Jaroslav Drobny (Hertha Berlin)
Make no mistake about it, Berlin’s rise from bottom half side to title contenders was based on defense. They were a hard side to break down and on the off-chance that a team did, there was Drobny to get by. His performance against Bayern was the stuff of legends.
Nevin Subotic (Borussia Dortmund)
Borussia Dortmund had an outstanding season defensively. At the heart of it were youngsters, journeymen and a slew of injuries. Yet despite this their goal against was 37 and only slightly bettered by Schalke 04, who played a very defensive brand of football. The only consistent starter in Jurgen Klopp’s back four was Suba. Few 19 years old are ready to lead a back line in any major European league, but Subotic proved why he is the hottest defensive property in the universe by leading and leading well.
Matthieu Delpierre (Stuttgart)
When Delpierre plays, Stuttgart is a better team. Full stop! This has been true for the past four years, helping them to a cup, a league title and another late season run this year. Last year when he was injured most of the season, Stuttgart struggled. On top of his positioning and reading of the game, he has helped turn Sedar Tasci from a defender that caused one to cringe to a solid center half, who deservedly won his first call-up.
Pedro Geromel (Koln)
Last year’s best defender in Portugal has a case to be this year’s best defender in Germany. And he did it manning a poor back line in front of a dodgy keeper. If Koln keep him this summer, it will be one of the biggest shocks since Wolfsburg won the title.
Andrea Barzagli (Wolfsburg)
No Italian has made such a quick and decisive impact on the Bundesliga since the heady days of 2007/08. Unlike compatriot Zaccardo, Barzagli fit right in with Magath’s system and the league and his leadership at the back gave the the magic triangle time to work out the kinks. Much is lost the further you back on the Wolfsburg tactical lineup, but holder Josue, winger Gentner and keeper Benaglio could have all made this list as well.
David Jarolim (Hamburg SV)
With the loss of Van der Vaart, Manchester City poking massive holes in their center and Alex Silva’s histrionics, Martin Jol was still able to compete on three fronts despite an ever evolving midfield. One of the biggest factors was captain David Jarolim, who led the team, provided the cover for the back after De Jong left and still chipped in offensively with a pair of goals and three assists.
While all three promotion sides survived this campaign, they each did it in a different way. Gladbach were just the best of a bad bunch, Hoffenheim attacked and Koln defended. And in order for Koln to shine with a keeper they weren’t keen to keep behind an inexperienced back line, they needed cover and someone to set the counter. Christoph Daum rebuilt the team around yjr veteran Portuguese holder, with Petit as the engine of the midfield rather than as the guy that just breaks up play. Providing cover along with Pezzoni and launching the attack from deep for the likes of Ehret, Vucicevic and Novakovic, Koln were a tough team all year. They may have had ups and downs, but they were safe very early for a promoted side thanks to the leadership and performance of the Pitbull.
Sejad Salahovic (Hoffenheim)
One of the things we quickly learned about Ralf Ragninck’s side was that he had accumulated a plethora of young talent. Salahovic was the most talented of the lot, providing expertise set pieces and being the wide outlet on Hoffenheim’s blistering counters. Along with Carlos Eduardo, they made a better 1-2 punch than Diego and Ozil until a mid-season team slump.
Zvjezdan Misimovic, Edin Dzeko and Grafite (Wolfsburg)
It wasn’t all defense, but the magic triangle was the difference between Wolfsburg and everyone else. Contributing a total of sixty goals and twenty-nine assists, these three were a steam-roller, crushing teams and putting them on the back foot all year long. Grafite and Dzeko became the first pair in Bundesliga history to score 20 goals from the same side. Dzeko turned out to be one of the best link forwards in Europe, pursued more than a baseball player by Madonna; meanwhile, Grafite was too strong for Bundesliga defenses, bulling his way to the scoring title despite a long absence. And Misimovic was just the best player in the league. It was his control of the pace and pinpoint passing that allowed the forwards the chances. These three were absolutely incredible.
Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04)
He had 84 saves and 11 clean sheets. And he was injured early in the season and missed 7 matches. And for a team that couldn’t score he had one assist. Neuer’s steady presence (along with his cutting out of young keeper errors) allowed him to overtake Rene Adler as the hot young keeper in Germany.
Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg)
Martin Jol overcame a lot to make it back to the UEFA Cup. He suffered as much injury as anybody. He obviously lost many of his best players in the summer and winter windows. He went too deep in too many competitions. But he survived and can build on his success next year. One reason for that is center half Mathijsen, who made 33 appearances and was the central figure in one of the Bundesliga’s stingiest defenses.
Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04)
He never played a position enough to be given consideration for any one. When asked, he provided excellent work at center-half, fullback, defensive midfielder and as a box-to-box. No matter the position, he played it well. And when Schalke was inept up top, Westermann was their leading scorer, helping to keep Fred Rotten in a job way too long.
Sebastian Kehl (Borussia Dortmund)
The steady presence in the back, he allowed the Kuba/Hajnal pairing to flourish early and late in the season. When he was injured Dortmund suffered their only long term slide. He’s the rock that Dortmund’s squad is built upon and with a few tweaks, Jurgen Klopp can build around him for a Championship run next year.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
As went Ribery, so went FC Bayern. He is the heart and soul of the Bavarian giants. Unfortunately, they rely too heavily upon him and that was part of their problem as he started the season injured and suffered with niggling issues throughout.
Mario Gomez (Stuttgart)
Super Mario is Super Mario. There’s not much more you can say about him, other than awesome. Oh, and please stay!
Artur Wichniarek (Arminia Bieliefeld)
While they came in last, it wasn’t the Polish international’s fault. He scored almost half of Bielefeld’s total goals and may well have kept them up had he not suffered late season injuries. And his 13 goals were scored without the benefit of a partner of any Bundesliga level service. No player was more important to their team than Wichniarek, and we don’t acknowledge those players enough.
We would love to hear your best XI of 2008/09. Please leave a comment!