From Freiburg blazing a trail near the top, to unexpectedly prolific strikers, there has been plenty to talk about in the first half of the 2021/22 season. - © DFL
From Freiburg blazing a trail near the top, to unexpectedly prolific strikers, there has been plenty to talk about in the first half of the 2021/22 season. - © DFL
bundesliga

5 biggest surprises of the 2021/22 Hinrunde

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The first half of the 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign has drawn to a close, giving us the chance to reflect on some of the biggest surprises so far - from Anthony Modeste's renaissance to Freiburg's flying start and RB Leipzig not taking flight... yet.

Join bundesliga.com as we look at five of the things that caught our eye during the Hinrunde...

1) Freiburg are flying

A 10th-place finish last year was a decent return for Freiburg, with a relegation battle well avoided, a new stadium on the horizon and a platform there for Christian Streich to build upon. Boy, has Streich and his team done just that this term, with the city bouncing after a stunning start to 2021/22.

Their 2-1 victory at home to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 2 set the tone for what was to come as Streich's side went their first 10 games without defeat, and the 6-0 demolition of Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 14 was a reminder to the remainder of the league that Freiburg's early form was no fluke.

Watch: Freiburg's new Europa-Park Stadion home

It remains to be seen whether they can sustain that form over the course of the second half of the campaign but, with the team currently sitting pretty in third, Freiburg fans will be dreaming of levelling - or even improving upon - their best Bundesliga finish of third in 1994/95.

2) Leipzig yet to take off

While Freiburg have been soaring over the course of the first 17 weeks of 2021/22, it's fair to say that Leipzig's wings have appeared to be clipped.

Rightly touted as a genuine threat to Bayern Munich's grip on the Meisterschale, Leipzig were expected to immediately build on last year's runners-up spot by either keeping pace with Bayern or setting a relentless one of their own in pursuit of a maiden German championship.

It hasn't quite worked out like that, however, with Jesse Marsch lasting 20 games before the club parted ways with the American. While Leipzig have struggled to put a consistent run of form together, the likes of Freiburg, Hoffenheim, and Union Berlin - all ahead of last year's DFB Cup finalists - have put strings of results together, helping make the Bundesliga more competitive than ever before and Leipzig are all too aware that they must improve in order to ascend the table.

Watch: Fresh Start: Leipzig part with Marsch

That's why Domenico Tedesco has been brought to the club and a dominant victory over Gladbach in their first game under the 36-year-old was perfect evidence of how you shouldn't write Leipzig off just yet. They will still have their eyes firmly set on a place in the top-four and beyond, so watch this space.

3) Anthony's not-so-modest renaissance

Following a five-month loan move to St. Etienne in his native France, Modeste returned to Cologne this summer with a point to prove having gone 15 league games - across the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 - without a goal last term. So far, it's a case of point proven.

The 33-year-old has 13 goals in 19 appearances in all competitions, with his 11 Bundesliga strikes behind only Robert Lewandowski (19), Patrik Schick (16) and Erling Haaland (13) in the top-flight's scoring charts.

Watch: All of Modeste's Bundesliga goals so far this season

It's some return for a man that registered just six league strikes over the course of 2018/19 and four in 2019/20 before his blank last term. It's brought back memories of his career best 25 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances for the Billy Goats in 2015/16 and if Modeste can keep firing then there's no reason why Cologne can't find themselves in a European place by the end of the season.

4) Germany's new main man

Speaking of goals, there's a new contender in town when it comes to top-scoring Germans in the Bundesliga: Jonathan Burkardt. A UEFA Under-21 European Championship winner with Germany in the summer, Burkardt has now grabbed first team opportunities with both hands at Mainz and since taken the armband for the U21s.

Bayern's Serge Gnabry (nine) is the only German in the top flight to have scored more often than the 21-year-old from Darmstadt (seven goals), who has formed a highly productive partnership with Karim Onisiwo. The pair have combined for five of Mainz's 25 goals as the 05ers have put themselves firmly in the running for a top-six finish.

Burkardt's form has also put him in contention for a senior international call-up, a conversation he has already had with Germany coach Hansi Flick, even if the Mainz man first mistook the former Bayern boss for a hired handyman.

"Last week I had two missed calls from an unknown number, and since I had water damage, I thought it was the plumbing service," he said in November. "I answered but didn't know that Hansi Flick was calling me. He said that I was on his ‘radar’. That's a great form of appreciation for me. I was very pleased that he called me personally."

5) St. Pauli for promotion?

Germany's second tier is littered with big names in 2021/22, with the likes of Schalke, Hamburg and Werder Bremen all vying for promotion, but it's St. Pauli who are best placed for the title at the halfway stage.

Watch: St. Pauli win five-goal thriller in Hamburg derby

The country's "Kult" club are going in search of a return to the Bundesliga for the first time in a decade, with divisional rivals Darmstadt, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Paderborn, Nuremberg, Hannover, and Ingolstadt all in the top division more recently than St. Pauli's last Bundesliga relegation in 2010/11.

It's been a swashbuckling campaign so far from the Buccaneers and you shouldn't be surprised if we soon see their famous pirate skull-and-crossbones flag being waved once more in Germany's flagship league.

The Millerntor Stadium would bring a truly unique experience back to the Bundesliga, as well as a diverse, international following to go with their die-hard, anti-establishment fan base on the ground. Expect a massive party if St. Pauli continue to successfully plunder from those around them over the Rückrunde and gain promotion.

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