, the Gabon international striker can make for easy and eye-catching headlines.

    Aubameyang is much more than just a headline-grabber, though. He scored a hat-trick in his Bundesliga debut, and his raw pace alone makes him a lethal threat on goal. Finishing remains somewhat of a weakness for the 24-year-old, but he has room for growth and could become the Bundesliga's top scorer during his stay at the Signal-Iduna Park.

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Jakub Blaszczykowski

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    Dortmund's squad has grown over the summer, but Jakub Blaszczykowski nonetheless remains a key part of Juergen Klopp's squad. The Polish winger is equally effective as a scorer and provider, having scored and assisted 17 goals apiece last season in all competitions for club and country.

    Due to Klopp's rotation in the early stage of the season, Blaszczykowski's minutes have been somewhat limited, and he's yet to perform to his level of the previous campaign. But the 27-year-old has enormous talent and always gives everything for his club. His dedication is uncommon in today's game and makes Blaszczykowski a great role-model for young players.

Dante

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    Perhaps the greatest example of a footballing late bloomer is Dante. The Bayern man only earned his first cap for Brazil in March at the age of 29. Although he was always considered a good defender, the centre-back was ignored by Europe's elite clubs until signing with the Bavarians a year ago following an outstanding season at Gladbach.

    Now it's undeniable that Dante is among the best centre-backs in the world. Even under Pep Guardiola, who is notorious for discounting the value of pure defenders, Dante appears to have retained his role. Especially as he looks to make a strong appeal for a spot in Brazil's starting lineup at the World Cup, the ex-Juventude defender will be one to watch this season.

Mame Biram Diouf

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    Since joining Hannover from Manchester United's reserves in January of 2012, Mame Biram Diouf has made huge strides in his career. He was highly coveted on the transfer market this summer, but the Lower Saxony side reportedly thwarted off Stoke's interest by slapping a £17 million price tag on the star striker.

    Diouf was man of the match in last week's win against Schalke, earning a penalty for the opener and scoring a second goal for Mirko Slomka's side. The Senegal international is a perfect fit at Hannover, and although he tends to poach goals like a classic Premier League striker, he has also shown the ability to score some spectacular goals—like his incredible overhead volley against Schalke in January.

Jefferson Farfan

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    Despite boasting an enviable squad, Schalke have suffered a woeful start to their season. The Konigsblauen only managed a draw in their Bundesliga opener—their only point in league play thus far—and just barely scraped past PAOK in their Champions League playoff. If they are to find their way once more, they will need Jefferson Farfan to be at his best.

    To his credit, Farfan, scored the all-important opener in the first leg of the PAOK tie. The 28-year-old Peru international hasn't hit his full stride just yet, however. If and when he finds his form, Schalke will be very dangerous.

Roberto Firmino

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    Just months after narrowly avoiding relegation, Hoffenheim are looking a much-improved side. The village club are undefeated in four competitive matches with two wins, both of which were made possible by the brilliant Roberto Firmino. Against Hamburg in the Bundesliga and Aumund Vegesack in the DFB-Pokal, the Brazil native scored a combined four goals and provided six assists.

    Firmino took some time to settle following his 2011 move to Hoffenheim but now appears to be on his way to fulfilling the promise he showed as a youngster in Brazil as he approaches his 22nd birthday. He's started the season in sparkling form; time will tell whether that will last.

Luiz Gustavo

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    Alongside Mario Gomez, Luiz Gustavo was one of two key Bayern Munich players to be unceremoniously ousted from the ranks of the treble-winning club following Pep Guardiola's arrival. The trainer evidently had no use for either, and both were sold.

    Gustavo has found himself at Wolfsburg this season and will have a point to prove both against his former club and to Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari as he aims for a starting role at the 2014 World Cup in his home country.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

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    Now that Mario Gomez has left Bayern for Fiorentina, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is surely the most pure poacher in the Bundesliga. Injuries limited his productivity last season, but in 2011-12 the Netherlands international scored an incredible 48 goals in as many games for Schalke.

    Huntelaar has some hurdles to overcome, most notably the fact that he is now 30 years old and that he is currently sidelined with an injury. But if he remains fit and reaches his rhythm, the striker will once again be an unstoppable presence in the penalty box.

Robert Lewandowski

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    Falcao and Edinson Cavani are the most coveted strikers to complete transfers this summer, but perhaps the best centre-forward of all is one who was not allowed to leave his club: Robert Lewandowski. After a long and drawn-out transfer saga, the Poland international and Bayern-linked striker has given up on a move before his contract expires in June, 2014.

    Much is expected of Lewandowski following his magnificent 2012-13 season, and if the player fails to live up to his standard—a tall order for any player, given how few have scored four goals in a match against Real Madrid—he will be criticized for not giving 100 percent to a club he is set to leave. There is perhaps somewhat less motivation for Lewandowski, but time will tell how much that affects his play.

Mario Mandzukic

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    Arguably the most physically imposing striker in the game is Mario Mandzukic, who in many ways has redefined the role of a centre-forward. The Croatia international spends nearly as much time in defense and on the wing as he does in the most advanced central areas, yet he has a knack for finding the net—it was he who scored the opening goal in the Champions League final in May.

    There were some concerns over whether Mandzukic would play regularly under Pep Guardiola—especially after Mario Goetze signed with Bayern—given the trainer's previous work with Lionel Messi as a "false nine." But Mandzukic has yet to relinquish his starting role. And as long as he keeps scoring, it's hard to see him being benched.

Javi Martinez

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    It was not exactly obvious that Bayern Munich needed a new midfielder when Jupp Heynckes announced that he was considering such a signing in May of 2012. In Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo, with Toni Kroos as depth in a central area, the trainer had an abundance of quality at his disposal. But Bayern nonetheless signed Javi Martinez and went on to win the treble the following season.

    As a ball-winner and in controlling the tempo of a game, Martinez truly brought Bayern to the next level. The Spaniard's aggression and skill in maintaining possession make him a delight to watch. It's unknown exactly what his role will be under Pep Guardiola, but whether as a centre-back or holding midfielder, he'll bring class to the table.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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    Coming as the most expensive transfer in Dortmund's history at €27.5 million and having inherited Mario Gotze's position and No. 10 shirt, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has huge shoes to fill. The playmaker had flown under the radar of most top clubs until recently, having played in his native Armenia and Ukraine. But his strong performances with Shakhtar Donetsk earned him heaps of praise last season, and he was chosen by BVB to be Gotze's successor.

    Mkhitaryan hasn't yet settled in at Dortmund; an injury in preseason certainly proved a setback. But he proved his class with Shakhtar in the Champions League and is destined for great things. Given the role he is expected to take, he may be the most exciting foreign player to watch in the Bundesliga this season.

Raffael

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    After a failed spell at Dynamo Kiev, Raffael joined Schalke on loan half-way through last season. The Brazilian playmaker has since confirmed a long-term stay in the Bundesliga, having moved to Gladbach. And there, he's earned what seems to be a permanent starting role.

    Alongside Max Kruse, Raffael has featured in the most forward role in a 4-4-2 formation that essentially features two false strikers. The revolutionary system seems to be working, with BMG averaging two goals per game thus far. Expect more good things from Raffael as he further integrates into Lucien Favre's system.

Franck Ribery

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    Shortlisted alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the UEFA Best Player in Europe award for 2012-13, Franck Ribery needs no introduction. The Frenchman has long been the pulse of the Bayern attack, his creative passing and outstanding dribbling control making him a nightmare for defenders.

    Ribery may be the wrong side of 30 years of age, but in the early proceedings of this season he has shown he still has enough class to be a difference-maker. Expect him to be one of Europe's best players again in 2013-14.

Arjen Robben

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    Although he was reportedly up for sale in April, Arjen Robben has since reaffirmed his value to Bayern Munich and will be staying at the Allianz Arena for another season. The Netherlands international had spent most of last season on the bench, but following Toni Kroos' season-ending injury in April, he took his chances brilliantly—including scoring the winner in the Champions League final.

    Robben has started the new season confidently and scored a brilliant goal against Nurnberg last weekend. An electric player with explosive dribbling ability, he brings a rare quality to the Bayern team. And with Pep Guardiola using a rotation, he will surely continue to have opportunities.

Son Heung-Min

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    South Korea international Son Heung-Min had a breakthrough 2012-13 campaign at a struggling Hamburg side, earning a transfer to Leverkusen. With the Werkself having finished third in the Bundesliga last season, fans will be able to see the 21-year-old play in the Champions League for the first time.

    Son's move to Leverkusen speaks well for the player's value: He's come to replace Germany international Andre Schuerrle in Sami Hyypia's lineup. A forward capable of playing centrally and on the wing, he scored in Leverkusen's Bundesliga-opener. Considering his immense finishing ability, surely many more goals will come.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

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    Based on their first four matches of the season, Hamburg have looked a complete train wreck. But their one big star, Rafael van der Vaart, has enjoyed good form: The ex-Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur man has scored in all but his most recent fixture.

    Having played at a high level for the last decade, what the 30-year-old van der Vaart is capable of doing is no mystery. Even if HSV have a miserable season, the Netherlands international is sure to produce some highlights.

Granit Xhaka

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    Much was expected of Granit Xhaka when he moved to Gladbach last season to replace Roman Neustadter. But after underwhelming at the beginning of the season, the €8.5 million signing from Basel was relegated to the bench.

    Arsenal were linked with Xhaka in the summer, but the Switzerland international stayed put until season's end. In May, he rekindled rumors of his potential exit by admitting he was considering other options.

    Nonetheless, the 20-year-old seems set to stay at Gladbach this season, having started all four of his team's competitive matches. The signs of immaturity he had last season have gone, and he now looks a more polished and complete footballer.

    Xhaka joined Gladbach having been likened to a young Bastian Schweinsteiger by Ottmar Hitzfeld. Now that he's settled, it will be interesting to see if the Basel-born midfielder can live up to his billing.

     

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