Nils Petersen, Maximilian Eggestein and Nico Schlotterbeck (l-r.) are at the heart of a Freiburg team potentially on the cusp of something big. - © Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty
Nils Petersen, Maximilian Eggestein and Nico Schlotterbeck (l-r.) are at the heart of a Freiburg team potentially on the cusp of something big. - © Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty

Are Freiburg on the cusp of something big?


They are well settled in a new stadium and go into Matchday 19's meeting with Borussia Dortmund knowing that victory would move them back into third-place in the Bundesliga. So are Freiburg on the cusp of greatness this season?

Having already chalked up one statement win over Dortmund earlier in the campaign, Freiburg go in search of moving back to third with what would be their first top-flight double over Die Schwarzgelben. It would also put any remaining doubters over Freiburg's top-four bid well and truly in their place.

With Christian Streich in charge, Freiburg have made a habit of punching above their weight. The Bundesliga's longest-serving coach has been calling the shots at the club since December 2011, leading them to the top half of the table in three seasons since then.

Representing the city of Freiburg im Breisgau in the southwest of Germany, his side are defying the odds again in the 2021/22 campaign. They ended the Hinrunde in third and - despite surrendering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Arminia Bielefeld in their first outing of 2022 - Freiburg go into their Matchday 19 meeting with Dortmund knowing that victory would leave just four points between the visitors and their second-placed hosts.

It's been a stunning campaign for Freiburg thus far, who have also moved into a shiny new stadium, having officially inaugurated the Europa-Park Stadion against RB Leipzig on week eight of the campaign. Their new abode can welcome 34,700 supporters - a capacity upgrade of 10,000 on Freiburg's previous ground.

Watch: Check out Freiburg's new home

Freiburg bade farewell to the Dreisamstadion - their home since 1954 - at the end of September. They did so in the most fitting style imaginable too, recording a 3-0 win over Augsburg and with the charismatic Streich using a megaphone to lead the supporters in song after the final whistle.

"It was great to be involved," said Streich, who shed some tears at the end of what was an emotional day. "The players have done it before, but I hadn't. It was nice to be in the stands and get a sense of what they were saying. I'm delighted the fans were here for this. Now they have to bring this energy to the new stadium."

A total of 20,000 supporters - the maximum permitted under coronavirus restrictions at the time - were there to witness Freiburg's first competitive game in their new home. The following two matches then saw 31,500 and 32,500 turn out respectively until even stricter measures were put in place.

From the very start, Streich was hopeful that the supporters would demonstrate that their latest abode will be every bit as uncomfortable for visitors as the old one was.

"We'll be going there in good form," Streich said ahead of the Leipzig game. "We have a home game. We want to show that we have a home game. And we want to be able to hear that we have a home game. The way it was before. It's the same team, the same club - just a new venue."

And so it proved. Freiburg came from behind to draw with Leipzig, and were desperately unlucky not to go on and win the game. As Nicolas Höfler said after the game, it was love at first sight.

"It’s mega. We have a great stadium here, there is a real mood," he said. "We're all in love a little bit."

As usual, Freiburg have got to where they are this season using what is a meagre budget compared to some of the teams they're competing against. Midfielder Maximilian Eggestein - recruited from relegated Werder Bremen - was their only summer signing, with Streich once again banking on a mix of academy graduates and tenacious professionals to prove their worth.

Watch: Freiburg thumped Augsburg in the final game at the Dreisamstadion

Following the end of Florian Müller's loan last season, goalkeeper Mark Flekken has excelled enough to be called up by the Netherlands, while centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck has gone from UEFA Euro U21 winner to a member of the Germany senior squad.

Left-back Christian Günter - an ever present in each of the last two seasons and previously capped by Germany - has also formed part of a miserly defensive unit. Freiburg have conceded a joint league-low 18 goals after 18 rounds of fixtures. They share that record with league leaders Bayern Munich.

"The team has grown, has become more mature and calmer on the ball," Freiburg sporting director Jochen Saier told German sports magazine kicker. "But our defensive stability, based on a collective approach, is the foundation [for our success]."

Supersub Nils Petersen got the winner on Matchday 7 at Hertha, while Vincenzo Grifo, Lucas Höler, Philipp Lienhart and Woo-yeong Jeong have four apiece at the top of a busy leaderboard. It's something they hope to continue.

Watch: Highlights of a famous win over Dortmund

"We have to go in with a high intensity, put in a lot of hard work, and push a long way past our limits," said Schlotterbeck, who was previewing the Leipzig game but could easily have been talking about his team's general approach.

Streich told kicker that virtually every player develops positively at Freiburg because they can work in peace in a good environment and are given time to do so. It helps that he knows the club inside out, having played in midfield for Freiburg before starting out his coaching career with their U19s in 1995.

The 56-year-old tactician's longevity in the role points to a stable club, but so too do the finances - which new president Eberhard Fugmann will be happy to discover are looking good. The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for teams throughout the world, but the sales of success stories like Baptiste Santamaria, Robin Koch, Alexander Schwolow and Luca Waldschmidt mean Freiburg is an organisation in rude health.

Watch: Supersub Petersen was at it again against Hertha

Streich has experienced enough highs and lows in Baden-Württemberg to know what's required to maintain their strong start. Freiburg had a brilliant fifth-placed finish in 2012/13, but were relegated two seasons later. They returned as swiftly as possible as Bundesliga 2 champions in 2015/16, finished seventh a year later and were then eighth in 2019/20.

Tenth last season, Freiburg have loftier ambitions this time around and they are proving unrelenting in their bid to achieve those lofty new goals.

"We're very stable. We didn’t show a poor performance in 17 games. We’re in a great position," said Streich at the end of the Hinrunde.

His captain, Günter, added: "We didn’t play a bad game in the first half of the season, and the team is very, very hungry."