FEATURE | GGFN’s 20 to watch for 2018

Bundesliga is famed for its talent factories. Clubs like Schalke, Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart all possess top notch facilities for youth development and have all produced some world beaters during the last ten years. Players like Leroy Sané, Timo Werner, Roberto Firming and Marco Reus have come to grace the footballing world with their abilities.

In this piece, we will look at 20 players who we think might have their breakout season in 2018. We will begin from the back, just as every successful manager has always done when building a squad.

Jonathan Klinsmann | Hertha BSC

Jonathan Klinsmann, son of German icon Jürgen Klinsmann, joined the club last summer and has impressed everyone so far. He has already started a game for the Berlin club, in the Europa League versus Östersund FK. Even though he conceded a goal he impressed both me and many others with his reflexes. He did save a penalty in the end as well to keep the game tied.

At the minute, Hertha Berlin’s goalkeeping situation is a nightmare. Their main keeper Rune Jarstein is 33-years-old and their back-up is the failed talent Thomas Kraft who basically concedes goals for fun. Therefore, it’s not a too absurd of a guess that Klinsmann might be involved during the Rückrunde and even more during next season’s Hinrunde. Will it be his breakout year though? Hard to say. Jarstein could easily stay at the current level for a few more years, but to secure the future of the club, I’m sure Klinsmann will be given time in the starting XI.

Gregor Kobel | TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

I’m sure the signing of Gregor Kobel from Grasshopper’s second team will be seen as a proper stroke of genius in a few years.  The 20-year-old Switzerland U21-international has an array of important abilities and many consider him to be the future goalkeeper of both Switzerland and Hoffenheim.

Heinz Moser, the coach of the Swiss U21-team said in an interview that he was very impressed by Kobel. He stated that the youngster has all it takes to make it at this level. His understanding for the game combined with his excellent communicative abilities make him a very potent goalkeeper for any team. While Oliver Baumann is one of the best in the league, some rumours have been linking him away from Hoffe. Kobel would be a good replacement if he does leave the club this summer.

Felix Uduokhai | VfL Wolfsburg

Felix Uduokhai joined die Wölfe from the chaotic side of Munich this summer after the double-relegation of 1860. He has already shown the potential doubters why the signing was accurate and due to Wolfsburg’s defensive mayhem, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim 2018 to be his year.

Having already featured in many Wolfsburg games this season, Uduokhai is a well-known figure in defence for the draw-loving wolves from Niedersachsen. Martin Schmidt’s side have been both defensively stabile and labile and while Uduokhai has been one of the standout performers so far, there is certainly room for improvement. The German-Nigerian has great strength and decent speed and has the ball-playing ability needed for a competent defensive midfielder. This makes it possible for him to play the central sweeper in a three-at-the-back system, which would definitely improve Wolfsburgs’s defensive stability.

Gian-Luca Itter | VfL Wolfsburg

Another wolf in this list, Gian-Luca Itter is the next big thing to come out of Wolfsburg. He has already made his professional debut for the club at 18 and versus Bayern Munich at that. He impressed most and with Wolfsburg’s key left back-being unreliable Brazilian William, Itter could prove to be the stronger of the two come March or April.

Itter has good speed, great tackling and a decent understanding for the game, which is very underrated among wing-backs of his type. Itter’s strengths are in attack though so playing as a dynamic wing back in a 5-3-2 a’la Julian Nagelsmann or Domenico Tedesco would function very well for him. Get German Football News published an article on Itter in November 2017 in which the author Thomas Pain writes that due to Wolfsburg keeping hold of him, we should see more of him in the starting XI. Wolfsburg haven’t had the best track record when it comes to promoting young players to the first team and giving them playing time. Pain notes that the likes of Jannes Horn and Paul Seguin among others have struggled. However, Gian-Luca Itter has the potential to be the next Robin Knoche or Max Arnold, he could be the exception to the Volkswagen rule.

Killian Jakob | FC Augsburg

Good left-backs from Augsburg seem to be one of the most frequent sights in German football. The Bavarian club has produced at least two great left-backs during the last five years and one can’t imagine why they would stop. Augsburg as a club is tiny and need to sell their top players to remain financially stable. Therefore, they also need to have a good academy to keep the flow of money and good players going. When Augsburg sell a player, they can often replace him from within, which is very lucrative.

Philipp Max should leave the club this summer, it’s the only reasonable thing. Whether he goes abroad or to a bigger club in Germany, I can’t say, but I am very certain that he will leave. However, Augsburg already have a replacement lined up for him in Killian Jakob. The German has a great name, which is important and even though he’s only 19-years-old, it might take two seasons for him to develop into Augsburg’s next wing-back. It’s like that we should see much more of him when Max leaves this summer. We could even see him in the starting XI on a regular basis this autumn.

Kevin Danso | FC Augsburg

Look at that, another Augsburg talent in this list. Kevin Danso has already been given time on the pitch for the Fuggerstädter and remains one of the biggest talents at the club. The Austrian junior international is a strong, but agile centre-back with all the attributes needed for a capable ball playing defender. The Austrian joined Augsburg in 2014 from MK Dons and became the club’s youngest ever player when he started against RB Leipzig during the Hinrunde. Danso has already scored a goal for the club which has also made him popular for the Austrian national team coach who handed him his first international cap against Wales this autumn.

In the Bundesliga, Danso is actually a huge talent. The Austrian can be deployed as part of a defensive pivot or as part of a defensive trio in a five-at-the-back system. Danso’s ball-playing ability makes it possible for him to be deployed in central midfield, which makes him a very good and versatile option for the flexible tactician Manuel Baum.

Yann Aurel Bisseck |1. FC Köln

I had the fortune of watching the 17-year-old’s debut live at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne when they lost against Hertha Berlin. While Köln’s defence was as bad as it’s been all season, I was very impressed by Bisseck’s calmness both on and off the ball. The tall German Under 17-international has since started two more games and has shown lots of promise for the chaotic side in the bottom of the table.

Able to play as a wing-back or as part of a defensive duo or trio, he has the flexibility and the ability to compete at the highest level and due to him having already started a few games for the Geißböcke in Bundesliga, I can see him starting and impressing even more. Köln need a defensive rock. Bisseck could transform into that, if given time.

Dennis Geiger | TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

One could argue that 2017 was his breakout year, but I beg to differ with a “Au contraire, ma cherie” and a smirk. Geiger, German for “violinist”, did have a good 2017 and was one of the brightest stars in Nagelsmann’s system at Hoffenheim, but I can’t help but feel unsatisfied. I know he has more to give, I know there’s more to come from the violinist from Sinsheim. Because Geiger has everything. He has the work rate, the stamina, the balance, the technique, the understanding and vision. He’s also a very clever player who knows his way around problems of all sorts.

His 2018 will be full of speculation. Newspapers will ask themselves and others if Geiger is good enough to play for Liverpool. “Is Geiger the defensive controller Liverpool so desperately need?” will be the go-to title. Due to Liverpool’s apparent affection with Bundesliga and basically all over-performing players in it, one can only wonder when the rumours about Geiger will start. Or have they already started? However, it is pivotal that the rumours do not overshadow Geiger’s fantastic ability. He can go far. Really far.

Arne Maier | Hertha Berlin SC

Arne Maier was one of the biggest surprises at Hertha this season. A team with a bunch of great midfielders, the likes of Vladimir Darida and Per Ciljan Skjelbred, had started many games in a row with an 18-year-old undetected German in defensive midfield. It went well too. Maier put in a bunch of great performances that saw him retain his place in the Berliner starting XI.

Maier’s biggest attributes are not that clear. He can play either as a defensive midfielder or as an attacking midfielder. He can also be the player that carries the ball between defence and attack, mainly due to his good technical abilities and decent speed. Maier’s attributes truly resemble those of Darida, but due to his age and his potential we can certainly expect to see more of him this season.

Salih Özcan | 1.FC Köln

In a dreadful Köln side, one midfielder has stood out from the mediocre rest. Milos Jojic has been poor of late while Jonas Hector has been injured, which has resulted in the young German Salih Özcan stepping up. Özcan possesses great vision, good technical ability and the ability to pick out a pass from anywhere. The young midfielder is one of the biggest talents the established Köln-academy has produced in the last few years and he will most certainly continue to show us why during this season.

Özcan’s attributes make him a wanted player type. Due to his passing ability one would assume that his best role would be that of a defensive playmaker, mainly due to his good defensive abilities as well. However, he has decent speed and is equipped with good technique, which makes him eligible to play as an attacking midfielder too. Özcan should get even more playing time in this horrible Köln side and if they’re relegated, we could see him in another Bundesliga side come August.

Mickael Cuisance | Borussia Mönchengladbach

Born on the German border to France, in Strasbourg, he has always been near Germany. Seen as one of many great French talents, Cuisance joined the club from AS Nancy U19’s last summer and has since featured in 13 official games for die Fohlen, ten in Bundesliga and three in DFB-Pokal. The 18-year-old has impressed many with his calm touch and great left foot with which he has already created one goal for his new club. Cuisance is one of the best talents at the club now and most expect him to break into the starting XI sometime this year.

He is quite strong on the ball, has a great left foot and decent technical ability. The Frenchman can both play as a defensive playmaker and further forward. Cuisance is also a reliable set-piece taker. Borussia Mönchengladbach has a great future midfield duo in Denis Zakaria and Mickael and we can expect to see much more of him during both this spring and the following autumn.

Denis Zakaria | Borussia Mönchengladbach

Denis Zakaria is one of the more coveted players on this list. Even though this list is mainly made for hipsters like myself, Zakaria fits without a doubt. Zakaria joined ‘Gladbach last summer from BSC Young Boys and the youngster has performed very well so far. He was signed as a late Granit Xhaka replacement, from the looks of it and he is a carbon copy of the very same. Zakaria is very strong on the ball and his right foot has the ability and the tendency to ping long balls to wingers on their way forward. He is perhaps not as prone to score absolute crackers from long distance as Xhaka, but hey! You can’t have it all, Borussia.

I would expect Zakaria to become as good and as scouted as his predecessor. He has the potential to do it, the size to cope with the demanding role of a sole defensive midfielder, but still possesses the passing ability and the intelligence to play further forward. Zakaria is a player we can all expect to see much more of this season and it is something I am certainly looking forward to.

Vasilije Janjicic | Hamburger SV

Vasilije Janjicic came to Hamburger SV during the summer of 2016 for a rather hefty fee: €900 000. At the time, Hamburg had money to spend, but not good enough results to lure bigger players away from their clubs. Janjicic was one of the players brought in during this chaotic period and has been given more than one chance under Gisdol. The Swiss Under 20 international has shown both promise and some clear attributes – with HSV deciding to bring young players into the first team, we can expect to see more of Janjicic.

The Swiss defensive-midfielder is quite big and strong, but also has a great right foot. He uses this to ping balls to wing backs and wingers in Gisdol’s odd 4-2-3-1. Even though he has only featured four times in the Bundesliga, he has shown both the fans and the manager that he is more than capable of being the midfielder HSV so desperately need, among other things.

Elias Abouchabaka | RB Leipzig

One of the stars in the German Under 17 side, Abouchabaka is a talent and could be called the greatest talent to ever emerge from RB Leipzig’s rather newly started academy. The attacking mastermind is one of many great talents in the German 2000-generation which includes Fiete Arp, Yann Aurel Bisseck and Sahverdi Cetin among others.

Already famed for his technical abilities, Abouchabaka’s vision and eye for a pass makes him the ultimate attacking playmaker and his potent finishing makes him deadly as a trequartista-like attacker in any side in the future. RB Leipzig is a club engulfed in youth and Abouchabaka is probably the brightest talent of them all. And due to RBL’s love for young players we should see more of Abouchabaka in Bundesliga during 2018.

Alexander Isak | Borussia Dortmund

Can you forgive me for hoping? If not, I’ll wait for the forgiveness, like a Golden Retriever that has done something wrong. One of the most lauded Swedish talents this generation keeps on waiting for his chance to come for real. Being loaned out to another Bundesliga club could be the way forward. However, whether this is a product of my hope or not, Alexander Isak is a generational talent, one of the biggest attacking prospects my country has ever seen and to see him in the yellow and black bumblebee-inspired trikot makes me very happy. 2018 should and could very well be his year.

Isak is the perfect striker. He has it all, speed, strength, vision, technique, Swedish nationality, but lacks experience. Give him a few games and he will improve, impress and break through. This is his year, I am sure of it. In October, we’ll be talking of what could’ve been if Isak would have been included in Janne Andersson’s Swedish World Cup squad. What could have happened, we’ll say? Why wasn’t he included?

Aymen Barkok | Eintracht Frankfurt

When he scored that amazing goal away at Werder Bremen in November 2016, I was surprised. Not because my joyous scream had broken the sound barrier, but due to him looking like Bambi on thin ice just a minute before. 15 months later, he’s still trying to break into the Eintracht Frankfurt starting XI and the signings Niko Kovac made last summer didn’t make it easier for him. However, coach has given him playing time and his prone to giving young talents a chance. With Barkok being the top talent at Eintracht, we can expect to see much more of him during this year.

The biggest challenge for Barkok is the competition for his place in the team. He must compete with the likes of Marc Stendera, Marco Fabian and Mijat Gacinovic. However, Barkok becoming more well-rounded and more experienced makes it more and more possible for him to be more flexible. He can perhaps play as a central playmaker or as a dynamic wing-back in Kovac’ fantastic system. Whatever happens in 2018, one can only assume that Barkok will be given more playing time and due to his apparent abilities, I am sure he will impress both the fans and the very demanding manager that Kovac is.

Robin Hack | TSG Hoffenheim

Julian Nagelsmann loves a young star. Dennis Geiger, Nadiem Amiri and Niklas Süle are all clear examples of that. Winger-turned-striker Robin Hack could be the next one. One start and one goal, three starts and two goals for Hoffenheim and the German Under 20s respectively makes him a clear attacking threat. Hack started for Hoffenheim away against Freiburg and managed to score a goal on a first-half counter, but then got injured and hasn’t played since. It is apparent, however, that Nagelsmann trusts him and his ability which truly proves that Hack is the real deal.

Nagelsmann has worked with him before as well and knows his qualities well. He can use him as he wants and has already tried to transform him into a striker, mainly because a winger doesn’t really fit the way Hoffenheim play football. Hack has speed and smartness, he slithers behind the backline and uses his speed and good finishing for sole destroying purposes. A truly gifted attacker with a clear eye for the goal, Hack could and should be the next big attacking thing at the Sinsheim club.

Jadon Sancho | Borussia Dortmund

I remember watching Eintracht Frankfurt take on Borussia Dortmund in a random pub in the outskirts of Wroclaw, Poland this October. The game was tied 2-2, and Jadon Sancho was brought on by Peter Bosz. After only a few minutes he broke the ankles of David Abraham with an exhilarating move and then beat Lukas Hradecky with a curved finish. Luckily, the finish hit the post and my dear Eintracht managed to walk away with a deserved point from a very difficult home game. But I had just experienced the absolute dread of watching Sancho play for the opposing team.

He reminds me of Ousmane Dembélé.  A bit younger and rawer, but a carbon copy of the Frenchman. He breaks ankles with apparent ease, transforms his opponents into clowns with a quick faint and turn and can do whatever he likes with a football. All Sancho needs is a manager who is willing to give him a proper run in the starting XI and Peter Stöger has shown before that he is a fan of promoting and using young players in his starting XI’s. This could be a match made in heaven.

Fiete Arp | Hamburger SV

Impressing in a mediocre Hamburg side isn’t that hard. However, doing it as a 17-year-old is harder. Fiete Arp has done just that and even though he can’t even buy hard liquor in one of the most party-heavy cities in Germany he can be lauded as the saviour of the very same party-heavy city’s big love, HSV. Arp is the biggest attacking talent Hamburg has seen in quite some time. Some call him the biggest talent since Uwe Seeler, while some argue that Pierre-Michel Lasogga actually edges it.

Arp has had a hectic Hinrunde. He was the big star of the U17-World Cup and has since become the big star and hope of Gisdol’s side in Bundesliga. His technique and strength mixed with his speed makes him a threat to any defence in Bundesliga and due to his great finishing touch, he can truly hurt you if you give him space.

Fabian Reese | FC Schalke 04

Most fans of die Knappen regard Fabian Reese to be the next big attacking talent at Schalke. Domenico Tedesco has given him seven games in his successful side this Hinrunde and even though he’ll turn 21 in November, I consider him eligible for this list. Reese is a great talent. He has speed and is very clever. His finishing needs some improving but we’ve seen that before (Werner) and he just needs time to develop and most of all, time on the actual pitch.

Born in 1997 in Kiel, he has been part of the Knappenschmiede his whole career and even though he hasn’t broken through for real yet, he impressed while at Karlsruhe last season and that has earned him the trust of Tedesco, which is very important and can work like a monument for his apparent potential. One can argue that his time is up, he has been given chances to impress, but hasn’t. However, this season has shown us all that Tedesco is a manager that can transform players into something else. Therefore, I’m very excited to see what Tedesco can do with Reese.

By Axel Falk.


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