GGFN’s Bundesliga XI of the Hinrunde

It’s come to that time of year again when viewers pick their best Bundesliga XI of either the year, or the Hinrunde. This time, we’ve let our readers pick their favourite XI so far for the 2016/17 season.

It’s fair to say that this campaign so far has been somewhat unpredictable. We’ve seen a number of managers lose their jobs, whilst others (Julian Nagelsmann) has lead his TSG 1899 Hoffenheim side to being the only unbeaten team remaining in the Bundesliga so far.

Not to mention we have Hertha BSC, 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt mixing it up at the top. We also have RB Leipzig who managed to make first place their own until December, where they suffered their first, and only, loss of the season so far, against champions Bayern Munich.

Contributors, Daniel Pinder, Jack Grimse, Kishan Vaghela.

So, without further ado, here’s GGFN’s readers XI of the Bundesliga so far.

Manuel Neuer / Bayern Munich

Between the posts, GGFN readers have voted Manuel Neuer as the Bundesliga goalkeeper of the Hinrunde. It comes as no surprise considering the World Cup winner has been named as the best No. 1 for the fourth year running. This season has seen Neuer play with international teammates Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, which has made things easier for the Bayern Munich man.

After revolutionising the definition of a ‘sweeper keeper’, we haven’t seen Neuer do much of that under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti. However, that does not mean that he isn’t as valuable as he was last season. We’ve seen the 30-year-old save Bayern on countless occasions – earning them a number of points, noticeably against Ingolstadt, to deny Matthew Leckie.

As aforementioned, we haven’t seen Neuer roam outside is area as much this season – a specific instruction from Ancelotti? Perhaps. One thing that’s for certain is that his concentration still remains one of the best in today’s game. The Bayern shot stopper can spend 60 minutes between the posts not being needed – due to Bayern’s defence (best in the Bundesliga this season) – but when he’s called upon, his concentration is second-to-none.

In comparison to last season, Bayern conceded just 17 Bundesliga goals. This campaign, they’ve already allowed nine goals against them – noticeably two against Eintracht Frankfurt, one against 1. FC Köln and one against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, all at the Allianz Arena. This is something that Pep Guardiola would have been frustrated with last campaign, but in a period of transition, Bayern are once again looking like their old self – that of under the tutelage of Jupp Heynckes.

With Bayern still struggling to adapt to life following the departure of Pep Guardiola, Neuer will be tasked with continuing his fine form in goal in 2017, where Bayern Munich will look to challenge for that elusive Champions League trophy they failed to clinch under Pep.

Benjamin Henrichs / Bayer Leverkusen

Bursting onto the scene early in the season at Bayer Leverkusen was Benjamin Henrichs. Though he started and played 90 minutes in each of the final three games last season for the Werkself, Henrichs started to make his mark for Roger Schmidt’s team after making the switch to right back.

It was an easy switch across the backline for the 19-year-old who grew up an hour away from Leverkusen. Henrichs has played in the Bayer 04 setup since the age of seven, allowing him to slot into professional system with ease.

Participation in the academy was also key for Henrichs’ early introduction into the Bayer 04 senior side. A large part of Leverkusen’s policy is to breed their own talent, and players like Henrichs who can integrate at an early age are a big reason why it’s a strategy that works.

Henrichs was on the bench for the season-opening loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach, but has started every Bundesliga game since, save for one he missed with thigh problems. With Henrichs in the team, Bayer are winning 1.5 points per match. Without him, it’s only 1.31. Part of this is due to his defensive ability, but Henrichs also adds more in attack that many other fullbacks. His two-footedness allows him to swap wings with Wendell, Bayer’s talented Brazilian left back. It’s an advanced tactic from Schmidt that relies on the awareness of his players, which speaks to the knowledge of Benjamin Henrichs.

So far this season, Henrichs has tallied two assists for Leverkusen. He was playing at right back in both Bundesliga fixtures, but one of his goals came from the left wing and one was created by his play on the right. Both assists were similar, with Henrichs racing past the defence and whipping in a ball along the turf to set up a striker. It’s a skill every manager wants to see from a fullback.

The displays by “Benni” have earned him a call-up to the senior Nationalmannschaft. After playing for every German youth national team since the age of 14, Henrichs got a chance to play with the big boys in November. Henrichs started and played all 90 minutes in a November World Cup Qualifying win against San Marino, and was on the bench for a scoreless draw against Italy four days later. Being involved in Joachim Löw’s plans will provide valuable experience for the Leverkusen youngster going forward. Additionally, there’s not a whole lot of depth for the German national team at the fullback positions, and the fact that Henrichs is comfortable on either flank makes him a gem for the Bundestrainer.

Benjamin Henrichs also can add Champions League experience to his résumé over the winter break. He started the first five Group E matches for Bayer Leverkusen, and made a substitute appearance in the sixth. With the Werkself progressing to the knockout stage of the tournament, expect to see more of Henrichs under the bright spotlights of Europe’s elite competition in the spring.

Jesus Vallejo / Eintracht Frankfurt

Although Jesus Vallejo will soon be lining up alongside Sergio Ramos, Eintracht Frankfurt have got themselves a good deal in getting the young Spaniard to the Commerzbank Arena. The 19-year-old has made such a good impact in Germany, that should Real Madrid lose Pepe in January, Niko Kovac could soon lose a star player.

Strong and dominant in the air, Vallejo possesses all the traits needed to succeed as a defender in modern day football. Vallejo has started all 16 league games for Eintracht this season, with the youngster becoming a key catalyst in helping the Bundesliga club to fourth in the table come the close of the Hinrunde.

At the minute, Vallejo might not be the best ball-playing centre-back, but with his timing going into tackles, the Spain Under-21 international has a big future ahead of him. Vallejo also possesses great pace, where he’s been recorded outsprinting Hamburger SV playmaker Alen Halilovic.

Sporting Director Fredi Bobic and Kovac will be hoping they can keep hold of him for the remainder of the season where he has become an asset, and a fan favourite for Eintracht fans.

“It is a tremendous joy [to know Zinedine Zidane is watching]. To be recognised for your work is a joy and helps me to strive even harder,” says Vallejo. “I have that dream [to play at the Bernabeu], I hope the day comes. If I’m honest, that’s why I work every day of my life. My head is very focused on Frankfurt, but I am realistic and I have that desire. I’m looking forward to that day, playing at the Bernabeu.”

Vallejo has also gained the plaudits from Eintracht goalkeeper Lukas Hrdecky, whose job has been made a lot easier with the youngster ahead of him, with an average of 3.1 interceptions per game.

“He is our best player at the moment,” Hrdecky said. “Vallejo makes my work a lot easier.”

With the 19-year-old at the heart of the defence, Eintracht have conceded just 12 league goals, second to Bayern Munich.

Jerome Boateng / Bayern Munich

There’s no doubt that Jerome Boateng is up there with some of the world’s best central defenders of the past generation, and his performances in the Hinrunde for Bayern Munich has only cemented his legacy even more. Not only has the arrival of international teammate Mats Hummels taken some of the pressure off, but Bayern Munich now have two defenders at their disposal that can kick-start attacks from the back.

A fan favourite in Germany, Boateng was overlooked for the captaincy of the national team once Bastian Schweinsteiger resigned, but perhaps that has spurred him on to excel even more. Under Pep Guardiola, Boateng became the best defender in the world, and now under Carlo Ancelotti, the German Footballer of the Year will look to continue his fine season.

Although the 28-year-old has started less than 50 percent of Bundesliga fixtures for Bayern this season, Boateng has become an integral part of the club both on and off the pitch – despite the criticism after their Champions League performance against Russian club, Rostov.

A noticeable league performance against away at Bavarian rivals Augsburg, Boateng made four interceptions before being substituted due to injury after the hour mark.

His new found fame as ‘German Footballer of the Year’ has seen him release his own optical brand, whilst he’s become close friends with musician Jay-Z away from the pitch.

A four-time Bundesliga champion, Boateng will be instrumental in retaining the title, especially given the amount of competition throughout Germany this time round. As a role model for the younger players, such as Joshua Kimmich, Boateng can really be the best of this generation for some time, whilst fellow colleagues can aspire to be like him.

David Alaba / Bayern Munich

In truth, David Alaba’s versatility could have resulted in him being selected in a completely different position other than left-back in this Hinrunde XI. He, along with his Austrian teammates, may have disappointed in the European Championships last summer, but the consequential effect on this season’s Bundesliga campaign with Bayern Munich has been minor at best.

The fact he was voted Austrain Footballer of the Year for the sixth season in succession came as little surprise, and neither have his performances. Bayern supporters may not have seen the 24-year old’s trademark rasping 30-yard strike or a goal from a whipped long-range free-kick, however his creative nous has been as prominent as ever.

Five assists and 34 chances created has once again proven Alaba’s pedigree as an attack-minded fullback whose conversion into the position from a defensive midfielder has been nothing short of remarkable. The Austrian however has by no means neglected his defensive duties and has been key in intercepting passes and clearing in dangerous positions due to his electric pace. The German champions’ record without him is a testament to his defensive qualities, winning only one of the games in which he did not start, a 3-1 DFB Pokal win against Augsburg, a match that the Austrian would come on to score in and seal his side’s progression into the next round.

The most revealing result was the 3-2 loss in Rostov in the Champions League, where Alaba was an unused substitute, a defeat that would ultimately confirm Atlético Madrid establishing themselves as group winners.

Such a damaging performance has drawn the 2013 winners against the team Alaba supported during his childhood, Arsenal. Whilst a move to the Emirates is somewhat unlikely given the difference in calibre between the two clubs, Alaba has never truly seemed settled at the Allianz Arena, partly due to himself.

He refused to rule out a move away from the Allianz Arena in December, having been the subject of intense speculation in the summer with regards to a move to Manchester City and following Pep Guardiola to the Etihad.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have also been heavily credited with a keen interest in the left-back’s services, and with the majority of his career still ahead of him, Alaba’s uncertainty is pervading through the fans too. Nevertheless, Bayern can expect similar performances in the Rückrunde as Bundesliga and Bayern Munich enthusiasts were treated to in the first half of the season.

Naby Keita / RB Leipzig

A summer arrival from Red Bull Salzburg, Naby Keita has joined the revolution at RB Leipzig, which has seen the Guinea international become a key catalyst in their now league title chasing season – in what is their first ever year in the Bundesliga.

With an ambition to become ‘the best African footballer’, Keita is certainly on the correct tracks. Coming through the Red Bull franchise, Keita joined RB Salzburg after just one season in France, at FC Istres. Winning two back-to-back doubles with Salzburg, Keita made his way to Germany. Coming through a recruitment process that see the franchise recruit players of a certain age and technical ability, Keita may just be one of the best developments in their most recent history.

His move north from Salzburg to Leipzig has been nothing short of astonishing. A modern day midfielder, Keita has it all. Strength, positioning and attacking ability. The Guinea international is able to read play like no other, thus breaking it up and starting attacks. This is something that Keita excels in – and not many other midfielders can come close to replicating the African.

The 21-year-old hasn’t exactly had the easiest of journeys to top flight football either. Joining hometown club Horoya AC at the age of nine, Keita made his 6,000km journey to France at 16, lodging with Guinea international Guy-Michel Landel. Unsuccessful trials at Lorient and Le Mans followed, before a talent spotting tournament was arranged by Marseille, which ultimately earned him a contract at Istes.

RB Leipzig hasn’t been a side that lose possession much this season but when they do, Keita is there, covering. As his career develops, he’s only going to get better – which is a scary thought for teams that come up against him.

One standout performance from Keita in the Hinrunde is their fixture against Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund. Causing problems for the double pivot in the midfield for Dortmund that game, Keita nabbed the winner late in the second-half, which ultimately announced Leipzig onto the European stage.

Long gone are the days of long treks to training and the worry of whether or not he was going to make it. Keita so far, has been influential for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team, which has lost just once this season, against champions Bayern Munich. One of Keita’s greatest traits is his stamina, he just does not stop running. If he stays fit, then you can expect him to propel Leipzig to a place in the Champions League for the forthcoming season.

Thiago / Bayern Munich

Leaders Bayern Munich have rarely hit top gear so far this season, but the same criticism cannot be levelled at Thiago Alcântara. The 25-year-old has arguably been Bayern’s most consistent performer since Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in the summer. A bit-part player under fellow Spaniard Pep Guardiola, he now exudes the confidence of a somewhat liberated component of the midfield.

Whilst the Italian’s strategy of three central midfielders has been questioned, Thiago has been a driving force behind Bayern’s path to finish top of the Bundesliga before the winter break. Deployed in various different midfield roles this season by Ancelotti, it is in the free central role that he has flourished.

There was no better example of this than his blistering first-half performance against rivals RB Leipzig on the final matchday of the Hinrunde. Thiago scored himself from a few yards out after Robert Lewandowski’s effort hit the post, before setting up fellow countryman Xabi Alonso with a perfectly-weighted through ball. His qualities were evident in abundance, including passing of the highest order, despite the Internet’s focus on his apparent pass to the moving figure of Santa Claus on the electronic advertising boards at the Allianz Arena. His precision when pushing his side forward has resulted in an average pass accuracy of 90% this season, and 34 chances created altogether in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Only three goals in the aforementioned competitions may be a rather surprising statistic given the magnitude of his improvement this season, but 2017 will surely see an increase in this field of the midfielder’s game.

Nevertheless, his advancement in the last few months has contrasted the form he showed under Guardiola, who preferred to pair the likes Arturo Vidal, Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso together. An effective substitute who often made a defining impact, such as in last season’s return leg of the Champions League last 16 against Juventus when his goal confirmed Bayern’s comeback from 2-0 down. However, Thiago was largely limited to such cameos, whereas he now directs Bayern’s attacking threat, with Thomas Müller, who has recently been deployed directly ahead of Thiago, suffering from post-2016 blues.

Rumours of a return to Barcelona have coincided with a return to form, but having become such a cognitive fixture in Ancelotti’s side, it is extremely difficult to see the Italian part with his services and indeed whether it is worth the risk of returning to square one given the plethora of options at Luis Enrique’s disposal.

Bayern Munich may not have run away with the league, but should the 25-year-old continue in this vein of form, RB Leipzig will see their work cut out.

Hakan Calhanoglu / Bayer Leverkusen

Coming off the back of an impressive season at Bayer Leverkusen last year, Hakan Calhanoglu has made it into GGFN’s XI of the Bundesliga Hinrunde, as the Turkey international looks to go from strength-to-strength. At just 22-years-old, Calhanoglu has been playing at the top level for the past four years.

In what is a poor campaign for Roger Schmidt’s Leverkusen, Calhanoglu has been a standout performer, with four goals and four assists in 12 starts – something that has attracted interest from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Whilst a deal for the 22-year-old to play in the Premier League looks a distant thought, Calhanoglu did state that he would find it hard to turn down, should an offer arise.

“Barcelona and Manchester Unite are huge clubs. It would be difficult to turn them down. But I have not said anything about any transfers or anything of the sort,” he told Lig TV.

This season has seen Calhanoglu deployed predominantly on the left flank, where he’s able to cut inside and use his favoured right foot. However, his versatility is just one reason Rudi Völler brought him to Leverkusen. The playmaker has also played behind the striker, on the right flank, and even in defensive midfield on one occasion this campaign, where he’s able to dictate the tempo of the game.

Perhaps something that does come as a surprise this season is the fact that Calhanoglu is yet to score from a direct free-kick this campaign. Something he’s been doing since he burst on to the scene as a Hamburger SV youngster. However, the values of his four goals has earned his team valuable points.

Calhanoglu scored in Leverkusen’s loss against Werder Bremen, but his second of the season saw the opener against SV Darmstadt 98. The attacking midfielder then scored both the equalisers against Bayern Munich and SC Freiburg.

If Calhanoglu does manage to continue his form, then he won’t be short of suitors come the summer. Now, it’s important that the Turkey international remains grounded and helps Leverkusen secure a place in the Champions League for the coming year.

Ousmane Dembélé / Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund spent a whole lot of money this summer — €112.5 million, to be exact. Players like André Schürrle and Mario Götze were the names experts were saying would make the impact needed to get BVB back into the title race, but 19-year-old Ousmane Dembélé is the attacker that’s been doing the business.

After a breakout season at Rennes, Dembélé was bought for €15 million, and has proved to be worth every penny spent so far. Four goals and seven assists in league play have been tallied by the Frenchman in his debut Hinrunde, with another goal and five assists coming in the Champions League for Die Schwarzgelben.

Maybe it was the host of injuries sustained by Dortmund early in the season, but the main factor leading to Dembélé already seeing a lot of playing time for the club is his outstanding talent. He’s played 24 times across all competitions, only remaining on the bench for a lone Bundesliga game (the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich when a more defensive-minded lineup was used).

Few attackers can match what Ousmane Dembélé brings to the table. He’s able to play on either wing as well as centrally; both behind a primary striker or up top with a partner. Dembélé can do it all.

If his pace doesn’t catch your eye at first, maybe it was his dribbling tricks and silky skills on the ball that made him stand out. Dembélé possesses excellent control, which gives him the ability to create space anywhere on the pitch. This leads to chances for both Dembélé and his Dortmund teammates. His 25 key passes this season is the joint sixth-best figure in the Bundesliga.

Naturally left-footed, Ousmane Dembélé is almost equally skilled with his right. (With Dortmund, he’s scored three with his right and two with his left.) This makes him a fullback’s worst nightmare, as he can skin his marker with raw speed, make the opponent look foolish with a move commonplace in EA Sports’ FIFA, or a combination of the two.

Considering he’s just 19 years old, Dembélé’s maturity is impressive. Plenty of young players are less than willing to share the ball, but not Ousmane. The passing combinations that he’s key in facilitating with his teammates are stunning. When he’s not isolated against a defender, Dembélé plays rapid one-two balls with his teammates through the centre of the park to move the ball forward quickly.

When combined with his off-the-ball movement, Dembélé’s skills on the ball make him a very valuable player for Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel. Trusted already to play key roles in important games, Dembélé rarely lets his manager down. The only thing that lacks is his heading ability, as he doesn’t have great height at 178cm. His tactical knowledge is still developing, which is to be expected at a young age. That said, Dortmund is a perfect place for him to develop, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to do so.

Emil Forsberg / RB Leipzig

After clinching the 2. Bundesliga title in 2016, RB Leipzig took the national league by storm remaining unbeaten for 16 Bundesliga games, losing out to only Bayern Munich. A star player in that side is Emil Forsberg. Rightly so, the Sweden international takes the starting spot in GGFN’s team of the Hinrunde.

Upon his move to RB Leipzig in 2015, Forsberg was heavily crisitised for his move to the Red Bull backed club – but the 25-year-old doesn’t see his move to Leipzig as a step back in his career.

“People say that there is no tradition at the club and focus on the fact that they are trying to create something with money,” he said. “But if you have money you can buy better players and appoint better managers. If you want to be successful that’s the way it works in modern football. Look at PSG and it is not difficult to see why they have had a lot of success.”

At one point, Leipzig even offered Forsberg a new contract – worth around €3,5m a year for five-years – after Liverpool showed initial interest in him at the start of the season.

Now, after having the year of his life, Forsberg has caught the eye of Arsenal and Juventus.

Versatile going forward, Forsberg has featured predominantly on the left for RB Leipzig, but has also seen himself behind the two main strikers, Timo Werner and Marcel Sabizter, on several occasions.

The 25-year-old leads the Bundesliga’s assists charts, whilst he has been a key catalyst in Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team, who find themselves in second – in what is their first ever season in the top flight.

Forsberg has scored five goals this campaign. Netting against Hamburger SV, Augsburg, VfL Wolfsburg, 1. FSV Mainz 05 and Bayer Leverkusen, many Bundesliga clubs haven’t found a way to keep the Swede quiet.

According to his agent, Hasan Cetinkaya, Forsberg is “one of Europe’s hottest midfielders in one of Europe’s best leagues,” which has seen him score or assist on average every 77.4 minutes in the Bundesliga.

If RB Leipzig are going to challenge for the league title, Hasenhüttl is going to have to keep Forsberg, who is arguably their best attacking player, fit – let alone ward off the interest from Europe’s elite. Do that, and Leipzig can be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the campaign.

Anthony Modeste / 1. FC Köln

Anthony Modeste has certainly had a nomadic career, but it finally looks like the 28-year-old has found his home, despite being linked with a move to the Chinese Super League. An arrival from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the 28-year-old forward has been one of the Bundesliga’s most feared strikers for the past two years.

During his time in Sinsheim, Modeste scored 23 goals in 62 games for Hoffenheim following his move from SC Bastia in France – where he was prolific in the one season he spent at the Ligue 1 club. His goalscoring exploits earned him a move to North West Germany with 1. FC Köln to play under Peter Stöger. Modeste was tasked with filling the void of Anthony Ujah who departed for Werder Bremen, and he’s certainly exceeded expectations, by far.

Known as a ‘flop’ at Blackburn Rovers during his loan spell in the Premier League, the Frenchman failed to score. Fast forward five years and it wouldn’t be a shock if he was called up to the France national team in the near future.

His success at Hoffenheim earned him a move to Cologne, who splashed €4.5 million on him at the time. With 33 goals in 54 games, they’ve certainly got their money’s worth. His goals in the Bundesliga last season (15), almost clinched 1. FC Köln a spot in the Europa League. Once again, Stöger’s side are right up there in the mix following an impressive Hinrunde.

With 13 Bundesliga goals already this season, Modeste is most likely going to beat his tally for last. His equaliser against Bayern Munich meant that 1. FC Köln were the first team this season to take points off the champions, whilst he has also found the net against Schalke, Hamburger SV and fierce rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen – something that has won the hearts of many Köln supporters. Suddenly, Ujah was a distant memory.

1. FC Köln went seven games unbeaten in the league at the start of the season, whilst they have lost just once in 17 league games. One reason that makes Modeste almost unplayable this season is the fact that he’s not just a goalscorer.

At one point, it looked as though the forward may run away with the Golden Boot following the poor form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski. However with Modeste, you’re not only going to get goals. The 28-year-old can hold-up the ball and bring others to play, whilst he also has the capability of defending from the front, something you don’t see in a lot of modern day forwards. If 1. FC Köln can keep their star player fit, they could be right up there once again battling for a place in Europe next season.

Julian Nagelsmann / TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

He may have won our vote for “Manager of the Hinrunde,” but TSG 1899 Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann deserves an award for his work throughout the 2016 calendar year. After inheriting a Hoffenheim team that was second-bottom, the 28-year-old righted the ship and successfully escaped relegation.

Nagelsmann turned 29 over the summer, and it certainly looks like he’s gained more than a year’s worth of wisdom since then. Hoffenheim look far more tactically mature than they did last season, and navigated through the first half of the 2016-17 season without suffering a single defeat.

Smart summer purchases like Kerem Demierbay and Sandro Wagner supplemented his squad, and the willingness to play talents like Niklas Süle that were developed at Hoffenheim show that Nagelsmann’s focus is on youth — as it should be.

While Hoffenheim have drawn 10 matches and won just six so far this year, this shift to a more conservative style has definitely been by design. Before the hotshot took over, 1899 employed a basic 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 system common throughout Europe. Since then, it’s been a shift to a system with three central defenders that press high up the pitch and help control the tempo.

Two of these central defenders, Kevin Vogt and Benjamin Hübner were purchased in the summer from Bundesliga rivals FC Köln and Ingolstadt respectively. Adding in Lukas Rupp (signed from Stuttgart), Wagner and Demirbay, nearly half the team was brought in this summer. It’s remarkable to see the magic that Nagelsmann has worked with new players in such a short period of time.

And they should continue to improve. Eight years ago, Hoffenheim were Herbstmeister after finishing the 2008-09 Hinrunde as the top team in Germany. However, they faltered in the second half of the season, slipping to seventh in the final table.

Don’t expect another collapse in the spring. Nagelsmann may not be looking to bring in any fresh faces during the January transfer window, but he will become more familiar with his squad during the break. Look for the joint sixth-best defence in Germany to get even tougher to penetrate.

Nagelsmann’s team conceded just 17 during the 16 matches this fall, a vast improvement from the 24 they shipped in the final 14 matches of last season after he took over. The manager was also playing a more open variant of his style then, as Hoffenheim needed wins to escape the drop. Now that they’re in a comfortable position in Germany’s top flight, the focus is on being more solid.

It isn’t just the defence that’s improved either. In those 14 games last season, Hoffenheim scored 21 goals, 1.5 per match. This season, 1899 have bagged 28 in 16 matches, or 1.75 per game.

Seeing teams improve this drastically without significant investment is a positive reflection of the manager. Julian Nagelsmann is, rightfully so, one of the top managers in Europe, and not just because he’s incredibly young. Watch for his Hoffenheim side to keep getting better.

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