Manuel Neuer (Schalke, Castrol Ranking 250) – The Bundesliga’s best goalkeeper, and deservedly the No. 1 for Germany. Neuer was at the base of the Bundesliga’s joint-best defence, saved 73.3% of all shots on his goal, and kept a league-leading 15 clean sheets. But perhaps most importantly, he didn’t make mistakes. When deciding whether to run off his line or stand his ground, Neuer always made the right decision. At just 24, he’s mature well beyond his years.
Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich, 164) – Simply the league’s best full-back, bar none. Despite playing in three competitions for the whole season, Lahm did not miss a single minute of Bundesliga play. And yet the German international maintained his form until the final whistle of the last round. Employed in his natural right-sided role, the 26-year old flourished at both ends of the pitch. At the back, his marking and tackling was flawless. Going forward, Lahm served as an auxiliary winger in support of Arjen Robben, providing a career-high six assists.
Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen, 49) – Bremen had two brilliant runs this year separated by a five-game losing streak. During the good times, there was no better centre-half in the Bundesliga: his 74% tackle success rate for the first half of the season led the league, and made the Bremen defence virtually impenetrable at times. After his team encountered a rough patch in January, the towering Germany international finished the year strong, defending superbly and nodding in a number of crucial goals. He finished the season having committed just 25 fouls in 33 games, an impressive record especially when considering the amount of work he had to do at the back.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund, 43) – Many knew of his potential, but few would have thought that, at 21, Hummels would end this season as the Bundesliga’s best central defender. Yet the former Bayern man outshined team-mate Neven Subotic, and did everything a coach would expect from a top class centre-back. Hummels seemed errorless, and committed just 22 fouls in 27 matches. He also was a threat from set pieces, scoring five goals. Hummels’ development has not gone unnoticed: the youngster ended the year with the highest Castrol Ranking for a player 22 or under, and has already been called up to Jogi Loew’s Germany squad.
Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich, 245) – Just barely edges out Werder Bremen’s Torsten Frings, and features in this line-up partly due to the Bundesliga’s lack of a suitable left back. Nonetheless, the captain of the league’s best team does indeed make the cut. Alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Dutch enforcer formed the core of Europe’s second-best passing team. His distribution was excellent, and while his tackling was occasionally a bit errant, he never allowed his opponents to counter-attack.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, 180) – Reinvented as a holding midfielder, Schweinsteiger has become the best in his position in Germany, and can now consider himself among Europe’s elite players. A veritable “ball magnet”, the 72-times capped Germany international touched the ball 3,125 times this year, leading all Bundesliga players in this category by a country mile. It’s no coincidence that Bayern Munich’s revival has come with Schweinsteiger positioned as both a defensive buffer and attacking architect.
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich, 10) – He only played in 24 matches, but overall, Robben was the Bundesliga’s best player. During his limited play, the Dutch winger scored a career high 16 goals, and assisted seven more. Time and time again, he put Bayern on his back and made the difference between victory and dropped points. Robben’s direct style - he successfully ran at his opponents more than any other Bundesliga player - forced opponents to make mistakes, and more than made up for Bayern’s lack of a high-scoring striker.
Zvjezdan Misimovic (Wolfsburg, 199) – Along with the rest of Wolfsburg, his form was not quite as spectacular as it was last year, but Misimovic still managed to score 10 league goals and was denied by the post on several more occasions. The Bosnia-Herzegovina playmaker was joint Bundesliga leader with 13 assists, and set up a further 102 scoring chances, a league high. It truly is a shame that he will not be at the World Cup this summer.
Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen, 46) – It took him two months to break into the starting line-up, but Kroos rewarded coach Jupp Heynckes’ faith with a remarkable breakthrough season. The Bayern Munich loanee scored nine goals - including a league-leading six from outside the penalty area - directly assisted as many, and was the catalyst behind many more. His development has not gone unnoticed: the former Hansa Rostock youth player has been called up to Jogi Loew’s Germany squad and will hope to star at the 2010 World Cup. Having only recently turned 20 years of age, Kroos has a bright future ahead of him.
Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen, 89) – After leading the league in goals over the first half of the season, Kiessling suffered a bit of a scoring drought and finished second in the charts with 21 goals. Even when he had trouble in front of goal, however, the Germany international provided tireless work for his team, and set up his team-mates for a total of five goals. With his national team experiencing a striker crisis, Kiessling will look to fend off competition from Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Cacau to earn a starting role in South Africa.
Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg, 19) – The league’s best player in 2008-09, Dzeko won his first scoring title this year. The highly rated Wolfsburg striker led all scorers with 22 Bundesliga goals - many of them sensational efforts - and provided a further seven assists. A combination of smooth, soft touch and physical strength, Dzeko is much like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only with more explosive power. It’s no wonder he’s been linked with several of Europe’s finest clubs.
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