In a world where Bayern usually dominates, the 2019/20 Bundesliga season has been a very welcome change of pace. Borussia Mönchengladbach and RB Leipzig have been battling it out for top spot with the latter finishing the first half of the season as “Herbstmeister”.
Marcus Thuram has burst onto the scene, capturing the imagination of the masses with his silky feet and the dynamic partnerships he has forged with Alassane Plea and Breel Embolo. Timo Werner and Robert Lewandowski have made headlines with their goalscoring exploits and Jadon Sancho and his Dortmund side have struggled their way through the first half of the season as transfer speculation surrounding the young Englishman gets ever louder.
Today, though, I wanted to look at some of the Bundesliga’s less-heralded stars and a few players you should keep an eye on (in no particular order). Some of these players are living in the shadows of their big-name teammates, others are youngsters who haven’t received the same coverage as the likes of Sancho and Havertz and then there are those who play positions that rarely get much attention anyway.
Starting us off is RB Leipzig midfielder Christopher Nkunku. The 22-year-old was part of PSG’s big summer clean-out and Leipzig appear to have pulled off another clever piece of business, obtaining his services for a measly €13m.
Nkunku has made 16 appearances so far, half of which were starts, and in his 854 minutes of football, he has put up a respectable 3 goals and 7 assists.
Used either as a winger or an attacking midfielder, the Frenchman has struck up a wonderful partnership with Timo Werner as Leipzig look to win their first “Meisterschale”. He is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Staying in Leipzig for now and next up is Diego Demme. Born to a German mother and an Italian father, Demme started his career at current 2. Bundesliga leaders Arminia Bielefeld. The 28-year-old joined Paderborn in 2012 before making the switch to then 3. Liga side RB Leipzig two years later.
At Leipzig, Demme has been a mainstay in the defensive midfield. He first made headlines in 16/17 when he was an important cog of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Leipzig side that finished 2nd in the Bundesliga. Since then, though, he seems to have gone under the radar a bit. So much so, that I didn’t even know he made 30 appearances in 17/18 and 26 in 18/19. I thought he had been in and out of the side. That’s, like, the definition of underrated right there!
Diego Demme brings an essential balance and solid passing to a side that boasts so much firepower up top.
Boetius is a player I have been an admirer of for quite some time and while he may not be the most remarkable or eye-catching player, he has always been a solid contributor from attacking midfield for perennial strugglers Mainz.
A product of the Feyenoord academy, Boetius was sold to Basel in 2015, before returning 2 years later only to then join Mainz the next season. The Dutchman has been used on the wing at times, but his best position is clearly in a central attacking midfield role.
In his 35 Bundesliga appearances as an attacking midfielder, Boetius has recorded either a goal or an assist every other game. Not bad when you take into account that he plays for a team whose last top-half finish occurred in 15/16.
It feels weird to include a player of David Alaba’s pedigree in a list such as this, but the Austrian has been around forever and after so many years it feels as though people are taking him for granted. Alaba is one of the finest and most consistent left-backs of the last decade – perhaps even this generation – and he deserves more recognition.
Still only 27(!), Alaba’s role at Bayern has changed recently. He is not the exciting, marauding youngster of years past, but rather an experienced head in a side that’s gradually weeding out its seasoned veterans. The sale of Mats Hummels and the arrival of Alphonso Davies have seen Alaba deputize at center-back a few times and he has done so meticulously.
Similarly to Alaba, it feels rather weird to include a player as accomplished as Milot Rashica in this list, but actually, unless you follow Bremen or Kosovan Twitter, Rashica rarely gets the plaudits he deserves.
The former Vitesse man had a decent start to life in Germany, scoring 9 and assisting 5 in his first full season in the Bundesliga, but ever since Max Kruse departed for Fenerbahce, Rashica has been Werder Bremen’s undisputed MVP.
The 23-year-old is the perfect blend of speed, skill, smart movement and deadly finishing, which makes him a superior and more consistent player than some of his peers in the same age group and position. The Kosovan magician has missed a good chunk of the season through injury but in the 13 games he has been available for, he’s chipped in with 7 goals and 3 assists for a struggling Bremen side.
Rashica is ready to take the next step in his career, but Werder Bremen will be hoping that he’ll stick around until the end of the season or otherwise they will be – excuse the language – up shit creek in a major way. I’m shocked Rashica never gets mentioned in the same breath as other Bundesliga stars on the verge of making the jump to a big club.
Another young player to keep an eye on is Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby. Like Christopher Nkunku, Diaby is a PSG academy product and was sold last summer. Unlike Nkunku, however, Diaby is far from the finished product. The 20-year-old winger is immensely talented, but still very raw.
The Werkself’s season has been plagued by inconsistency and with Kai Havertz underperforming, Diaby has been there to provide a spark whenever Leverkusen have looked sluggish and bereft of ideas. Skillful, persistent and not afraid to take his man on, Moussa Diaby’s explosiveness has terrified defenders, even if his 1g/0a return is terrible, to put it bluntly.
Diaby could be one of the breakout stars of the season, but like most of his teammates, he needs to add goalscoring and consistency to his game.
Hertha are a bizarre club. They did not have a great first half of the season, but Jürgen Klinsmann has steadied the ship and with new capital (no pun intended) being pumped into the club, they seem to have turned the corner.
One player who flourished while most of his teammates underperformed is Czech international Vladimir Darida. The 29-year-old struggled for fitness last season but has been a mainstay in Hertha’s midfield this campaign.
Mostly renowned for the amount of ground he covers and his expertise at winning back possession, the Czech has started to add goals to his game, scoring three times already this season.
Darida has quietly put together a really solid campaign for club and country, but the big-money arrival of Santiago Ascacibar might spell the end of Darida’s time at Hertha.
Augsburg had a surprisingly good “Hinrunde”, mainly due to the form of Philipp Max and Florian Niederlechner, but there is one man who has gone massively under the radar. That man is young center-back Felix Uduokhai.
The 22-year-old arrived on loan from Wolfsburg in the summer and he has been solid despite the shaky presence of Tomas Koubek behind him.
Tall, a good passer of the ball and a smart reader of the game, Uduokhai has all the attributes to become one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga.
Eintracht Frankfurt have had a weird first half of the season. They started the season off strong but fell off a cliff as the winter break edged ever closer, mainly due to their congested schedule as they are trying to balance the Bundesliga and Europa League. Despite their poor form, a few players have stood out.
Daichi Kamada has emerged as a genuine talent, Martin Hinteregger is a goalscoring machine, Filip Kostic still runs a marathon every game and their Portuguese frontline has been decent. One player who I have been very impressed with, but who doesn’t get the acclamation that some of his teammates get is Swiss international Djibril Sow.
The 22-year-old central midfielder arrived in the summer from Young Boys and has been virtually ever-present in Adi Hütter’s side. Sow has the highest pass completion rate for any midfielder or attacker in Frankfurt’s side and he leads the team in tackles won as well as coming joint second in interceptions.
Sow’s impact has been underappreciated given Frankfurt’s recent struggles, but if he keeps going at this rate, a couple of big-ish clubs will come begging for his services very soon. Everton are still looking for a ball-winning midfielder. Just sayin’.
Freiburg have been one of the surprise packages this season and while most of the focus has been on Nils Petersen, Christian Günter and coach Christian Streich, Janik Haberer has been solid if unspectacular in the middle of the park.
The former Hoffenheim man missed the start of the season through injury, but since regaining his fitness has been a mainstay in Freiburg’s central midfield and sometimes out on the right. A goal and two assists in 14 games may not be something to write home about, but his job isn’t to be a provider. Haberer is a metronome, keeping possession, spraying passes and breaking up play. The 25-year-old is dynamic and very good under pressure.
Even though Freiburg have only picked up four points from their last five games, they could still easily end up in a Europa League spot and Haberer has played a big role in them overachieving this season.
Another one of Freiburg’s underrated overachievers is 23-year-old center-back Robin Koch. One person who is clearly an admirer is noted Freiburg fan Joachim Löw, who has handed him a couple of Germany call-ups already.
Besides being one of the best young defenders in the Bundesliga, Koch is also a very good passer of the ball, completing 88 percent of his long passes.
Freiburg’s solid foundation and Koch’s good form could be the key factors in their bid for European football.
Last up is the oldest player in this list – 32-year-old Union Berlin captain Christopher Trimmel. The Austrian has been a great servant to “Eisern Union” since his arrival from Rapid Vienna in 2014. The experienced right-back has racked up north of 170 appearances for Union and he shows no signs of slowing down despite this being his first season in the Bundesliga.
Trimmel has featured in every game so far this term, taking set-pieces and marshaling one of the toughest backlines in the Bundesliga. The Austrian’s biggest strength is his delivery; his set-pieces have been invaluable to Union Berlin and the right-back has already racked up four assists.
Urs Fischer’s side comfortably sits in mid-table with 20 points and captain Trimmel’s contribution has been one of the main reasons for their success so far.
Data source: FBref.com