As with most aspects of daily life, the timing is a little off in this pandemic season. Traditionally in the Bundesliga we take the winter break just before Christmas, which gives us time to reflect and take stock mid-season, but we don’t have that luxury in 2020-21. The average score dropped later than usual after the recent midweek events, without giving him time to gather his ideas or assess who was good and who could be improved – or, to use the German expression Luft nach oben.
For me personally, the lack of travel during this period had an advantage, namely the ability to see the games in their entirety, which I might have missed in the past on various trains and planes. This is, of course, one of the many wonders of ESPN+ (where you can watch all Bundesliga games live).
The team of the first round will therefore be more than usual with their eyes and ears glued to the Bundesliga. This is by no means a definitive list, just my own ranking.
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Team First Round (4-2-2)
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer — Given FC Bayern Munich’s well-documented defensive problems, one would think this would be the year not to pick him. On the contrary, I’d say the writer or writers would be worse off without the best goalie in the world. It is not Neuer’s fault if the players before him did not play well; they should be grateful to Neuer for his usual good performance. Forget his own 11 game scoreless run, which lasted from late October to mid-January, and instead focus on his key performances at the right time.
right rear: Stefan Liner — The Borussia Austrian from Mönchengladbach is following in the footsteps of his father Leo, who also represented his country at this position. The lineman is at the top of his game and has just about everything a coach expects from a modern player: tactically sharp, fully committed and rarely plays poorly. Best right goalkeeper in the league this season.
Back to centre: Matthias Ginter — Remains in Gladbach. Ginter is a defensive leader who has been consistently underrated his entire career. He has nothing to do with that, but he is a master of the art of defeating his opponents and outperforming their immediate counterparts. Ginter always stands out. I prefer him to Mats Hummels, who had a nightmare last first leg at Bayer Leverkusen.
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Back to centre: Edmond Tapsoba — Talking about Bayer 04 : In less than a year, Tapsoba has experienced lightning-fast growth. Defensively, the 21-year-old does almost nothing wrong. Confident on the ball and good in the air, Tapsoba seems to have played his entire career in the Bundesliga. The international organization of Burkina Faso will be even better.
left: Angelino — To be fair, the hard-hitting Spaniard is more likely to be used as a left winger at RB Leipzig, but he’ll make my team with ease. Angelino is especially dangerous in attack, as he is both a goal threat and has the ability to create chances for his teammates.
Midfielder: Joshua Kimmich — It’s easy. No one interprets or embodies this position better than a man who has become one of the best in the world. It’s no coincidence that Bayern’s defensive problems occurred in November and December, when Kimmich was sidelined by a meniscus injury. The man from Rottweil, where the famous dog lives, never tires of biting off the heels of his competitors while looking cool and sophisticated.
Midfielder: Marcel Sabitzer — My second Austrian selection, and although the competition in this sector of the field was fierce, I couldn’t miss the beating heart of Leipzig. Technically and tactically excellent, Sabitzer keeps his opponent alert, whether with a well-timed throwing arc or a long-range shot.
Robert Lewandowski and Joshua Kimmich are the two best Bundesliga players so far this season. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
Attacking midfielder Lars Stindl — At the age of 32, the Gladbach captain is probably playing the best football of his career. Sometimes I just watch him for five minutes, admire his movements, his runs and his understanding of the game. Few players dictate the pace and rhythm of the game as much as Stindl. He already has something to offer the German national team. He is a subtle element in Gladbach’s versatile power attack.
Attacking midfielder Thomas Mueller — Remember when Mueller’s best days would be behind him? In retrospect, it seems crazy, doesn’t it? The Raumdoyter has immortalised himself in the annals of German football as one of the best all-round strikers of all time, and his influence at FC Bayern continues unabated.
Forward: Erling Haaland — Borussia Dortmund’s season has been riddled with mistakes, but that doesn’t apply to Norway’s Player of the Year. As with Kimmich at Bayern, Haaland’s spell on the sidelines led to his team’s downfall in December. Sometimes it feels like you give him the ball in the box and let him find a way to hit it with his trained left foot, almost knowing he’s going to score. At the age of 20, Haland is already on the world stage. How can he be good at 25?
Forward: Robert Lewandowski — I grew up with the great Gerd Müller, but Lewandowski surpassed Müller’s record for number of goals scored in one season: 40, set in the 1971/72 season. I must admit I doubted he would ever be beaten, and yet at 32 Lewandowski seems to be getting better with age. His goals are rarely easy and there is a certain joy in seeing his composure when he takes a penalty.
Are you okay? Don’t you think? Derek Rae’s team in Germany so far this season consists of many familiar faces, although some will surprise. ESPN
MVP: Lewandowski — If you score the team’s 21 best goals in the first half of the season for a team that is struggling defensively, and you are then named FIFA World Player of the Year, you deserve this award. Nobody does it better than Lewandowski.
Just for fun, here are my wrap tops and flip flops. Of the preseason acquisitions, who passed and who didn’t?
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Riedel Baku — Leaving his native Mainz for Wolfsburg for two games in the new season didn’t make much of an impression, but Baku impressed more as a right back than a midfielder. In fact, I was about to put him on my team for Leiner.
Jude Bellingham — A 17-year-old boy from the English Midlands didn’t just go to Dortmund to watch and learn. He is already a top midfielder and BVB believe in his football and maturity for such a young player.
Ritsu Doan — There is a long tradition of Japanese players finding a home and succeeding in the Bundesliga. Creative and insightful, as befits an attacking midfielder, Doan makes me sit up and take notice every time I watch Arminia Bielefeld. That he has been loaned out to PSV Eindhoven is fortunate for the club’s sporting director Sami Arabi.
Kilian Ludwig — Criticism must be tempered here, as Ludwig is only 20 years old and the player on loan from FC Salzburg made his name at Schalke after a spell at Barnsley and was asked to take over the right side of the defence in Gelsenkirchen. Unfortunately, Ludwig’s performances have shown that he is not yet ready for the Bundesliga.
Bouna Sarr — Another right fielder, and Byrne thought they had a reliable and experienced former Mariners player. It appeared Sarr was limited to three poor starts, while regular starter Benjamin Pavard was woefully out of form.
Tahit Chong — When Chong was loaned out by Manchester United to Werder Bremen, I thought it would be a fresh start for the 20-year-old, who was undoubtedly talented at the time, but didn’t show enough commitment in training to get a place in the regular first team. When he was still playing under Florian Kohfeldt, most of his time was spent with him.