The 2020/21 is set to be the ultimate test for Freiburg. After exceeding expectations last term, the pressure will be on the Black Forest natives to deliver once more. But without the likes of Robin Koch, Luca Waldschmidt and Alexander Schwolow, the task of matching last season’s 8th place looks increasingly tricky. Add to this the fact that they are set to move into a new stadium this term, as well as the inescapable quality of the sides in and around the top 10.
Nevertheless, we also shouldn’t underestimate Freiburg this term either. Christian Streich’s side have a habit of proving punters wrong time and time again, overcoming big name exits and restrictive budgets to punch well above their weight. Under the 55-year-old German boss, Freiburg are an exceptionally well drilled side, even more so with the likes of Baptiste Santamaria added to their ranks this summer. The midfielder has quietly been one of the standout performers for Angers in Ligue 1, leading to his £10 million transfer last week. The Frenchman is set to replace highly-rated German international Robin Koch, who made his debut for Leeds United last weekend. It’s the kind of big money move that the club would have been reluctant to make once upon a time, but it speaks to the security Freiburg now has, as a firmly established Bundesliga outfit.
This upcoming campaign may not yield quite as much success as last season, but don’t expect to see Streich’s side languishing at the foot of the table either. A club with a remarkable history of evolving with the times – and of reproducing exceptional talent, look set to prove us all wrong once again.
Phillip Lienhart – Defender
Senior members of the squad such as captain Christian Gunter and Nils Petersen could very easily be mentioned here, but if Freiburg are to have any sustained success, it will be star men like Lienhart who make all the difference. In the absence of Koch, the Austrian international will likely be handed a greater degree of responsibility in the heart of the defence – a task he is more than capable of fulfilling. At just 24 years of age, he still a baby in centre back terms, but over the past few seasons, Lienhart has amassed a serious amount of life experience.
His mercurial talent was spotted early, as Real Madrid pounced early to sign the youngster from Rapid Wien in 2015. Lienhart, primarily due to his age, would struggle to make an impact in Spain, featuring in just one Copa Del Ray tie for the Real first team. This, however, is where Freiburg would come calling. In the summer of 2017, they signed the defender for a fee of £2 million, where he would go on to feature 11 times in Bundesliga that season.
Ever since then, his first team involvement has increased exponentially, culminating in last season, where Lienhart would start 22 times for Freiburg in the Bundesliga – grabbing his very first senior assist in the process. This season will be his biggest test yet, as for the first time, fans and pundits alike are beginning to see why Real Madrid were so keen to sign him as an unknown teenager.
Signing to Watch
Baptiste Santamaria – Midfielder
Florian Muller and Guus Til are both shrewd signings for a club of Freiburg’s size, but the real investment that made many fans take notice was the acquisition of Santamaria. Seldom do Freiburg heavily invest like this, which should tell sceptics all they need to know about the clubs faith in the French youth international. The price tag might be somewhat surprising, but this is a quintessential ‘Freiburg’ signing, as they are bringing in a player whom few outside of France will be aware of – despite his impressive numbers. Last season, Santamaria was one of Angers best performers, garnering a 7.10 average rating from WhoScored.
The 25-year-old blends defensive discipline and reading of the game, with poise and accurate passing, making him the ideal candidate to replace Robin Koch in the anchor man position. Santamaria will shield the back four with aplomb, while his track record for scoring outrageous long-range goals could also be weapon that Freiburg choose to utilize at some point.
As a unit, Freiburg are as tactically disciplined as it gets. Without too many star names on their roster, they had to formulate a way of hanging with the Bundesliga giants, all while having a sizably smaller budget, and a less than revered reputation. That’s just what Streich has managed to do over the past few seasons, firmly establishing himself as one of the league’s best operators in the process.
Freiburg are very efficient at getting the ball forward quickly, either via passing channels, or more direct means. Last season, Robin Koch was especially effective at picking out forwards with long balls, so his absence this time around could lead to one or two tactical tweaks. Additionally, they can be very dangerous from set pieces, as was evidenced by their draw at RB Leipzig towards the end of last season – where only a marginal offside call denied the away side a famous victory.
A weakened spine
Freiburg’s spine has essentially been ripped out over the summer months, With Koch, Waldschmidt and Alexander Schwolow all leaving the club. The departure of the youngsters was perhaps to be expected, but in the case of Schwolow, his absence could prove to be very destabilising in the long run. Last season, Mark Flekken deputised well when he was called upon, but this term, the Dutch keeper is carrying an injury – meaning that Florian Muller could start the season between the sticks. Muller struggled to find form at Mainz last season, meaning that, if the young German gets off to a slow start, they may quickly begin to miss the assured presence of Schwolow.
In addition, With Waldschmidt now at Benfica, even more pressure will be placed upon the shoulders of Nils Petersen to deliver the goals up front. While the German is more than capable in this regard, having bagged 11 in the Bundesliga last term, it’s fair to say he isn’t getting any younger, as the former Bayern man is now 31. The signing of Bosnian striker Ermedin Demirovic could help to ease the burden, but with his only senior success coming in the Swiss Super League, he remains something of a wildcard going into this season.
As was mentioned previously, this could be a tricky year for Freiburg, as expectations may have to be tempered somewhat. They are still led by an excellent manager, and have plenty of talent within the squad to achieve a top half finish once again. But all of these positives must be countered by the reality of their situation, as high-profile departures and a new stadium has to potential to destabilize what has historically been such a well-run, efficient family club. In my opinion, a mid-table finish is on the cards for Freiburg, with 10th perhaps being the fairest representation of where the squad is at currently.