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Bundesliga's Top 10 Midfielders so Far This Season

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

Bundesliga's Top 10 Midfielders so Far This Season

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    The Bundesliga has become somewhat of a factory for midfielders in recent years, its academies churning out a seemingly endless stream of talented, versatile footballers, each with a well-rounded skill set. Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan were all promoted from youth to senior teams, while imports like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben have fortified the league's talent pool.

    In honor of the immense midfield talent in the Bundesliga, here is a list of the top 10 performers from the first half of the 2013-14 campaign. Players were chosen based on performances in all competitions for club and country, with weight given to the significance of their contributions to their respective teams. Defensive midfielders, central attacking midfielders and true wingers were considered for selection.

    Click "Begin Slideshow" to start the countdown at No. 10.

No. 10: Sven Bender

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    Despite being injured four times, Sven Bender tallied 26 appearances for club and country this fall, a period in which he came into his own as one of the Bundesliga's best holding midfielders. The 24-year-old was like a vacuum in open space, in many instances shielding a fragile BVB defense from what could have been humiliation.

    A true "iron man," Bender broke his nose early in a November match with Napoli but played on. He was forced to change his shirt so many times due to bleeding that the club store had to provide him with a spare.

No. 9: Sidney Sam

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    Sidney Sam's unstoppable form in the Bundesliga saw his value increase by 67 percent to €10 million, according to Transfermarkt, between the summer and the beginning of November. The 25-year-old was ever-reliable on the wing, his consistency making up for Son Heung-Min's occasionally brilliant but often anonymous performances.

    The first round of the Bundesliga ended early for Sam, who missed the last month of the campaign due to a muscular injury. But this came after he earned his first three caps for Germany, solidifying his future with the DFB and vastly increasing his stock.

No. 8: Toni Kroos

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    Although he's become less involved in scoring, Toni Kroos has thrived under Pep Guardiola's tutelage at Bayern Munich. The versatile midfielder has scored just once, but he's become the king of the "second assist," playing the ball to the player who assists the scorer. And otherwise he's been somewhat of a metronome for the Bayern attack, spraying the ball around the pitch.

    Immature and ignored at Euro 2012, Kroos' mentality has improved greatly in the last year-and-a-half, and his game has taken a resounding turn for the better in the last six months. He now has every chance of making Joachim Loew's first team at the World Cup in Brazil.

No. 7: Nuri Sahin

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    In midseason, it's safe to say that without Nuri Sahin, Dortmund would be mid-table in the Bundesliga and eliminated from the Champions League. Although he sustained ankle ligament damage twice and once had muscular problems, the Turkey international fought through his problems and made 26 appearances for BVB, his class greatly softening the blow of the loss of Ilkay Gundogan to injury.

    Sahin is not quite at the level he played at in 2010-11, but he is not far from it. The 25-year-old has shown glimmers of the form of his best season: His magnificent performance in the derby with Schalke, capped off with a goal voted Goal of the Season, being a prime example.

No. 6: Mario Goetze

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    It's extremely difficult for a 21-year-old to make the jump to first-team status in his first term at Bayern Munich, but Mario Goetze managed to do just that despite a pair of injuries that kept him out of action for the majority of the period between April and the end of September. All while being used in a variety of positions, some more familiar than others.

    Goetze has had a mountain to climb but has nonetheless passed all tests. It's easy to cite the fact that he's scored or assisted a goal every 89.8 minutes played, but looking deeper, his introduction has single-handedly changed many games. A prime example was when he came off the bench against his former club, Dortmund, and scored the opener within 10 minutes.

No. 5: Marco Reus

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Although Marco Reus' form waned as the burden of being Dortmund's only attacking midfielder with true world-class ability weighed on him, the 24-year-old still had an excellent run and played a critical role in Dortmund's fall campaign. He was man-of-the-match in the DFB-Superpokal victory over Bayern and later in BVB's must-win Champions League match against Napoli.

    Reus will enter the second half of the season having had the time to rest and rejuvenate that he sorely missed this fall. If his teammates step up and ease some of the burden from his shoulders, the sky is the limit for the Dortmund-born attacker.

No. 4: Thomas Mueller

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    "Mr. Reliable" in the Bayern and Germany attack, Thomas Mueller has already played an incredible 34 games for club and country this season and rarely failed to deliver. The €45 million man, as assessed by Transfermarkt, has scored or assisted in almost every game in which he's played a majority of the minutes: He did both in November's win against Dortmund and was also on target in each of the Bavarians' fixtures against Manchester City in the Champions League.

    Rarely glamorous but exceptionally effective, Mueller has become the kind of goal-producing workhorse that Pedro Rodriguez was for Pep Guardiola at Barcelona—except much, much better.

No. 3: Arjen Robben

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    Scorer of the game-winner in the 2013 Champions League final, Arjen Robben carried tremendous confidence into the current season. Before missing the final weeks of the first round with a flesh injury, the Dutchman had scored 17 goals (including strikes against Manchester City and Dortmund) and assisted 13 more in 25 games in all competitions for club and country.

    A reinvented player since the spring of 2013, Robben has scored from headers and turned provider far more than he used to. It's rare that he tries his former trademark left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area. With his increasing age he's become more versatile and, consequently, more dangerous. And for his transformation, he ranks third among Bundesliga midfielders.

No. 2: Franck Ribery

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    Much like Robben, Franck Ribery's form from the Champions League final continued this fall. Perhaps spurred on by his being named the European Footballer of the Year in August, the Frenchman has continued to be Bayern's driving force throughout the fall campaign.

    With 16 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for club and country, the Frenchman has produced an average of 1.07 goals per game, or one for every 73 minutes on the pitch: His best-ever rates in both categories. In the Bundesliga, he's scored or assisted in all but one game in which he played for more than 30 minutes. As he approaches his 31st birthday, Ribery is aging like a fine wine, and his success is only making him stronger.

No. 1: Philipp Lahm

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    Although one of the few non-attack-minded midfielders on this list, Philipp Lahm is superlative. The 30-year-old has consistently performed at a staggering level, ensuring that Bayern remain the world's best football club even as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez—the backbone of the 2012-13 team—have spent substantial time on the sidelines.

    Bayern had trouble containing counterattacking opponents in the first few weeks of the season, but once Lahm was moved from his natural right-back position into a midfield anchor role, things dramatically improved for the Bavarians.

    It was a tremendous ask for Lahm to translate his brilliant performances as a defender into a different role, but the captain made the transition seamlessly. He truly is a phenomenon of the modern game—as much so as any other player.

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