10 Most Underrated Bundesliga Players This Season
The Bundesliga is home to some of football's most recognized and celebrated players. From Bayern Munich's star-studded squad to Borussia Dortmund's exciting young players, the league's popularity is at an all-time high.
Even so, there are several lesser-known players making waves this season: players who stand right besides the big names as some of the standout performers this season and players whose influence may very well make them household names in the near future.
Let us take a look at some of those players, some of whom have gone under the radar and others who are slowly but surely making a name for themselves.
10. Marco Russ (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Aside from Alexander Meier’s contract extension, there has not been too much to be excited about this season in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt supporters.
Their team is mired deep in the relegation battle and coach Armin Veh has announced he will leave at the end of the season.
Marco Russ, however, has been one of the few consistent performers in the team this season. The 28-year-old has filled in at centre-back and in defensive midfield when necessary, proving to be a reliable performer and a great source of stability.
Russ is not the flashiest or the most technical player, but his performances have given Frankfurt supporters the hope that they can survive the drop and turn around their fortunes. When all else fails, nothing beats the surge of great work ethic and determination.
9. Robin Knoche (VfL Wolfsburg)
Robin Knoche has been one of the standout performers for a club pushing for a Champions League spot.
At just 21, Knoche has locked down a starting spot in Dieter Hecking’s team and been one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders.
Last year he made his debut for Germany’s U21s and scored his first goal for them in his second game. Now he is an integral part in their campaign to qualify for the 2015 European Championships and is being watched by the first team.
Knoche is good with both feet and in the air, and reads the game well. He has formed a very good partnership with Brazilian teammate Naldo and won the accolades of many of his peers. Expect to see more of Knoche going forward.
8. Tony Jantschke (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Jantschke had a breakthrough season two years ago when Gladbach finished in a Champions League spot.
Back then he played as a right-back with many believing his performances were deserving of a national team call-up.
The 23-year-old defender started at right-back also this season, but coach Lucien Favre eventually moved him into central defense to cover for the injured Martin Stranzl. He has since remained there and surprisingly been one of the Bundesliga’s standout centre-backs.
Favre has been full of praise for Jantschke’s ability to perform in different positions, having also played him in midfield last season. This season he has played in all but one game and given Gladbach fans reassurance that they do have someone to fill in for captain Martin Stranzl once he retires.
7. Omer Toprak (Bayer Leverkusen)
Leverkusen may not be in the best form now, but only Bayern were more impressive in the first half of the season. Sami Hyypia’s team were well on their way to a Champions League spot and conceded fewer than a goal per game.
Part of that strong defensive performance was Omer Toprak, who was not only their best defender but arguably the best in the league. Toprak was always touted as a big talent, but long-term injuries and a lack of playing time stalled his development.
Despite Leverkusen’s dip in form, Toprak has still been Leverkusen’s most consistent performer. Having the experienced Emir Spahic next to him has helped a great deal, but Toprak is also finally displaying the potential many thought he always had.
6. Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin)
There are few players in the Bundesliga who run more and work harder than Hosogai.
Hosogai is Hertha’s engine, plain and simple. He does the dirty work, the running and the marking. It is his responsibility to track opponents and to disrupt play. And he does it brilliantly.
The Japanese international has won no fewer than 239 duels in the league so far. He has excelled in Hertha’s disciplined 4-2-3-1 and been a key part in their push for a European spot, all in their first season following promotion.
Hosogai played a similar role when he was loaned to Augsburg two seasons ago. There he became the team’s specialist in marking every opponent's key player. He eventually helped Augsburg beat the drop in dramatic fashion.
This season Hosogai is having arguably his best season yet in German football, and it could well help Hertha back to European football.
5. Johannes Geis (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Geis is the epitome of an underrated player.
First and foremost, he plays as Mainz’s defensive midfielder, an important but often overlooked position. Second, he is part of a team that, while being very effective collectively, lacks individuals that usually draw people’s attentions.
Yet Geis has been phenomenal. He made his Bundesliga debut last August and has not let go of his spot in the team. So convinced has coach Thomas Tuchel been of his performances that he has used him in every game since.
Geis also made his debut for Germany’s U21s last August and has become for them an integral figure. His game is simple yet extremely effective. Geis reads the game well and positions himself expertly to intercept and receive balls. At only 20 years of age, the sky is the limit for young Geis.
4. Josip Drmic (1. FC Nurnberg)
When you look at what Drmic has accomplished this season with a struggling Nurnberg side, it comes as a big surprise that more people are not talking about him.
Amidst the club’s worst-ever run of form, Drmic has 11 goals and three assists in 19 league starts.
The Swiss international has been played both up front and wide right this season. Under new coach Gertjan Verbeek, the club has experienced an upturn in form in the new year, and a lot of that is down to Drmic’s play.
Drmic is technically strong, quick and can play in just about any attacking position. Most had Nurnberg pegged to go down halfway through the season, but because of Drmic’s efforts, they may well survive the drop. Then the next challenge for Nurnberg becomes trying to hold on to their 21-year-old jewel.
3. Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund)
Before Nuri Sahin returned to Borussia Dortmund, his future was very much in doubt. A failed move to Real Madrid was followed by a disappointing loan spell at Liverpool, neither of which helped him reach the form that made him so desirable at Borussia Dortmund.
And when Sahin returned to his boyhood club, it was only to back up Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan, but with injuries for both players, Sahin had the chance once again to re-establish himself as Dortmund’s central figure.
Sahin has been one of the best players in the Bundesliga this season. Due to the team’s many injuries, he has had to play in every match this season but has done so with great consistency.
Lewandowski and Reus take attention away from others with their play, but Sahin’s influence cannot be emphasized enough this season.
2. Daniel Baier (FC Augsburg)
Quite possibly the most underrated player in the league over the last two years, Daniel Baier has been the heart of a growing Augsburg team that went from fighting relegation to now contending for a European spot.
Pep Guardiola made no secret of his admiration for the Augsburg midfielder when their team sides met earlier this season. Baier is very much a player in the Guardiola mold: technically gifted, a fantastic passer of the ball, intelligent on and off the ball, and with great leadership skills.
If Augsburg do, in fact, reach Europe, you can bet that Baier will get offers from other clubs. In the meantime, he has been to Augsburg what Philipp Lahm has been to Bayern—the central focal point and single most important player.
1. Rafinha (Bayern Munich)
It is not easy filling in for a team captain. It is even harder filling the shoes of the world’s best full-back.
When Pep Guardiola moved Philipp Lahm into central midfield, many thought it would leave an irreparable problem at the back.
Many also thought that Rafinha, surplus to requirements at times last season, would be sold in the summer. He got a new lease of life under Guardiola and has repaid him handsomely for his trust.
Rafinha has not only been the best right-back in the league this season but quite possibly also anywhere in Europe.
The Brazilian was also rightfully rewarded with a return to the Brazilian national team earlier this month. With him at right-back, Bayern have not skipped a beat.
Most importantly, Rafinha’s qualities have allowed Lahm to play in midfield uninterrupted. The switch is arguably the biggest reason why Bayern have been able to step up yet another level under Pep and why they are on course for another treble.