Best XI of 2013/14 Bundesliga Signings
As the Bundesliga finally wrapped up another wonderful campaign this weekend with Bayern Munich finally lifting their deserved trophy amongst the ultimate relegation of FC Nurnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig, the mood quickly turned to that of contemplation.
As the famous saying goes: "The league table never lies." Yet speculation over who truly accomplished what will echo throughout the summer months until each club can once again take arms and fight over another league campaign to settle old scores.
For now, we'll continue to look back over the season that was and consider just which clubs were the brightest and best, not on the pitch or on the training ground, but in the hostile world of the transfer market.
Who unearthed the next gem of German football? Who picked up the star striker? And who tightened their once-leaky defense?
Here is the best XI of the 2013/14 Bundesliga signings.
Those Who Just Missed out
Daniel Schwaab: Stuttgart
Some much-needed game time has turned the former Leverkusen defender into quite the player at Stuttgart this season. And at just 25 years old, the Swabians can expect to see the German star only get better as he matures and approaches his prime.
Anthony Modeste: Hoffenheim
The 26-year-old striker was in fine form for Hoffenheim this season, scoring 12 goals and creating two assists alongside the genius of Roberto Firmino. Unfortunately for him, other new signings elsewhere in the league scored more.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Dortmund
Only Firmino and Marco Reus created more assists than the Armenian attacking midfielder this season, yet unlike the two ahead of him, Mkhitaryan did falter at times and struggled to hold down any form of consistency. Not a bad debut season at all, but not quite an excellent one, either.
Mario Goetze: Bayern Munich
Although the former Dortmund star was always going to struggle to re-create his old form for Pep Guardiola at first, few would have predicted just how long we would have to wait before the German international finally turned on the style. Ten goals and eight assists in a single season are great for some but not quite enough for Germany's young prodigy.
Christoph Kramer: Borussia Moenchengladbach
Having bounced around a number of Bundesliga clubs over the past few years, 23-year-old Christoph Kramer finally found his feet at Gladbach this season and showed what he could do from the heart of the Foals midfield. He is a box-to-box midfielder with plenty of potential.
All stats used here came from Whoscored.com
Goalkeeper: Marwin Hitz
The German Bundesliga is a land ripe with home-grown, quality goalkeepers that have in recent years taken to the task of defending the goals of the very clubs that nurtured their talent.
As such, Marwin Hitz, the 26-year-old Swiss player who Augsburg plucked from Wolfsburg's reserves last season, stands alone as one of the few goalkeepers to have made a move this season and seen his prospects flourish.
Augsburg may have finished eighth this weekend, just out of reach of the Europa League's warm glow, but their defensive record was the sixth-best in the Bundesliga—which was in no small part down to the excellence of their new shot-stopper, Hitz.
Right-Back: Giulio Donati
Leverkusen's season may have ended in a coveted Champions League spot, yet the campaign that led to such a prize offered a whole series of ups and downs that began with the departure of Andre Schurrle and Daniel Carvajal last summer.
Yet it was Giulio Donati, a youth player from Serie A side Inter Milan, who arrived to steady the ship and has done just that in his inaugural season with the consistency and excellence expected of an older, more experienced defender.
According to Squawka.com, Donati not only completed an average of six defensive actions per game in the Bundesliga this season but also contributed 17 goal-scoring opportunities—more than any other defender in the squad, aside from fellow full-back Sebastian Boenisch.
It's this ability to defend and attack in equal measure that makes the young Italian defender so appealing to Leverkusen's coaching team. And at just 24 years old, the former Serie A reject has so much left to offer before he even considers reaching his prime. He is a wise investment that this Bundesliga club are already seeing a healthy return from.
Centre-Back: Sokratis Papastathopoulos
When Borussia Dortmund relinquished control of the Bundesliga title to Bayern Munich last season, one of the criticisms of Jurgen Klopp's side was the lack of sufficient depth at the heart of his defence.
This was obviously something that the eccentric coach had thought long and hard about, as one of the first things he did in the transfer market that following summer was sign Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen—a central defender with the quality to add something to this Dortmund side.
Yet despite his new role as a reserve for the first team partnership of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, Sokratis was thrown into the deep end due to injuries to both throughout the season. It was there that we saw the true talent of the Greek defender and how he is developing into a genuine contender for the first team next season.
Where Klopp once had too few central defenders, he now has three quality players desperate for a starting role and an aspect of his first team that he no longer has to worry about.
Centre-Back: Emir Spahic
Alongside the aforementioned Italian full-back Giulio Donati, Leverkusen's defence was given an extra boost this season with the signing of veteran central defender Emir Spahic from Spanish side Sevilla.
Under the guidance of Sami Hyypia, Spahic quickly made his way into the Factory Squad first team with a cool head of experience that did well alongside the youthful exuberance of Donati, Emre Can and other young defensive players throughout the side.
It was with the Bosnian's partnership alongside Omer Toprak that Leverkusen were able to tighten their back line and go on to become the third-best defensive team in the Bundesliga this season with only 41 conceded goals in 34 league games, according to Whoscored.com.
Left-Back: Park Joo-Ho
It was under the guidance of now-former Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel that the mid-table club were able to snap up the low-key signing of South Korean left-back Park Joo-ho from Basel.
This season, we saw the defender slot straight into the back line of the proverbial overachievers and become a consistent and ever-present member of a defensive group that helped the side reach a very respectable seventh position in the Bundesliga.
Park has a natural inclination to move forward with the ball, like all attack-minded full-backs, yet it is his exceptional technical ability that allows him to dribble into the opponent's half and create chances with such ease. Tuchel may be gone, but Mainz will be hell-bent on ensuring this 27-year-old stays put over the summer months.
Central Midfielder: Thiago Alcantara
Despite only playing for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga 16 times this season before a bitter injury had its way, Thiago Alcantara makes our starting XI as one of the most defined and resolute choices through the team.
Initially signed as something of an opportunistic bargain from Barcelona, Thiago came to Munich expecting very little of the limelight. Yet as others struggled to come to terms with Guardiola's football, the young, Brazilian-born Spanish international thrived and quickly became a regular in the central midfield position.
According to Squawka.com, Thiago managed to score two goals and create an impressive 20 goal-scoring opportunities in the Bundesliga this season in just 16 games. He is a star in the making who would have undoubtedly increased Bayern's fortunes this season if he hadn't been sidelined so early on.
Central Midfielder: Johannes Geis
As has already been mentioned previously, the award for this season's overachievers will undoubtedly go to Tuchel's Mainz. Yet the man who played in all but one game of this Bundesliga campaign for the Carnival club was defensive midfielder Johannes Geis. The 20-year-old prospect's name was on every coach's lips across the country, and he was the hard-working engine in central midfield who ensured another great season for his new club.
As Squawka.com would happily point out, only Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting matched the young German star in "Squawka awards," as both players picked up 14 for the season. Not bad for the former Greuther Furth star in what will undoubtedly be a long and prosperous career.
Attacking Midfielder: Raffael
Although Raffael spent much of this season playing as a traditional striker for Borussia Moenchengladbach, it was the Brazilian's ability to pull back and interchange with the Foals midfield that allowed him so much success this season and why we have decided to define him as an attacking midfielder.
Despite this re-defining, Raffael actually finished this current season as the top goalscorer at the club with 15 goals in 34 games, according to Whoscored.com, offering much more in front of goal than he had done for Schalke or Hertha Berlin in the past.
At the age of 29, the Brazilian forward is in the prime of his career and seems to love nothing more than scoring goals for plucky Gladbach and coach Lucien Favre. His signing has pulled the once-great club back to the top of the Bundesliga table.
Right Wing Forward: Shinji Okazaki
As the third Mainz player to make the cut, Shinji Okazaki arrives as something of a welcome surprise to fans and neutrals alike following his unprecedented success this season.
Having arrived from Stuttgart last summer, Okazaki has a long history of playing in the Bundesliga, yet his highest goal tally before this season had been just seven back in 2011/12, according to Whoscored.com, leading many to question what he would bring to Tuchel's side.
Alas, it was the magic touch of the club's former manager that brought out the best in the Japanese international, who went on to become the club's top goalscorer this season with 15 goals. It was a welcomed return and a deserved spot in this XI for a player who surprised us all.
Left Wing Forward: Max Kruse
Another attacking midfielder-turned-striker from Gladbach who has happened to make our starting XI is none other than German international Max Kruse, who signed for the Foals last summer following a successful season at Freiburg.
Like Raffael, Kruse's true talents lie in his ability to drop into the midfield and create goal-scoring opportunities as readily as he can put them away himself. As pointed out by Squakwa.com, the German has created an incredible 97 chances in just 34 Bundesliga games this season, 31 more than Raffael and over twice as many as Patrick Herrmann in third.
Kruse makes up one half of Gladbach's bright new striker partnership that looks set to take the league by storm once again next season.
Striker: Josip Drmic
As the one true penalty-box striker in our team, Josip Drmic of Nurnberg fame comes into this side as a forward who has already defined himself as a competent goalscorer and quality striker within just one season in the Bundesliga.
Having signed from Swiss side FC Zurich last summer, Drmic has managed to achieve the impossible by consistently scoring and proving his quality to the league despite playing for a side that faltered all season and ultimately were condemned to relegation.
With 17 goals in 33 games in this campaign, according to Whoscored.com, the Swiss international finished above such players as Marco Reus, Stefan Kiessling and Adrian Ramos and just three goals off top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski.
Drmic isn't just one of the best signings of this campaign, but he's one of the best strikers in the league as a whole.