5 Bundesliga Breakout Stars to Watch for This Season
The long-anticipated return of Bundesliga football came on Friday as Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg kicked off the 2014-15 campaign.
This season may be one of change in the German top flight, with many of the league's stars likely to suffer from post-World Cup fatigue. With many big names short of fitness or injured, it could be time for some lesser-known and rising talents to make their way into first-team football and perhaps even to stardom.
Click "Begin Slideshow" to see the top five Bundesliga talents to watch as they look to make the breakthrough to stardom this season.
Perhaps the only reason why Bayern have not more aggressively pursued Leon Goretzka or Levin Oztunali is the fact they have another teenage gem in the ranks of their midfield, Pierre Hojbjerg. And although the Denmark international looked hopelessly far back in the German double-winners' depth not long ago, recent developments suggest he'll have his chances this season.
Toni Kroos was sold, and both Thiago Alcantara and Bastian Schweinsteiger are set to be sidelined until mid-September at earliest. Rafinha is also injured, making it possible for Hojbjerg to play out of his natural, central position on the right wing.
And in addition to the many injuries, the likes of Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm will have to manage inevitable post-World Cup fatigue.
There is the possibility of competition from Gianluca Gaudino, who started in Bayern's Bundesliga opener ahead of Hojbjerg. But although the 17-year-old played very well in that game, his physical immaturity will predictably limit his minutes at a time in his career when propensity to pick up an overuse injury is substantially higher.
All this will be good news for Hojbjerg's development, and the Bayern bigwigs rate him well. In May, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told the club's official website that it was not an option to loan Hojbjerg, whom he felt had a real chance to break into the first team.
Having turned 19 in early August, the ex-Brondby man now has a sturdy frame to complement his sublime technical skills. Come next May, he could already be a star.
Julian Brandt is the youngest player on this list and certainly one of the most exciting. At 18 years of age, he already shares time as a starter with a Leverkusen attack that includes the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu, Josip Drmic, Son Heung-Min and Karim Bellarabi. But he certainly has proved he deserves his spot, having passed every test thus far.
Brandt ended last season on a high, scoring or assisting in five of Leverkusen's last eight Bundesliga matches of the campaign. He picked up where he left off in the club's season opener, assisting a pair of goals in a 6-0 rout of Waldalgesheim.
Along with Leverkusen teammate Levin Oztunali, the Wolfsburg academy graduate was one of two 1996-born Germans at the under-19 European Championship. Both left their club's preseason training early and returned as tournament winners.
A great dribbler and playmaker with a lethal shot, Brandt seems destined for stardom. The question is more a matter of when, not if, and his time in the limelight could be very near indeed.
Davie Selke finished the summer's under-19 European Championship as perhaps a surprise top scorer. After spending most of his youth a step below Germany's most prolific youth forwards, he sprung into form in spectacular manner, scoring six goals at the tournament in Hungary.
Strikers typically take more time to mature than midfielders, but Selke will turn 20 halfway through the season and is already beginning to show his class. He came off the Bremen bench to score a key goal in their DFB-Pokal opener, for example.
With Bremen perhaps lacking another forward of particularly lethal quality, there is room for Selke in the starting lineup if he continues to progress. The 1.92-meter man has grown into a physically imposing forward, one with power and pace as well as a lethal eye for goal.
He may not have the same backing as Stuttgart's Timo Werner, for example, but at this point he is a step ahead in both age and personal development. If he can continue his progress, Selke could well turn heads in the coming months.
Many reading this might expect that among Schalke players to be included in this list, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka would be the first to be considered. But as fully-capped Germany internationals, they already are well on their way to stardom, and both experienced a breakout spell in 2013-14. This season, Kaan Ayhan may well join them.
To this date in his career, Ayhan has had many factors against his becoming recognized for his quality. His position, as a defender, is not exactly glamorous. And, having been born in November, the relative age effect is distinctly against him.
But Ayhan has tremendous potential he's already begun to cultivate. He's a natural center-back but has the skill to play on the right and in midfield. So cultured are his ball skills, in fact, that in 2012-13 he was the Schalke under-19's second-most prolific scorer behind Meyer with 15 goals.
Most of these came from free kicks. And as a defender, Kicker rated him (albeit in his limited 14 appearances) as the fifth-best center-back in the Bundesliga last season. Still nearly three months shy of his 20th birthday, Ayhan has a bright future ahead of him.
With all their higher-profile transfers over the last year or so, Wolfsburg's acquisition of Junior Malanda from Zulte-Waregem in the summer of 2013 went under the radar. But at €1.7 million, per Transfermarkt, the Belgian's purchase may be the best buy Wolfsburg have made since Edin Dzeko joined from Teplice for €4 million in 2007.
Malanda spent half a year on loan at Zulte-Waregem before joining Wolfsburg in January, after which time he exploded onto the scene. Even at 19, his athleticism was impressive; the youngster's pace, energy and quickness to the ball made him ideal for breaking up play in midfield.
And, coming from the increasingly prestigious Belgian Pro League academy system, he has the technical attributes to make him a top player in a competitive team.
Even in his youth, Malanda looks to be a complete package. He was one of the Bundesliga's best midfielders in the spring and will only get better and better as he gains more experience and continues to develop.