It's the Sabotage Times Bundesliga XI of the Year featuring Chelsea target Lukasz Piszczek and Manchester United target Mats Hummels and West Ham United target Stefan Kießling.
Goalkeeper: Roman Weidenfeller - Borussia Dortmund
He may not be everyone’s choice, but based on form in this calendar year he should be. Weidenfeller vice-captained Dortmund to the club’s first domestic double in their history in May, and made match-winning contributions like saving Arjen Robben’s late penalty in the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich (a result that ultimately decided the direction of the Bundesliga title) on the way. This season he has been just as impressive on the shot-stopping front, even if the defenders in front of him have allowed their performance levels to drop. His numerous excellent saves in the recent 1-1 draw with Bayern in Munich preserved a five-game unbeaten streak for die Schwarzgelben against their rivals and renewed calls for him to be given a first cap for the German national team.
Right-back: Lukasz Piszczek - Borussia Dortmund
Piszczek is one of the continent’s most consistent right-sided defenders. Playing in every game in the second half of last season, the Pole was simply magnificent in the league and German Cup campaigns, and he has missed just one game in the current season. He has also endeared himself to the supporters by scoring a spectacular goal against Ruhr rivals Schalke 04 in March, and his understanding with compatriot Jakub Blaszczykowski on the right wing was one of the reasons that a lengthy injury to mercurial talent Mario Götze didn’t prove more costly for Dortmund last season. He is one of the biggest assets to one of Europe’s most dynamic teams.
Centre-back: Mats Hummels - Borussia Dortmund
Like most competent centre-halves, Hummels can tackle and head well, but it is his reading of the game that impresses me the most. He snuffs out danger before it makes itself apparent, and then gracefully sets up an attack of his own with his elegant style of play, not unlike the original libero Franz Beckenbauer. It should be said that Dortmund’s defence has been rather leaky in the league this season, but (in my eyes at least) that’s forgiven by how impressively they have played in the Champions League, which is now the club’s main focus after having won the last two Bundesliga titles. He is under contract at Dortmund until 2017 and it would take a high price to prise him away, but it would be money well spent for a truly world-class defender.
Centre-back: Dante - Bayern Munich
Brazilian Dante is a player that has progressed remarkably in the last few seasons. At 29, he seems to have hit his peak at Bayern Munich this term. In every Bundesliga game for the Reds this season, he has been the player marshalling the back four and hands down the reason that they have conceded so few goals, allowing them to establish a nine-point lead at the top of the table. He was just as influential at Borussia Mönchengladbach too, where he played for three seasons until his move to Bavaria in the summer. His consistency and reliability helped the Foals to 4th place in the league – their highest finish since 1995/96 in May – and UEFA Champions League qualification. Dante earned himself a move to a bigger club and certainly hasn’t disappointed. Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng have 58 caps for Germany between them, but it’s now Dante plus one at the centre of the Bayern defence.
Left-back: Philipp Lahm - Bayern Munich
On account of his flexibility, I’ve gone for Lahm at left-back, because regardless of whether he plays on the right or the left, he never has a bad game. Last season’s climax may have been a disaster for the club, finishing second in the league, the Cup and the Champions League, losing to Chelsea at home. Captaining the side to a semi-final defeat to hated enemies Italy at UEFA Euro 2012 only added to that disappointment for the 29-year-old. Individually, however, Lahm was as solid and reliable as he always is. This season, he has had the most touches of any player in the Bundesliga, provided four assists and been part of a defence that has conceded just seven goals in 17 games, and only once away from home. He will likely be one of the key reasons for Bayern rectifying two trophyless seasons come May.
Defensive midfield: Sebastian Kehl - Borussia Dortmund
As the captain of a Dortmund team that completed a maiden domestic double, Kehl had to be on this list. He has been the heartbeat of the Dortmund midfield for over a decade and, despite having suffered more than his fair share of injury problems over the years, managed to stay fit for the majority of last season’s campaign, playing 27 times and scoring three goals, one of which happened to be a match-winning strike against Schalke. Niggling injuries and the excellent form of the squad’s other central midfielders have seen him play a slightly more peripheral role domestically this season, but even at the age of 32, he hasn’t looked out of place in a team that plays football at 100 miles per hour, neither in the league nor in the Champions League.
Defensive midfield: Roman Neustädter - Schalke 04
Part two of an original core of Mönchengladbach players to feature in this list, Neustädter is another player whose improvement in the last year is perhaps what marks him out, as well as his footballing talent. A crucial cog in the Gladbach team that had such a sensational 2011/12 season, his departure was arguably even more costly for the club that Dante’s, as he left on a free to join Schalke in the summer. Just as with Dante, it was a step up for the 24-year-old, and he has made a seamless transition into the Royal Blues team. He has missed just 21 minutes of Bundesliga football this entire year, which came against Hamburg a few weeks ago, displaying the type of consistency that saw Joachim Löw hand him his debut for the Germany national team in the 0-0 draw with the Netherlands last month.
Right midfield: Marco Reus - Borussia Dortmund
A case could be made that 23-year-old Marco Reus should be in my upcoming Bundesliga Young Team of the Year. Considering he was the Bundesliga’s Player of the Year for 2011/12, though, not having in the senior team would be idiotic. Dante and Neustädter, as I’ve mentioned, were two important figures for Gladbach last term, but, to be quite honest, their contributions don’t come close to the impact that Marco Reus made at Borussia Park. He began the year with two cracking goals in a 3-0 win and league double over Bayern, and then another six to help Mönchengladbach to fourth in the league, before departing for €17 million to join home-town club Dortmund. Unsurprisingly for a player of his talent, he is now a hero at Signal Iduna Park as well, having contributed six goals, six assists and a couple of breathtaking free-kicks in the current campaign. He and Götze have helped Dortmund produce some of the best football that Europe has seen in the Champions League this season, and for my money, he has impressed the most for Germany in the calendar year as well, being the biggest positive that Löw took from Euro 2012
Central midfield: Juan Arango - Borussia Mönchengladbach
I know he’s primarily a left-sided midfielder, but frankly, Juan Arango is so good that he could be in any position in this team. As left foots go, I’d say only Lionel Messi and Robin van Persie possess a better one than the Venezuelan. In 2012, he has provided 12 assists in the Bundesliga and scored eight times, five of which have come directly from free-kicks, and his last league goal, against Mainz 05 a week ago, was a 40-yard lob over the keeper from practically next to the touch-tine. Arango simply doesn’t deal in ordinary goals, and were it not for him, Gladbach would most certainly not be eighth in the league this year, nor through to the last 32 of the Europa League, as it was his volley against Marseilles last month that sealed their progress. It’s a shame that he’s already 32, but hopefully there are a few more seasons of stunning strikes left in him yet. He is simply an amazingly gifted footballer, but also a team player, and, despite his age, has been the most important player at the club this season.
Left midfield: Franck Ribéry - Bayern Munich
Franck Ribéry’s form was one of the main reasons that Bayern reached the final of the Champions League last season. Sure, it was Mario Gomez who scored the goals that got them there, but it was Ribéry that created most of them, as well as winning the penalty that Robben missed in extra-time against Chelsea. Whether cutting inside or going outside, he beats his man nine times out of ten and his crosses are invariably excellent. He already has seven assists in 12 league games this season, as well as having scored four times himself. It was no coincidence that in Bayern’s only league defeat this season, at home to Bayer Leverkusen, he was out injured. His attacking talent was never in question, but he has now added industry to his long list of attributes, and his work rate for an attacking player is simply extraordinary. There is hardly a more dangerous or effective wide-man in Europe at the moment and I’m tipping him to be the key to Bayern winning the Champions League this season.
Striker: Stefan Kießling - Bayer Leverkusen
There were a few names that could have led this team. Robert Lewandowski led Dortmund to the double in the summer, while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the Bundesliga’s top scorer in the last campaign. But I’ve gone for Stefan Kießling for the simple reason that, in 2012, he has scored the most goals in the Bundesliga, with 22 in 34 league appearances after his brace against Hamburger SV at the weekend. He was always a good striker, but had a tendency to tail off towards the end of the season and his strike rate could still improve. This year, though, he has benefited greatly from Sami Hyypiä’s 4-3-3 system and his 25 goals are just reward for the incredible shift he puts in every game. His goals not only helped Bayer to a European finish last season, they have also shot the club to second in the table this term, and they now look like Bayern’s main challengers for the league title. At the age of 28, he seems to be peaking, and similarly to Roman Weidenfeller, a possible recall to the national team has been loudly mooted. It seems unlikely, but there remains at least the possibility that he gets the opportunity to add to his six caps for Germany. Leverkusen won’t care a jot if it doesn’t happen, though. West Ham United have been linked with a huge money move for the striker - an unlikely move and won that would surely be one of the coups of the season if the Irons could pull it off.