The Top 5 Players in the Bundesliga
Over the past few years, the Bundesliga has certainly staked its claim as one of the best leagues in the world, with tightly fought thrillers, stunning goals, and some of the best players on the planet on display.
Sure, it's hard to imagine a team other than Bayern Munich romping to the title in the 2014/15 campaign; with both wealth and success, they get the pick of the superstars. Despite this, Pep Guardiola's side are far from the only team boasting big names.
With another season now off the mark and the promise of more wonderful games ahead of us, we take a look at the five players who are currently the cream of the crop in the Bundesliga.
We start by taking a look at a few players who didn't make the final cut but deserve an honourable mention.
All statistics courtesy of Squawka unless otherwise noted
Borussia Monchengladbach forward Max Kruse was tremendous last season, racking up 12 goals in 34 appearances and creating 97 chances as he drove his side to 6th place in the Bundesliga table and a Europa League play-off game. They strolled to a 10-2 aggregate win against Sarajevo and booked their place in the group stage. As their 2014/15 campaign gets going, there is no doubt that Max Kruse will be vital to Monchengladbach's chances.
With the array of goalscoring talent such as Bayern Munich have, it's no surprise that their defenders do not get as much credit. David Alaba had a terrific 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign, marshalling Bayern's left flank with ease. He was a reliable presence at the back, winning 55 per cent of his duels and averaging 89 per cent of his passes as Bayern stormed to the title.
Raffael is anotherMonchengladbach forward to makes it onto our "Honourable Mentions" list after a terrific 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign. From 34 appearances for his side, he contributed 15 goals and created 66 chances. His combination play with Kruse will be sure to light up the Bundesliga once more this season.
5. Ricardo Rodriguez
Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez was instrumental in his team's fifth-place finish in the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign. Wolfsburg narrowly missed out on a shot at the Champions League play-offs, finishing behind Bayer Leverkusen by a single point, and Rodriguez was at the heart of his team's defence throughout.
In playing every single minute of his side's campaign, the 22-year-old marshalled the Wolfsburg defence with a calm and authority rarely seen at such a young age. Pundits have been extremely vocal about his talents, with none other than Bleacher Report's Jason Voss calling him "one of the best all-round footballers in the world."
Last year, the Swiss international managed a terrific five goals and nine assists from left-back, proving his attacking capabilities as well as his defensive talents. He also managed to create 78 chances, win 61 per cent of his duels in the air and complete 80 per cent of his attempted passes.
Rodriguez continued his terrific season with Wolfsburg by travelling with the Swiss national team—for whom he has already been capped 26 times—to the World Cup in Brazil. He impressed for his then-manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, assisting both goals in their opening game—a 2-1 victory over Ecuador.
With Wolfsburg fighting in the Europa League and looking to qualify for next year's Champions League, Rodriguez's presence in the team will be vital. The young man will be looking to continue impressing as his career goes from strength to strength.
4. Robert Lewandowski
Without a doubt one of the best players in the Bundesliga last season, Robert Lewandowski fired in 20 goals in 33 appearances for Borussia Dortmund, finishing as the league's top goalscorer, before his big move to archrivals Bayern Munich.
Much has been said about his move between the two clubs—a move Lewandowski says was motivated by a desire to win trophies: "It's got to be my goal to win and collect titles. I'm certainly going to have better chances with Bayern," per Bild (h/t Sky Sports).
Not forgetting his previous club, he did however suggest that there was no doubt Dortmund would be back challenging once more: "Dortmund are going to be challengers again next season, I'm certain of that."
That remains to be seen, but it is difficult to argue that Bayern Munich haven't gained the coup of the summer in signing Lewandowski on a free transfer. The Pole has incredible firepower and will link with top players such as Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller to turn Bayern into even more of an attacking threat than they already were.
It may take him a few games to settle into his stride and get used to playing with his new team-mates, but great players adapt quickly, and it's no surprise to see him already on the scoresheet in 2014/15. He picked up his first competitive goal for the side in a 1-1 draw with Schalke on Friday night—no doubt the first of many to come.
3. Arjen Robben
At 30 years of age, Arjen Robben shows no sign of letting up as he continues to terrorise defenders across Europe. During the World Cup in Brazil, he was unstoppable on his quest to helping the Netherlands to a third-place finish, and you can be sure he'll continue where he left off in the 2014/15 Bundesliga season.
Part of a Bayern Munich side bursting with talent, there isn't as much pressure on him to perform week in, week out—but he does it anyway. Out of just 28 league appearances last season, he managed to pick up 11 goals and create 51 chances, while completing 82 per cent of his attempted passes.
Defenders must fear the sight of the Dutchman weaving his way down the wing and cutting inside. Lightning quick, he's sometimes impossible to catch. You can ask Sergio Ramos, who was blown away when the Netherlands played Spain in the World Cup (Robben clocked an incredible 37 k/m per hour.)
With Bayern expected to challenge on both domestic and European fronts, expect Robben to be at the forefront of the action, taking on defenders and teeing up the ball for Robert Lewandowki, Thomas Muller and Co. Or, if he's feeling like going it alone, watch out for those cuts inside.
It already seems like his goalscoring shows no sign of letting up; he opened his account for the 2014/15 campaign with a goal against Wolfsburg in Bayern's opening fixure of the season—a 2-1 win. We're sure there's plenty more where that came from.
2. Marco Reus
Borussia's Dortmund's Marco Reus is one of the hottest talents in Europe—and just between us, he has cracking hair too. The 25-year-old was one of the Bundesliga's best players last season, and rumours about him leaving this summer have been rife.
Despite that, Reus is loyal to his manager, Jurgen Klopp, and repeatedly silenced the transfer rumour mill whenever it has been necessary: "I have a contract with Borussia Dortmund and I am happy to be here. All I can say about is that I am not thinking about a transfer. I am focused on BVB and anything else is something for the future," per Bild (h/t The Independent).
It's unsurprising that some of Europe's biggest clubs—such as Manchester United and Atletico Madrid—have been after the German, following some tremendous performances for Dortmund during the 2013/14 Bundesliga season, during which he managed 16 goals and created 90 chances in 30 appearances for his side.
There was heartbreak for Reus this summer when he was ruled out of Germany's World Cup squad for Brazil after suffering an ankle injury. He was understandably devastated to be sat at home as he watched his side go on to lift the trophy following their victory over Argentina in the final.
Nevertheless, he is still young and will have more opportunities for success with the national squad. Now, however, he must turn his attention to pushing his Dortmund start to glory. He seems to have returned to form at the right time, putting in a wonderful performance against Augsburg on Friday night. He scored one, assisted another and picked up the Man of the Match award.
Dortmund fans will be hoping to see more performances like that this season.
1. Manuel Neuer
For Bayern Munich last year in the Bundesliga, he recorded a fantastic 15 clean sheets from 31 appearances and only conceded an average of 0.58 goals per game. In addition, he made 1.61 saves per game and 3.13 saves for every goal he conceded.
With an attacking line-up such as Bayern's, combined with those goalkeeping statistics, it's no surprise to anyone that they ran away with the Bundesliga title, finishing an incredible 19 points in front of their nearest challengers, Dortmund, and clinching the title after just 27 matches.
However, it isn't just for his goalkeeping that Neuer receives the plaudits, as The Guardian's Paddy Vipond puts it: "Neuer is not only a world-class goalkeeper, but he is a footballer as well. In the sweeper-keeper role he is more than just a net guard."
His sweeper-keeper antics have been the focal point of many discussions—particularly after his performance for Germany against Algeria during the World Cup—with many condemning his eagerness to come out of the box. However, for the most part, it works, and Neuer has demonstrated its use numerous times, foiling opponents with quick thinking.
His performances have rightly gained attention, and he was nominated for UEFA's Best Player in Europe award. The award eventually went, somewhat inevitably, to Cristiano Ronaldo, but just being nominated shows that Neuer belongs with the world's elite.
As Bayern Munich go searching for success both at home and in Europe, fans and players alike will be hoping that the Bundesliga's best player keeps performing to the incredibly high standard he has already set.