By Kevin Hatchard.
Over the next few weeks you’ll read a lot of ‘Best XI’ articles, as is customary at this time of year. This isn’t a conventional best XI, but unashamedly one made up of players who excite me or I admire. I make no apologies for avoiding the obvious, as there are players in here who deserve to be lauded for their efforts, regardless of who they play for.
Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Sommer had big boots to fill when he arrived from Basle, as he was the replacement for Barca-bound Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Not only has he matched his young predecessor’s achievements, he’s eclipsed them. Sommer has the best save percentage in the league, he is decisive under the high ball, and has orchestrated one of the Bundesliga’s best defences.
Left-back: Jonas Hector (FC Cologne)
No-one outside the top four has a better defensive record than Cologne, and Hector’s relentless consistency has seen him break into the Germany squad. He even managed a stunning solo goal against Hoffenheim last month.
Right-back: Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)
Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking has done a lot of things right this season, and one of them was to work with winger Vieirinha on learning the full-back position. The Portuguese speedster now defends sensibly but is also a huge threat on the overlap.
Centre-back: Tony Jantschke (Borussia Monchengladbach)
He’s only 5 feet 9 inches, but Tony Jantschke is a defensive behemoth. Strong in the air and in the tackle, the 25-year-old has been a key player for Champions League qualifiers Gladbach. He has looked equally comfortable at centre-back or full-back, and rarely makes mistakes.
Centre-back: Uwe Hunemeier (Paderborn)
Little old Paderborn are still keeping their heads above water in the relegation dogfight, and skipper Uwe Hunemeier is their heartbeat. He’ll throw himself into challenges and blocks time after time; seems magnetically attracted to crosses, and he pops up with vital goals. Even if Paderborn don’t stay in the Bundesliga, Hunemeier will.
Central midfield: Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Granit by name, granite by nature. Xhaka has recently revealed he has been playing with a fractured rib, and it’s that commitment and toughness which marks him out as one of the best young midfielders in Germany. He is a great passer and happy to do the dirty work, but he now just needs to score more goals.
Central midfield: Daniel Baier (Augsburg)
As consistent a defensive midfielder as you’ll find. Baier made more interceptions than any player in the Bundesliga last term, and his tireless work has helped the Bavarians to another stellar season. He is FCA’s record appearance holder in the top flight, but may be prised away soon.
Attacking midfield: Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen)
There is a sheer delight about watching Calhanoglu work his magic. He has already racked up nine free-kick goals in the top flight, including a sumptuous strike past Manuel Neuer on Saturday. The 21-year-old showed his inner strength last term, as he almost single-handedly kept Hamburg in the top flight, when more experienced players shied away from the responsibility. He makes mistakes on and off the field, but has boundless potential.
Attacking midfielder: Patrick Herrmann (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Herrmann was under pressure for his place at the start of the season, but he has seen off the challenges of summer signings Ibrahima Traore and Andre Hahn. He leads rapier-like counter-attacks with pace and close control, and his tally of 10 Bundesliga goals is a career best. A player who truly brings you to the edge of your seat, Herrmann is exhilarating to watch.
Attacking midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg)
Jose Mourinho is widely criticised for allowing De Bruyne to leave Chelsea, but the Portuguese maestro could never have accommodated the brilliant Belgian. Wolfsburg have allowed him total freedom, releasing him from the defensive strictures the Blues boss would’ve demanded. That faith from Hecking has been repaid in full, with De Bruyne contributing a record 18 Bundesliga assists, as well as 10 goals. His immaculate control, superb shooting and searing pace make him ideal for the counter-attacking nature of the Bundesliga.
Striker: Alex Meier (Eintracht Frankfurt)
I wrote a piece for this website about Meier earlier this season, and although his campaign has been cut short by injury, he may still be crowned as top scorer with a tally of 19. Meier is still blossoming at the age of 32, and he has fought hard to impress new coach Thomas Schaaf. Meier is old-school, relying on instinct and composure rather than pace or trickery. He is a heartening reminder of a bygone age.
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