2013 was an historic year for German football. For the first time, the Champions League final featured two German contestants: Borussia Dortmund and winners Bayern Munich. Later in the year and also for the first time, four Bundesliga teams were represented in the Champions League group stage: All four (the previous finalists as well as Schalke and Leverkusen) advanced.
On the domestic stage, Bayern set record after record, going undefeated and taking an unprecedented 93 points. But although the Bavarians can boast having many of the league's brightest stars in their ranks, there are many others who stood out—even from smaller clubs.
Click "Begin Slideshow" for a countdown of the top 25 Bundesliga players of 2013, beginning with No. 25. Criteria are performance in all competitions for club and country with an emphasis on the matches that matter most, taking into account the significance of a player's performance for the team's overall success.
Simon Rolfes is certainly not the most flashy or glamorous player on this list but nonetheless is fully deserving of his rating due to the leadership he's provided an inexperienced Leverkusen team with, that has in the past had trouble fulfilling their potential.
The B04 captain led his side to a near-second-placed finish in the Bundesliga last season and his side remain the only challengers to Bayern's dominance of the German top flight.
In the Champions League, in which Leverkusen have often struggled, he led the way with goals in each of his team's first three group stage matches. Even at 31, he still has plenty of quality left.
Three years ago, Mats Hummels was arguably the best player in the Bundesliga. His 2013 was not nearly up to his lofty standards, but the defender did have some great games when it mattered most.
He had a good Champions League final on an individual level and was arguably man of the match in the second leg of the semifinal with Real Madrid.
Hummels has struggled with injuries this season and still has not reached his previous heights. But in spite of his downturn he nonetheless remains one of the Bundesliga's top 25 players.
Almost nothing about Schalke has been consistent in recent years, and as such, there is only one player from the Gelsenkirchen side who has maintained a high enough level of form in 2013 to be represented on this list: Jefferson Farfan.
The Peruvian winger struggled at times during the spring, but was arguably Schalke's best player in the Champions League Round of 16. He's put his best foot forward in 2013-14, directly contributing to 16 goals in 20 matches for the Gelsenkirchen side—including assisting both goals in a recent showdown with Basel that decided Schalke's advancement in the Champions League.
Although perpetually overlooked by Germany coach Joachim Loew, Stefan Kiessling deserves high praise for his performances for Leverkusen.
The 29-year-old scored or assisted in all but five of B04's Bundesliga matches in the spring and will enter the second half of the 2013-14 campaign just two goals behind joint-top scorers Adrian Ramos and Robert Lewandowski.
Although he remains a liability in the Champions League (he failed to score or assist in five of six group stage matches), Kiessling's tremendous strike rate on the domestic stage earns him a spot in the top 25 Bundesliga players of the 2013 calendar year.
Kevin Volland has made headlines as of late as he has been linked with a number of clubs from the Premier League as well as Borussia Dortmund. The 21-year-old is certainly in high demand, and for good reason: He's had a stellar 2013.
At an otherwise rather mediocre Hoffenheim, Volland has thrived. The versatile forward can both score and assist, but his value goes past the simple statistics: This season he's the Bundesliga's top-rated striker according to Kicker magazine's aggregate player ratings.
When Jupp Heynckes called for the signing of a new central midfielder after the 2012 Champions League final it was a rather shocking request. But Javi Martinez's performance in his first season in Bavaria, coupled with Bayern's tremendous success vindicated the €40 million spent to sign the player from Bilbao.
Martinez was hugely important for Bayern in the Champions League knockout rounds; his partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger in defensive midfield meant that the defense rarely had much work to do.
Pep Guardiola has only used Martinez sparingly this season; the player made just six appearances in the Bundesliga and five starts in all competitions. Had he played more he surely would have been rated better in this list.
Although somewhat error-prone, Bernd Leno has been brilliant many more times than he has made blunders. The 21-year-old was the director of the Bundesliga's second-best defense in 2012-13 and his Leverkusen are at the halfway point in 2013-14 behind only Bayern in terms of fewest goals conceded.
Leno was between the posts when Manchester United hammered Leverkusen for nine goals between two matches, but otherwise the youngster has been heroic in the Champions League—particularly away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Perhaps the Bundesliga's most underrated and most consistent defender of 2013 is Omer Toprak. The Leverkusen man was among the German top flight's best center-backs last season and has carried his form into the current campaign.
Leverkusen had the Bundesliga's second-best defensive record last season and continue to hold their position as the league's second-best defense in 2013-14. And through this time only one of their defenders has kept his starting spot: Toprak. Four years after a karting accident that nearly ended his career, the Ravensburg native is one of the best players in German football.
Borussia Moenchengladbach are well on track for a top four Bundesliga finish for the second time in three years; the Fohlen enter the winter break third in the table with many thanks to the brilliant Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The 21-year-old Ter Stegen was excellent last season and has been instrumental in Gladbach's brilliant campaign thus far. His heroics, particularly against Dortmund and Schalke, have saved points time and time again for Lucien Favre's side.
Toni Kroos, king of the "second assist" (the pass to the player who ultimately assists a goal) ranks higher than his skill merits, primarily due to the fact that he was absent with injury in many of the most telling moments of Bayern Munich's treble-winning season.
In phenomenal form throughout 2012-13, the 23-year-old missed all but 15 minutes of the Champions League quarterfinals, as well as the entire semifinals, final and DFB-Pokal final.
But to omit Kroos from this list would be a mistake. The midfielder's distribution was outstanding in the spring prior to his injury, and in the current season he's flourished in Pep Guardiola's "tiki-taka" system. So far has Kroos come in 2013 that now he has a real chance of being chosen in Joachim Loew's first team at the World Cup.
It's no coincidence that ever since Dante's arrival, Bayern Munich have been unbreakable in defense. In one-and-a-half seasons with the Brazilian in the center of their back line, the Bavarians have conceded just 26 goals in the Bundesliga.
Dante has brought experience and class to the Bayern defense and is one of the reasons Manuel Neuer has had so little to do in the Bayern goal.
Jerome Boateng has had ups and downs in his career, but last season he improved significantly, helping Bayern to a record-setting season in which they conceded just 18 goals in the Bundesliga. The Champions League final was a real turning point in his career as he affirmed the development he'd undergone over the course of the season.
Since May, Boateng has continued to impress not only at club level but for Germany, where he appears to have locked down a full-time starting role under coach Joachim Loew.
Freiburg's 2012-13 campaign was an incredible story; that a team with so little star power almost reached the Champions League playoff is truly incredible. But Christian Streich's side finished fifth in the Bundesliga, with much thanks to Max Kruse.
The 25-year-old was prolific especially in the second round of last season and earned a transfer to Gladbach. Since moving to Borussia-Park, Kruse has maintained his form and then some: The versatile attacker has scored eight goals and given seven assists as the Fohlen have finished the first half of the current campaign in fourth place.
Although he made more headlines for looking and acting bored last season than for standout performances, Manuel Neuer makes the top 25 Bundesliga players of 2013 because when he needed to be at his best, he was.
Few teams were able to penetrate the Bayern defense in 2013, but when they did, they were often faced with a brick wall to shoot at. Especially in the Champions League final, Neuer came up aces with some exceptional saves. Perhaps the only reason the Gelsenkirchen native is not better ranked is that he had so few opportunities to show his class due to Bayern's utterly inpenetrable defense.
A year after missing the penalty that saw Bayern lose the Champions League final at home, Bastian Schweinsteiger won an historic treble with the Bavarians. The vice-captain was one of the best performers for the German record champions, his Champions League performances against Juventus and especially Barcelona sticking out as some of the best of his career.
Recovery from surgery saw Schweinsteiger's minutes limited in the early stages of the 2013-14 campaign and a persistent ankle injury has seen him miss out on action since the beginning of November, which explains him being ranked perhaps below his ability.
Signed in the summer of 2012 to be a back-up for Mario Gomez, Mario Mandzukic took his chances and soon became a full-time starter for Bayern. The Croatia international is not the most prolific marksman in world football, but nonetheless was a perfect fit in Jupp Heynckes' high-pressing system and has scored in the telling moments.
Mandzukic scored the all-important opener against Juventus in Turin in April and was first to strike in the Champions League final against Dortmund. And although his minutes have been somewhat lessened under Pep Guardiola, he's on pace to quite comfortably beat last season's tally of 15 Bundesliga goals.
In the first half of 2013, Mario Goetze was instrumental for Borussia Dortmund. One can point out his goals and assists as evidence, but a more convincing argument can be made based upon BVB's performance then and now.
In the spring, Dortmund were able to wreak havoc on any defense, especially on the big stage. This fall, in Goetze's absence, BVB struggled to progress to the Champions League knockout rounds.
Goetze has since moved to Bayern and had a tremendous start to his career in Munich, despite a couple injuries that kept him from playing at his best for most of the fall campaign.
He scored against Dortmund and Manchester City, and on numerous occasions has come off the bench to spark the Bavarians' offense. At the half-way point in 2013-14 he's averaged a goal or assist every 89.8 minutes.
It took Bayern Munich several years to find a qualified successor for Bixente Lizarazu, but they now have one in David Alaba. "Mr Reliable" for the Bavarians, the 21-year-old cemented his status as the world's best left-back last season and has only continued to impress in the current campaign.
Heroic not only for Bayern, Alaba scored six goals and gave three assists for Austria during their World Cup qualifying campaign—his prolificacy in a midfield role being a testament to his all-round class as a complete footballer.
Although Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan are the players most commonly referenced as the heroes of Dortmund's run to the 2013 Champions League final, Roman Weidenfeller was an unsung hero for Jurgen Klopp's side. For that and his performance in the Bundesliga in 2013, the goalkeeper makes this list.
Weidenfeller was simply outstanding in the Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid—especially in the second leg, when many of his teammates seemed nervous—and again in the final against Bayern.
A blunder against Napoli aside, the veteran has had a great start to the 2013-14 campaign. And accordingly he was finally given his first cap by Joachim Loew in a recent friendly.
A player of often understated brilliance, Thomas Mueller delivered on stages big and small throughout 2013, reliably breaking down opposing defenses to score and assist at even the most improbable times.
Mueller almost single-handedly dismantled Barcelona in the Champions League in April; over the course of the 2013 calendar year he scored against the Catalans and Manchester City in two games each, as well as against Juventus.
Last season, Marco Reus affirmed his class as in his first Champions League campaign he came up aces time and time again for Dortmund. He was man of the match in BVB's comeback against Malaga, set up two of Robert Lewandowski's four goals against Real Madrid, and won the penalty in the final that led to Ilkay Gundogan's equalizer.
Reus began the 2013-14 campaign in outstanding form in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, effectively canceling out the downturn in BVB's form that would be expected given their blight of injuries.
The 24-year-old's performance dropped over the last month or so as fatigue and the expectation to provide what formerly was shared with Mario Goetze took a toll. But the ex-Gladbach man nonetheless had an outstanding 2013.
Although a bench-warmer for much of the 2012-13 season, Arjen Robben came to life in early April. Replacing the injured Toni Kroos in the Champions League quarterfinal against Juventus, the Dutchman was a game-changer and ripped apart the Serie A giants on the right flank. He later scored in both legs of the semifinal before assisting the opener and scoring the winner in the final. In one year, Robben changed from big-game flop to hero.
Robben has carried his scintillating form into the current season, in which he has been a goal machine. The 29-year-old has played a direct role in at least one goal in each of his four Champions League appearances, producing an average of two per game.
He's scored or assisted in all but one Bundesliga match in which he started. That Robben will not be honored as one of the top three candidates for the Ballon d'Or in January borders on scandalous.
Without Robert Lewandowski, the Borussia Dortmund of today would be a shadow of what it currently is. The Polish striker has again and again been heroic for BVB, proving a reliable source of goals in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League.
After 130 minutes of frustration it was Lewandowski who scored the equalizer against Malaga in the Champions League quarterfinals. Two weeks later, the Pole put four past Real Madrid in arguably the best individual performance in Europe in 2013.
Lewandowski has maintained his brilliance in 2013-14: He is joint-leader in goalscoring in the Bundesliga and was critical to BVB's progression to the Champions League knockout rounds.
Every big team needs a classy attacking player to create goals on a week in, week out basis, and for Bayern that is Franck Ribery. The Frenchman capped a stellar first half of the season by playing a decisive role in both goals scored in the Champions League final; before that he played a direct role in 14 goals in 15 matches played in the second round of the Bundesliga.
In 2013-14, Ribery has not let up for even a moment. The 30-year-old scored a key opener against Manchester City in the Champions League, has scored or assisted in all but one Bundesliga fixtures in which he's started, and played a critical role in France's comeback against Ukraine as he gave two assists to secure Les Bleus' qualification for the 2014 World Cup.
Superlatives are often saved for flashy, attacking types, but ranking No. 1 on this list is Philipp Lahm. The 30-year-old was the captain of the best team in the world, the leader of the best defense football has seen in recent memory and had one of the best years at all areas of the pitch that any fullback has ever had.
Lahm was consistently brilliant throughout 2013—especially in the matches that mattered most. Selfless and ever-adaptable, a blight of injuries in the Bayern squad forced Pep Guardiola to field the 30-year-old in midfield. There he flourished, a testament to his mentality, work ethic and boundless class.