Though things at the top haven’t changed, the first half of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season has been one of the more thrilling in recent memory. Historic comebacks, goals aplenty and new young starlets – one of which has Jamaicans beaming weekly – hade made this arguably the most enjoyable of the top leagues so far. As Bundesliga players enjoy their winter break, here’s a report card grading each of Germany’s top five teams at the midway point.
Ho hum, Bayern are dominating the league again. Nothing to see here, right? Typically, there would not be. However, the fact they had to beg 72-year-old Jupp Heynckes to come out of a presumably comfy retirement to right the ship after sacking a reportedly unpopular Carlo Ancelotti did spice things up a bit. They haven’t been blowing teams away with regularity as expected, but they haven’t had to, in part because their main challengers have underachieved this campaign.
Best Player – Robert Lewandowski
A man who is never content with anything but being the best, the Polish striker, who criticized his own teammates for not helping him win last season’s golden boot, is well on course to win it this time with 15 goals in 17 league outings. Lewandowski has performed well in a season where, until Sandro Wagner’s arrival from Hoffenheim during this transfer window, he was the only consistent goal threat and seems to only be getting better in the midst of his prime. One of the best Bundesliga strikers ever when it’s all said and done.
Quiet Achiever – Javi Martinez
The Spaniard’s fitness is still a worry at times, but 2017/18 has seen a revival in his game ever since Heynckes moved him back to his preferred defensive midfield role. He was capable, if not a bit flat-footed at centre back, but back in his comfort zone, Martinez has helped solidify the middle of the park and seems to have returned to his best.
Worst Player – None
It’s hard to say anyone has really underperformed this season. Sven Ulreich, who’s had to step in net for long-term absentee, Manuel Neuer, has mostly been steady despite a few hiccups. Thomas Muller looks revitalised since the managerial switch after looking lost for much of his time under Ancelotti. And everyone else has played their parts.
Manager – Jupp Heynckes
Now in his fourth stint at Bayern, there’s just something about Heynckes that allows Bayern to tick. Despite being away from the sidelines since leading Bayern to the treble in 2013, Heynckes has further boosted his all-time status by giving FC Hollywood’s collection of stars the kick in the rear end they needed. They haven’t slaughtered teams like they often did during his last stint, but the ball is moving quicker and dominant wins against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig offered reminders of just how dangerous they can be.
Team Grade: A-
FC Schalke 04
Arguably the most exciting team in a league full of thrills, Schalke seems to have found the winning formula again thanks to a mix of versatile youngsters and savvy veteran leadership. Their back line, while stable, at times leaves you a bit worried, but they’ve shown the capacity to explode offensively. At no time was this more evident than their historic comeback from four goals down away to Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby last November.
Best Player – Leon Goretzka
Unfortunately, Goretzka may not be a Schalke player for much longer as those player-wielding sharks from Bayern lurk, hoping to secure his signature either in January or for free in the summer. Despite the transfer noise, Goretzka has further validated his hype as one of the better midfield prospects in Europe today. Adaptable on both ends, strong and armed with quick feet, Goretzka is Schalke’s undoubted anchor in the middle and his seemingly inevitable loss will be a tough pill to swallow.
Quiet Achiever – Amine Harit
A reported transfer target of Liverpool and Arsenal, the French-born Moroccan international has shown wisdom beyond his years, looking increasingly electric on the ball with his dribbling and creativity. He also seems unafraid of the big stage and looks to be the real deal.
Worst Player – Breel Embolo
You have to feel sorry for Embolo to some degree. Injury issues cost him any semblance of continuity last season and this campaign, he still looks short of his true capabilities. Leading goalscorer, Guido Burgstaller, and Franco Di Santo have made things more difficult for the once-hyped Swiss international who’s made eight of his ten appearances off the bench. But at only 20 years old, it would be silly to write him off so early.
Manager – Domenico Tedesco
Following Hoffenheim’s mantra of ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ by hiring a young manager, the 32-year-old German-Italian may be the man to finally bring managerial stability to a club’s hierarchy that’s seriously lacked patience over the years. He hasn’t been afraid to shake things up since arriving in the summer, shipping long-time club captain, Benedikt Höwedes, to Juventus, calling out the aforementioned Embolo for being out of shape and placing faith in starlets such as Harit, Thilo Kehrer (Germany’s leading tackler), and American Weston McKinnie. Time will tell if Tedesco is the new Julian Nagelsmann, but the early results are very promising.
Team Grade: B+
Where to begin with this lot? They were pretty much knocked out of league contention by November after a hot start, choked away a four-goal lead which only one other Bundesliga club has ever done, and were miserable in the Champions League. One of four teams with 28 points at the break, Dortmund’s Yellow Wall has crumbled and the path they will take to build it back up remains uncertain.
Best Player – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
If not for injury, Mario Götze could have gotten the slot here, but last season’s golden boot winner is once again being the menace in front of goal he’s known to be. With Arsenal reportedly eyeing him as a replacement for Alexis Sánchez, the Gabonese international may finally get his wish to try his luck outside of Germany after a prolific spell at Signal Iduna Park.
Quiet Achiever – Nuri Sahin/Maximilian Philipp
This season is the best Sahin has looked for a while and as much talk as there has been about letting go of the old guard, the Turkish mainstay has been spot on more times than not. Philipp, before his injury, was on fire in front of goal, with six goals in 11 games and has been one of the better performing summer transfers thus far.
Worst Player – Julian Weigl/Roman Burki
Both haven’t been performing to standard, to say the least, for different reasons. Injury and overexposure in Peter Bosz’s system have left Weigl struggling for form for much of the season while Burki hasn’t been as sure-handed as he normally has been during his career.
Manager – Peter Stöger
‘Uhmm…I guess.’ Most observers would have had that reaction or similar after finding out that the Austrian, who was just at the helm of a woeful FC Köln outfit, would replace Peter Bosz as manager. To be fair, issues at Cologne were largely out of his control thanks to injuries and the controversial departure of their 25-goal scorer, Anthony Modeste, to China. And he did guide them to an improbable fifth-place last season. Since taking over in December, Dortmund at least seem to have a pulse again.
Team Grade: C+