10 Injuries That Had the Biggest Impact on the Bundesliga Season
Although clubs will always do everything they can within their means to prepare themselves for a difficult season, injuries are always a roll of the dice that are beyond the control of any board of directors.
This season, several Bundesliga clubs have been blighted by injuries. Borussia Dortmund are without doubt the most notable, their having to call Manuel Friedrich out of retirement and convert players to new positions being prime examples of the desperate situation they've faced.
But BVB are not the only club to have had injury problems. Schalke dealt without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for long periods of time and cruciate ligament tears to Marco Hoger and Dennis Aogo left them extremely short of staff in defensive midfield.
Even Bayern Munich, the deepest club in the Bundesliga, have had injury problems, and a lack of fitness among key players has contributed to Hamburg's relegation fight.
Out of all the many injured players to miss out on time, B/R has identified the 10 most influential absences arranged alphabetically by surname. Click "Begin Slideshow" to see who makes the cut.
When Bayern signed Thiago Alcantara for €25 million last summer, many raised a skeptical eyebrow over how the Spain international would fit into an already star-studded Bavarian midfield. With Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller already capable of playing varying depths in the center of midfield, Thiago's potential role was uncertain.
After recovering from an injury that saw his miss the majority of three months, though, Thiago earned his place in Pep Guardiola's starting lineup. While many have been unable to adapt to the trainer's tactical approach, the trainer's former protege from his Barcelona years has taken the next step in his development, progressing from talented prospect to genuine star.
Thiago sustained a knee injury in March, and although he recently returned to fitness, his absence cost Bayern during a critical part of their season. The Bavarians have been woefully out of form as of late, and although their poor Bundesliga form came after they won the title, it's hard to deny that Thiago's presence could have helped them—especially against Real Madrid.
Thiago may be one of many excellent central midfield players at Bayern, but he provides unique qualities. When Guardiola chose to start Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Philipp Lahm as a central trio, he would have benefited from replacing one of the aforementioned with Thiago, who offers different qualities.
Huntelaar was a huge loss for Schalke this season, but so was Dennis Aogo. The 27-year-old, signed just days before the summer transfer window closed, was brought to Gelsenkirchen as an emergency loanee to shore up the Royal Blues' defensive game. He sustained a cruciate ligament tear in November, ruling him out of action for the rest of the season.
Aogo was meant to be a versatile role-player in the Schalke team, one who could play in defensive midfield as well as at left-back. And he performed his duties quite well prior to his injury. But especially given that it came just a few weeks after Marco Hoger sustained cruciate ligament damage, it was a crushing blow for Schalke.
Due to injuries to Aogo, Hoger and winter loanee Jan Kirchhoff, Schalke have had to play without a proper defensive midfield for the majority of the season. Their defense has, accordingly, not performed to the standards of a Champions League-caliber team: Conceding nine goals in two matches to Real Madrid was an embarrassment that will not soon be forgotten.
Entering the final matchday of the season, Nurnberg look very likely to be relegated. Even if they manage to overcome Hamburg and finish 16th, it's hard to see Der Club winning a playoff.
Nurnberg's season has been hugely disappointing overall, but performance not the only factor to blame: Der Club had poor luck in the form of an injury to striker Daniel Ginczek. The 23-year-old tore an anterior cruciate ligament in February, ruling him out until the end of the season.
Ginczek himself had not had the greatest season prior to his injury; he'd only scored three goals and assisted three more. But his injury only further confirmed the burden on the shoulders of Josip Drmic, who has been directly involved in 19 of FCN's 36 goals in the Bundesliga.
Nurnberg's goals-per-game rate (1.2) was higher prior to Ginczek's injury than it's been since (0.9). The striker's hold-up play and ability to act as a decoy would have been valuable. And given that he found the net 18 times in the 2. Bundesliga last season, one less than top scorer Domi Kumbela, there's reason to believe he might have been able to give Nurnberg a late push to avoid relegation. But he hasn't been available, and the drop is looking increasingly likely as the final matchday approaches.
Just one year ago, Ilkay Gundogan's stock was at an all-time high. The Borussia Dortmund man had reinvented the holding midfield role, emerging as perhaps the best player in the world at his position.
A central playmaker at Nurnberg prior to his move to Dortmund in 2011, Gundogan brought the fine footwork and creativity of a No. 10 to a deeper position, while using his physicality and aggressiveness in the manner of a classic "six." He outclassed such greats as Yaya Toure and Xabi Alonso again and again, and there were murmurs from many top pundits that he might usurp Bastian Schweinsteiger in Joachim Low's Germany XI.
Dortmund had a superstar in Gundogan entering the 2013-14 campaign, but just two weeks after scoring in BVB's 4-2 DFL-Superpokal win against rivals Bayern Munich, he was forced off the pitch in an international friendly. He has not played a minute since August 14, 2013, due to persistent nerve inflammation in his lower back. It's a tricky injury that, unlike many sports injuries, requires a player wait rather than undergo direct operation to repair structural damage.
BVB lost a key player in Gundogan, whose presence may have made the difference in key fixtures—particularly in the Champions League semifinals with Real Madrid. On the other hand, Gundogan's absence also gave Nuri Sahin a chance to prove himself at the club that had once before made him a star. But on the whole, Gundogan's absence contributed to the rampant fatigue that plagued Dortmund's squad and cost them results in the biggest matches of the season.
When Jens Hegeler tore an anterior cruciate ligament in March, Leverkusen looked to be in serious trouble. Sidney Sam had had many injury problems all season long, Gonzalo Castro was more a midfielder than a scorer and Heung-Min Son had proven to be an inconsistent provider of goals in his first season at the BayArena.
Leverkusen at the time were struggling to secure a top four finish in the Bundesliga, and Hegeler, who had failed to score even once in the German top flight this season, was nonetheless an often used substitute. But there was need for a new alternative when the 26-year-old was injured.
Enter Julian Brandt.
When super-talent Brandt was signed from Wolfsburg in January, he wasn't expected to play much of a role in the current campaign. But the winger, who only turned 18 on May 2, replaced Hegeler on the bench and soon found himself in a starting role that he's retained to this day.
Not only has Brandt been a role-player, but an integral part of the Leverkusen attack: He's scored or assisted in five of the last seven games, a very impressive tally for a player so young. And if not for injuries to Hegeler and perhaps Sidney Sam, Brandt probably would not have played more than a few minutes before next season.
Mats Hummels' importance in the Dortmund team ought never to be understated. The center-back has again and again neutralized top strikers and plays a key role in building up play from deep areas. That is why his absence due to two consecutive ankle injuries that saw him miss three months of the season took an enormous toll on BVB's Bundesliga aspirations.
Statistics alone show just how valuable Hummels is to Jurgen Klopp's plans. With the 25-year-old in their squad, BVB have conceded 20 goals in 23 Bundesliga games. Without him, they've conceded 16 times in 11 fixtures, a rate 67 percent higher than when he has played.
Hummels' first injury came just days before Dortmund faced Bayern, and as a result, BVB had to bring Manuel Friedrich out of retirement. BVB at the time were four points behind the Bavarians in the Bundesliga table, and a win at home would have brought them within a point of their rivals. But Dortmund missed Hummels as the out-of-shape Friedrich tired; BVB conceded two late goals and were dealt a hefty blow in the form of a 3-0 loss. Their form only began to recover a few weeks ago.
Two seasons ago, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored an amazing 48 goals in as many appearances for Schalke in all competitions. The Dutchman's tremendous prolificacy in front of goal earned him a new contract with the Gelsenkirchen side worth a club record €7 million per season. But since then, all has not been well.
Huntelaar's injury problems began last spring, when he sustained a knee injury in March. He recovered and had a strong spell over the final four games of the season, but took another damaging blow to his knee after just two matchdays in the current campaign.
The injury sidelined Huntelaar for the rest of the first round of the campaign, in which his backup, Adam Szalai, scored just five Bundesliga goals. Schalke barely survived their Champions League group and ended the first half of the season seventh in the German league table, a very poor standing considering quality of the squad and the investment that came in bringing the likes of Szalai, Kevin-Prince Boateng and more to the Veltins-Arena.
Huntelaar has had a positive impact since returning, scoring nine goals in the Bundesliga since January and lifting Schalke into a position that had them until recently fighting with Dortmund for second place. If the 30-year-old had played the whole season, his Schalke may have been able to finish runner-up.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga was one of the most inspired signings of the season for any Bundesliga club. Freshly recovered from a torn cruciate ligament, the striker was deemed surplus to requirements at Hertha BSC and loaned to Hamburg.
At HSV, Lasogga has averaged a goal every 118 minutes, making him among the league's most prolific forwards per minute played. But due to repeated injuries, he's only played 1416 minutes in the Bundesliga, only having 12 goals to show for his prolific rate. A knee injury and repeated muscular tears and strains have severely limited his appearances for Hamburg, and recently forced him to withdraw from Joachim Low's Germany squad after being called up for the first time.
When Lasogga has played, Hamburg have had a reliable goal-scorer. But without him, the northern club lack much of a presence in the penalty area. If they'd had him available regularly throughout the campaign, they might well have already been safe from relegation. Now, HSV are in serious danger of dropping to the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in their history.
Would Javi Martinez have retained his place in the Bayern midfield under Pep Guardiola if not for an injury that saw him miss over two months of action earlier this season? The world will never know.
What is known is that Martinez in mid-August sustained a groin injury that required surgery, after which time Guardiola began to use Philipp Lahm in midfield. It was a move that seemed prudent at the time, but instead of being a short-term stopgap measure, changed the role of Lahm and perhaps Martinez in the eyes of the trainer.
Since his return, Martinez has primarily been used in central defense, only occasionally in his natural midfield position. He's a fringe player, and with his becoming less relied upon, Bayern have looked extremely susceptible on the counterattack. When he was a regular starter last season, the Bavarians were impervious in transition.
Martinez's injury didn't directly harm Bayern's chances of winning the Bundesliga, but it may have played a part in Guardiola altering the team's playing style in ways that simply did not work in the Champions League.
Borussia Dortmund entered the 2013-14 campaign without a recognized, fit right-back. Lukasz Piszczek played much of the previous season with a hip injury that required two surgeries, operations that kept him out of action from May until late November. He only returned to form after the winter break, by which time BVB were out of the running for Bundesliga glory.
Kevin Grosskreutz took Piszczek's place in the BVB lineup, and although the winger has developed into a very effective defender, he had some teething problems at first as he learned the positional and technical aspects of defending. Grosskreutz's use at right-back also meant that he could not play in midfield, which could have taken some of the burden off Dortmund's increasingly fatigued attackers towards the end of the first round of the campaign. Thus, Piszczek's loss was one not only in defense, but in attack due to the rotation option it prevented.