It is difficult to pick a Bundesliga XI of the season without ignoring the overwhelming claims of the two Ruhr clubs, Dortmund and Schalke. Their outstanding seasons, one domestically, and one continentally see them deservedly dominate such a selection. However, I have tried not to ignore claims from teams at the start of the season who sprung surprises, such as Mainz, and teams whose influence lasted, nay increased over the course of the season, such as Hannover and Freiburg. Such a list also necessitates taking into consideration the wretched seasons endured by Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Koln. The team was compiled after 30 games of the season, therefore all statistics date from then.
GK: Manuel Neuer (Schalke)
Neuer has enjoyed a season that has cemented his position as one of the leading, if not the leading, goalkeepers in world football. His stellar performances throughout Schalke’s Champions League run, allied with his consistency in the Bundesliga (highest average rating in kicker’s “Torhuter” list), behind a sporadically erratic defence make him justifiably Germany’s number one, and his domestic league’s top keeper. Although nominally unpopular in Munich ahead of his ‘secret’ transfer, good early performances (which will undoubtedly come, knowing his class) will swiftly put paid to any supporter unrest.
Other candidates: Rene Adler (Bayer Leverkusen)
LB: Marcel Schmelzer (Dortmund)
The flamboyant, expansive left back with his trademark blonde hair has been a huge factor in Dortmund’s excellent defensive record, having played the full ninety minutes in each and every game thus far (30). His keenness to go forward is matched defensively by a clever positional sense, and an industrious work ethic. Not only this, but his motivational abilities and desire mark him out as a future Dortmund captain. His superb season saw him make his full Germany debut at left back against Sweden in November.
Other candidates: Christian Fuchs (Mainz)
RB: Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim)
Another flamboyant, blonde-haired German fullback, whose international recognition came earlier than his Dortmund counterpart, and at the same time was tinged with heartbreak as he was the final omission from Germany’s 2010 World Cup squad. The consistent displays produced by the right-back in 2010/11 are demonstrated, akin to Scmelzer, by him playing the most amount of minutes for Hoffenheim. His impressive performances this term have seen him linked with a summer move to Italian giants Juventus, who would surely only be benefited by the prototype of an ideal modern fullback, as reliable an option going forward (7 assists) as when defending.
Other candidates: Phillip Lahm (FC Bayern)
CB: Mats Hummels (Dortmund)
The Bundesliga’s outstanding centre-back, bar none. His positional awareness, tactical understanding and tackling strength mark him out as a player destined to provide the backbone of the Germany national side for many years to come. Formed an awesome partnership with the Serbian Neven Subotic, many commentators now see them as an inseparable pair, which has been the scourge of many a Bundesliga striker this season with 13 clean sheets. The settled backline has provided the basis from which Dortmund’s plentiful attacking talents can flourish. Can also chip in with useful goals, five this season, one a classy header in the vital away win at Bayern.
Other candidates: Neven Subotic (Dortmund)
CB: Benedikt Howedes (Schalke)
Yet another member of the 2009 U-21 European Championship winning German side to have graduated youth football and become a key member for their club. Although only 23, already vice-captain of Schalke, and comfortably handling esteemed adversaries such as Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito. His tackling has always been a strength, naturally, as with his heading, but he can be occasionally positionally suspect. Howedes has swiftly formed an easy understanding with former Real Madrid man, Christoph Metzelder. The youthful centre-back is attracting covetous glances from Arsenal and Manchester City, both perennially linked to talented starlets, Howedes seems set to stay at Schalke for the coming few years at least, having come through the youth ranks of his boyhood club.
Other candidates: Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart)
LM: Sidney Sam (Bayer Leverkusen)
Sam is perhaps the model for Leverkusen’s new signing Andre Schurrle. Signed from Kaiserslauten before this campaign for €2.5m, a tricky, quick winger who can dribble pass and shoot comfortably off both feet. Indeed, despite being a left winger at Kaiserslauten, Sam has seamlessly slotted into Jupp Heynckes’ Leverkusen team on the right of midfield. 12 goals in 34 games in the 2010/11 campaign represents a fantastic return for a player now considered as one of ‘Die Nationalmannschaft”’s future stars. Physical strength and decision making are concerns for the 23 year old, however the advantage of youth means that he has several years to mature and experience, and develop these characteristics, which certainly should not overshadow an excellent debut season for Leverkusen, from a highly gifted young footballer.
Other candidates: Kevin Grosskreutz (Dortmund), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund- I know he’s out of position but who cares!)
RM: Andre Schurrle (Mainz 05)
I’ll say it now, this kid will be one of the signings of next season. If perhaps overshadowed this season by the more mercurial, memorable Lewis Holtby, it was certainly not for performance. Statistically Mainz’s best player, and chipping in with essential goals to keep his side in the European run-in, particularly the late stunner at home to Gladbach. Schurrle possesses pace in abundance, and allies it with a rare combination of direct running and elusive movement. Indeed, the 20 year old’s work ethic belies his few years, and his will to win is unmatched. A superb season from the Mainz youngster, whom Leverkusen will be hoping replicates this season’s form for them in 2011-12.
Other candidates: Jefferson Farfan (Schalke),
CM: Mario Gotze (Dortmund)
Occasionally one is privileged enough to see genuine, raw, uninhibited talent in action. Blessed with a turn of pace, but more crucially, instinctive movement to go with it, Gotze’s skill-set is enviable to say the least. When one adds in an ice-cold finishing ability, unflustered passing ability and calm dribbling ability, one is confronted with a serious talent. A football brain that allows him to play anywhere across an attacking midfield trident, and a maturity which belies his years complete an awe-inspiring array of abilities. Despite a supposed weakness in stature, he stands at a mere 5’7”, his first senior goal was a header. Six goals and 14 assists this season will undoubtedly have the European giants hovering around this precocious playmaker, however the influence of Lars Ricken and his agent Volker Struth should ensure he sees out his current Dortmund contract until 2014.
Other candidates: Lewis Holtby (Mainz), Luiz Gustavo (Hoffenheim/FC Bayern)
CM: Nuri Sahin (Dortmund)
The sheer joy of watching talent and potential fulfilled is one of the most glorious of football sensations. Nuri Sahin’s name had always been uttered in slightly audible whispers, of a youth with serious talent, but wary of burdening one too young, or burgeoning him with lofty comparisons. This season has been his breakthrough, if you’ll forgive the cliché, as six goals and eight assists will readily testify (his goal against Wolfsburg will live long in the memory). However the unadulterated pleasure of watching Sahin pass and subsequently move in order to receive again cannot be replicated in statistics alone. The vision, the creativity and the awareness are intrinsic qualities, uncoachable, and thus making it all the more rare and more pleasant when one encounters across a player possessing such a formidable combination. It can be dangerous to claim a player has mastered the art of passing, an art so essential to football itself, yet Sahin is one of the very few to come close to the plethora of Spanish masters in his ability to control a game.
Other candidates: Arturo Vidal (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Schalke)
ST: Raul (Schalke)
A man selected purely because he didn’t have to be in this team at all. He could have retired, content with his numerous successes, the European Cups, the League titles, the records, safe in the knowledge as one of the greatest goalscorers ever to play the game. But no, he felt he had something to prove, or had the hunger to carry on playing, the desire, the love of the game. This season he surpassed Gerd Muller’s record of most European goals, classily enough, on his home turf of Spain, playing for his adopted German club, bringing together the two strands of his footballing life. Not only that, his influence, experience and leadership have been utterly vital in leading Schalke to the Pokal-Final and the Champions League semis.
Other candidates: Lucas Barrios (Dortmund), Didier Ya Konan (Hannover)
ST: Papiss Cisse (Freiburg)
Some Freiburg fans would call him their “football God”, whereas others would prefer to temper down hyperbolic statements of immortality, however they would all agree that Papiss Cisse has had a sensational season. Freiburg’s rise up the Bundesliga was thanks in no small part to the Senegalese hitman, bought from Metz in 2009, and who has scored 22 goals in 30 appearances this season. This record is impressive enough, but his goalscoring prowess is also highlighted by his seven goals in eight international appearances. Freiburg’s surprise eighth-place, which could have been higher, as Europe was beckoning at one stage, has been totally reliant on Cisse’s power and goals, as their next top goalscorer has five. His strength, which is prodigious despite his relatively small stature for a striker, belies an excellent touch and a clear eye for goal. A shrewd buy who has captured the eye of Arsenal, Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow, Freiburg are sure to cash in on their prize asset sooner rather than later.
Other candidates: Theofanis Gekas (Eintracht Frankfurt), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich)