20 Bundesliga Players to Watch out for in 2014
The 2013 calendar year marked several milestones for the Bundesliga as for the first time in history, two German teams (Borussia Dortmund and winners Bayern Munich) contested the Champions League final and four teams from the German top flight qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds.
In addition to the many international successes of Bundesliga teams, a great number of talented players emerged from the academies and/or developed into household names among football fans.
As 2014 begins, fans can expect great things from the Bundesliga and its myriad of talented players. Click "Begin Slideshow" for insight into 20 names to remember, each for his own reason. Players are arranged in alphabetical order based on surname.
Following in the footsteps of Thomas Mueller and Andre Schurrle, Maximilian Arnold is the latest in what has become an assembly line of tall, quick, young German attacking midfielders with great technique and shooting ability.
The Wolfsburg man made a name for himself in the spring of 2013 and has shown quality and maturity well beyond his years in the current campaign: In somewhat limited appearances, he's scored five goals at a rate of one every 161 minutes played.
Still short of his 20th birthday, Arnold still has plenty of development left. As with many others on this list, the 2014 calendar year could be huge for him and his future ambitions.
One of several players on this list who are yet to debut in the Bundesliga, Donis Avdijaj follows Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Max Meyer in being one of the finest talents the Schalke academy has produced in recent years.
The forward scored an incredible 44 goals and gave 13 assists in just 25 games for the Schalke U17 team last season. And although injuries and a lack of fitness hindered his performance at the start of the current campaign, he's still struck 12 times in nine appearances for the Schalke U19s.
Young though he may be, there is a precedent that suggests Avdijaj will be called to the senior team sooner than later. Both September birthdays, Draxler and Meyer were first brought into Schalke training in January after turning 17. A late August birthday and also 17 and an attacking player, Avdijaj could follow in their footsteps.
Leonardo Bittencourt, born in late December, was disadvantaged throughout his early years due to the relative age effect. But now 20 years of age, the Hannover man's physical maturity is nigh and he now is entering the time of his career when he is expected to make something of the great talent he showed in his youth.
Bittencourt struggled to assert himself in his first half-season at Hannover, averaging only 48 minutes played over 15 appearances. The Leipzig native has intermittently looked bright, though, showing occasional flashes of class. The question is: Can he achieve a level of consistency in 2014?
Recently dubbed the "new [Mesut] Ozil" by Jamaica coach and Karlsruhe legend Winfried Schaefer, Hakan Calhanoglu enters 2014 with momentum on his side. Just six months after leaving 3. Liga side Karlsruhe, the 19-year-old has enjoyed a brilliant first half-season at Hamburg.
Calhanoglu has a great diversity of skills: He's a good dribbler, can create play and has a great shot. Still a teenager, the best is yet to come for Calhanoglu, who perhaps may leave HSV sooner than later—especially if he continues to develop as he did in the fall.
After wasting last season in the Regionalliga with the Bayern reserves, Emre Can has put his best foot forward at Leverkusen. Although a midfielder throughout his youth, the 19-year-old has played regularly on the left of defense and performed quite well given how new he was to the position.
He was exposed for his inexperience against Manchester United but nonetheless has loads of potential that may well be fulfilled in the year he turns 20.
Although Leverkusen have a packed midfield, it is foreseeable that Can will at the very least become involved in a rotation with the aging Simon Rolfes. And with Lars Bender very prone to injuries, there may be another slot for the ex-Eintracht Frankfurt youth to fill in the center of the park.
Extremely gifted and with a complete set of skills on and off the ball, Emre Can has a bright future ahead of him—could 2014 be his year?
The 2013 calendar year had its ups and downs for Julian Draxler, who turned down summer moves to Real Madrid and Manchester City in order to continue his development at Schalke, yet played rather inconsistently during the fall.
Still just 20 years of age, Draxler is at a critical stage in his development. He'll need a strong showing in the spring to earn significant playing time at the World Cup, as well as to justify the €45 million buyout clause that stands between him and a potential move away from Gelsenkirchen. Draxler has been brilliant in the most important games for Schalke; now he needs to find consistency.
Mario Goetze is already a superstar of world football, but at 21 years of age still is not a completely finished product. The versatile attacker, who until now has statistically matched Lionel Messi in terms of goal and assist rates at every age since turning professional, recovered from a pair of injuries earlier in the season and his level of performance steadily increased in the weeks leading into the winter break.
Goetze has averaged a goal or assist every 89.8 minutes played; Messi at the same age was only slightly more prolific, scoring or providing every 88.0 minutes. Can Goetze take the next step in 2014 and outshine the Argentine at the World Cup? Time will tell, but Bayern teammate Thiago Alcantara is very confident in the young German's ability. In a recent interview with Bild, the midfielder said: "Goetze will define an era."
The crown jewel of Bochum's academy, Leon Goretzka transferred to Schalke in the summer of 2013 but has yet to make his impression felt at the Gelsenkirchen club: The 18-year-old has played just 266 minutes for Schalke since his transfer.
Despite his difficulties acclimating to first-division football, Goretzka remains an elite talent; one who could make his breakthrough in 2014. Schalke are short of depth in central midfield, where the exquisitely skilled yet physically imposing Goretzka plies his trade. He surely will have his chances in 2014.
Last season, Ilkay Gundogan established himself as one of the best holding midfielders in the world. But just weeks into the 2013-14 campaign he sustained a back injury that has since kept him sidelined.
The 23-year-old now faces a critical time in his career as he looks to rediscover the qualities that made him such a star. Dortmund, and likely Germany given Sami Khedira's torn ACL, will need him at his best in order to reach their targets this year. And at the same time Gundogan will be deciding whether his long-term future is in Dortmund, where he has a contract that runs until 2015, or elsewhere.
Great things were expected of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar when he penned a contract extension with Schalke in December of 2012. The Dutchman had turned down a possible move abroad in order to prolong his stay in Gelsenkirchen for an additional two years, until 2015, for wages reported to be in the region of €8 million per season.
Huntelaar had done brilliantly well to earn his pay raise; the previous season he'd scored 49 goals and given 16 assists in all competitions for club and country. But last season he recorded a much more modest tally of 19 goals and in the current campaign his playing time has been limited to just two games due to a pesky knee injury.
Huntelaar is expected to be fit at the start of the second half of the season and much will be expected of him as Schalke aim for a top four finish in the Bundesliga. Will he reach his previous heights? Or will the Netherlands international, who turns 31 in August, fade into the sunset? Time will tell.
Last season was frustrating for Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who spent almost the entire campaign recovering from a cruciate ligament tear. Hertha BSC loaned the striker to Hamburg for the current season and Lasogga has experienced a personal renaissance, scoring nine goals in 13 appearances in the first half of the Bundesliga campaign.
Lasogga's contract at Hertha expires in 2015 and Hamburg will surely do anything possible to extend the player's stay. The more goals he scores, the more options the 22-year-old will have come summer. Like many others on this list, 2014 could be a breakthrough year for Lasogga in which he develops and moves to a big club. What an incredible story that would be, following such a debilitating injury.
Much like Bittencourt, Moritz Leitner is a December birthday but at 21 no longer can blame the relative age effect on his inability to thus far turn his potential into consistent, high-quality performance on the football pitch.
Leitner will spend the next 18 months on loan at Stuttgart, where in half a year he has yet to assert himself. There once was a time when he, ahead of Ilkay Gundogan, was preferred as a starter in defensive midfield at Dortmund, but the former 1860 Munich man will need to dig deep if he is to iron the creases out of his game and reach the next level in his development.
Max Meyer is the latest attacking midfield super-talent to emerge from Schalke's academy, and based on his progress thus far may eventually become better even than his predecessors, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil.
The 18-year-old was crowned the best player at the 2012 U17 European Championship and has scored or assisted five goals in just 770 minutes in the Bundesliga this season. For his fine performances, Meyer has attracted interest from Chelsea.
The 2014 calendar year could provide an opportunity for Meyer to affirm his talent, especially if Draxler is sold in the summer. Schalke are desperate for a hero as they look to make a run for a top four finish in the Bundesliga this season. Perhaps Meyer will be the unlikely savior.
Following Emre Can (born in 1994) and Leon Goretzka (1995), Levin Oztunali is Germany's greatest central midfield talent born in 1996 and perhaps has the most potential of all three. The grandson of Germany legend Uwe Seeler, the Hamburg native has exceptional ball skill and at 17 has already made his Bundesliga debut.
Oztunali spent much of the fall campaign sidelined with an injury and will have considerable competition for playing time at Leverkusen, but remains one to watch whether in the Bundesliga or even with the B04 reserves in the Regionalliga West.
The 2014 calendar year marks a key time in Kyriakos Papadopoulos' career. The 21-year-old has barely played in well over a year due to a nagging, persistent knee injury. But following such a lengthy absence, the Greece international is finally fit to play football.
A player who made his professional debut at the tender age of 16, Papadopoulos' talent has long been well understood. Schalke are desperate for quality in defense, having conceded 28 goals in the first half of the Bundesliga campaign—could Papadopoulos be the man to shore up their back line?
One of the top three candidates for the Ballon d'Or, Franck Ribery had a phenomenal 2013 calendar year. The Frenchman has long been Bayern Munich's inspiration in attack, but with his 31st birthday to come in April, he hasn't long before his natural physical decline (principally, that of neuromuscular velocity) begins and other stars take on more of his duties.
Ribery is always a joy to watch, but it will be particularly interesting to see how well he is able to maintain his physical explosiveness and blistering top speed... and when those begin to decline (be it in 2014 or a later time), whether he is able to adapt his game to remain as influential as he was in 2013.
After having a great first half of 2013 with Hamburg, Son Heung-Min struggled to settle in at Leverkusen. He had two outstanding games against Hamburg and FC Nurnberg, but was mostly absent in the Champions League and his effectiveness in the Bundesliga was intermittent.
At the age of 21, Son is not exactly in a make-or-break situation, but 2014 could be a defining year in his career. He's shown enormous talent in the past, but like many on this list still needs to call upon this ability consistently in order to establish himself. Watch him closely; if he begins to impress on a regular basis, scouts from top clubs will surely have a look as well.
On April 6, 2013, Marc Stendera became the sixth-youngest player ever to make his Bundesliga debut, at 17 years, three months and 27 days. Despite having missed nearly three months with a shoulder injury earlier in the season, the attacking midfielder recovered and made five appearances, two as a starter, for Frankfurt before season's end.
Stendera suffered a huge setback in July, however, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Pending rehabilitating he should be fit to play again at some point this season, although Frankfurt will be wary of the danger of his overuse after such a lengthy absence. The 2014 calendar year marks a critical time in Stendera's development: The player has exceptional talent, but faces a mountain to climb when he returns to action.
Kevin Volland has come a long way since his professional debut with 1860 Munich in 2010.The 21-year-old had a great 2013, ending the first half of the current campaign rated the Bundesliga's top striker according to Kicker magazine.
Volland has reportedly attracted interest from five Premier League clubs as well as Borussia Dortmund, and his performance this spring will certainly play a considerable role in whether he receives any concrete offers from bigger clubs. He's played well at Hoffenheim, but at this stage, Volland looks ready to compete on the international stage.
It's been many years since the German football academies produced a top-class striker, but in Timo Werner the DFB faithful finally have someone to be excited about. This fall, the 17-year-old became the youngest player to score twice in a Bundesliga game. He now is a regular starter and has scored four and assisted as many goals for Stuttgart in 14 appearances.
Young players are always exciting to follow, and Werner is no exception: The talented forward seems to get better with each passing week. He already is surprisingly quick, a strong dribbler and excellent finisher. Despite his limited years, he could yet rise to stardom in 2014.