But in terms of which individual players have dazzled so far, not everything has gone according to preseason expectations. So here’s my assessment, position by position, of who has truly caught the eye in the early going.
It’s tempting to always single out Manuel Neuer as he continues to make the case to be called best in the world due to his superior all-around game. Neuer is forever going to be less busy than his counterparts elsewhere, while still showing a keenness mitzuspielen, to use the German expression. He simply has to be a part of build-up play in a way that eludes others.
But the two who have really impressed are Hoffenheim’s Oliver Baumann and Augsburg’s Rafal Gikiewicz, ages 30 and 33, respectively. Baumann deservedly received a national team call-up from Joachim Low last month. Always above average, he helps the Kraichgau club’s footballing commitment greatly by having two good feet. In years gone by, with a sometimes-wobbly defence in front of him, Baumann has held things together. In July, Hoffenheim extended his contract, due to run out in 2021, by two additional years.
Gikiewicz, a vocal and late-blooming keeper, was a lynchpin for Union in their maiden Bundesliga season last term. As a natural organiser and motivator, he appears a perfect fit for Augsburg with their defiant backs-to-the-wall, strong-mentality, defence-first style. Andreas Luthe, another veteran who went in the other direction, from Augsburg to Union, also deserves more than an honourable mention.
One stands out here: Leipzig’s small but sparkling left-wing-back, Angelino. It’s no wonder Julian Nagelsmann wanted him on loan from Manchester City again. The little Galician fireball, who has struggled to find a permanent address these past few years, might just have found his true home in Germany‘s Heldenstadt, the city of heroes. His swashbuckling performances have been nothing short of heroic, and who had him down as a heading monster? Both league goals this term have been of the aerial variety.
High marks also go to Borussia Monchengladbach‘s Austrian right-back Stefan Lainer, who very quickly became a favourite of Fohlenelf fans last season. Lainer has carried on where he left off, and was the key figure in Saturday’s 3-2 comeback victory at Mainz. It would be wrong to overlook the contributions for Werder Bremen of Sweden international Ludwig Augustinsson, one of the best crossers in the Bundesliga and with a couple of assists to his name underlining his importance to coach Florian Kohfeldt.
If you haven’t yet seen Edmond Tapsoba, Bayer Leverkusen‘s 21-year-old Burkina Faso international defender, make sure you put that right soon. Just watch the game by watching him. He has an innate positional sense, never seeming to put a foot wrong, and all the qualities of a modern top-quality centre-back with the adaptability to play in a back three or four. It’s reasonable to expect he will soon be greatly in demand among the usual suspects around Europe.
A superb story belongs to Union’s Marvin Friedrich, a towering centre-back of the old-fashioned school about whom there were doubts before his club’s ascent to the top division in 2019. The former Schalke product has suddenly become a set-piece goal-scoring threat needed by die Eisernen following the departure of heading specialist Sebastian Andersson to Cologne.
I also like Wolfsburg’s pacy newcomer from Sochaux, Maxence Lacroix, and it’s no surprise Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano finds himself again in the upper echelon of central defenders. That Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are high on the list, too, continues to justify the question as to whether the national team could still deploy both.
You can’t go wrong with Bayern’s partnership of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka here. Each interprets his role slightly differently but they complement each other in the manner of all great double acts. Goretzka is more of a No. 8 to Kimmich’s No. 6, but there’s nothing fixed about their positioning.
Others to have made an impact in the middle include combative Wolfsburg captain Josuha Guilavogui, who has won 80% of his aerial jousts, embodying the preferred style in the Autostadt. I’ve also enjoyed watching Hoffenheim’s Malian strategist Diadie Samassekou prove his critics wrong. A club-record €12 million signing when he joined in the summer of 2019 from FC Salzburg, Samassekou left many wondering what the fuss was all about. It has been a very different story this campaign.
Wide and attacking midfielders
The A+ grade in this category goes to the American, Giovanni Reyna of Dortmund. Reyna runs with the ball, almost invites a foul, takes the punishment and then rinses and repeats. His game intelligence is remarkable for a 17-year-old, as is his work without the ball. Four assists from five games says everything about Reyna’s burgeoning technical talent. Could there be even better to come? It’s almost frightening to think so.
Leipzig know how to spot talent and their signing of Dani Olmo at the beginning of the calendar year from Dinamo Zagreb can be seen as a masterstroke. Like Reyna, the Spaniard has set up four goals and at times he makes it all look so effortless with his glorious wand of a left foot.
But senior statesmen are having their say as well. Consider the reawakening of Olmo’s 29-year-old club mate Emil Forsberg, the incredible heights 31-year-old Thomas Muller continues to scale, and was there a better close-season signing than that of 32-year-old Daniel Caligiuri by Augsburg from Schalke, who let his contract expire?
Robert Lewandowski keeps improving, if that were even possible. But seriously, 10 goals from the first five Bundesliga matches for the Bayern ace puts him on a pace to break Gerd Muller’s single-season record of 40. His wide range of finishes continues to be awe inspiring.
Erling Haaland at 20 rarely misses a beat with that irresistible package of power, pace and a special left foot. After Dortmund’s Revierderby win over Schalke on Saturday, the Norway international said he’s less worried about personal records — he has five league goals already this season — and more focused on team matters. Yet purely as an individual, it’s difficult to take your eyes off this once-in-a-generation talent.
You might think in attacking terms, with Timo Werner now in the Premier League, it’s Just The Lewy-Erling Show. Far from it! Werner’s departure has given Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen the chance to shine again, and my goodness he has taken it. Always a terrific all-rounder, Poulsen wrote headlines with his stunning left-footed volley at Augsburg recently, an early candidate for goal of the season.
Prior to his positive COVID-19 test, Hoffenheim’s six-goal Croatia international Andrej Kramaric showed just how dynamic he can be, particularly in the 4-1 win against Bayern when he netted a brace. It’s no wonder the European club champions were immediately linked with him.
To end by going slightly left field, I really appreciate what 6-foot-7 Austrian giant Sasa Kalajdzic offers promoted Stuttgart as the attacking focal point of a sturdy unit. Kalajdzic suffered a torn cruciate not long after joining from Admira Wacker in 2019. He is certainly making up for lost time.