Vincenzo Grifo, Sheraldo Becker, Niclas Füllkrug and Kevin Trapp (l-r.) have all been in fine form for their respective teams this season. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
Vincenzo Grifo, Sheraldo Becker, Niclas Füllkrug and Kevin Trapp (l-r.) have all been in fine form for their respective teams this season. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH

Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg, Union Berlin, Werder Bremen, Cologne, Mainz and the Year of the Underdogs


It's safe to say 2022 has been a memorable year for a number of the Bundesliga's underdogs, with Freiburg, Union Berlin, Werder Bremen, Cologne and Mainz upsetting the domestic applecart, and Eintracht Frankfurt conquering Europe. looks at how these surprise packages have continued to catch people off guard both home and abroad...


Had Freiburg beaten Union on the penultimate day of 2021/22, they would have gone into the final weekend sat fourth and with UEFA Champions League football in their hands. It wasn't to be, however, for Christian Streich's side, who lost their final two league games of the season and eventually slipped to sixth before succumbing to RB Leipzig - who also took fourth-place - on penalties in the final of the DFB Cup.

It was a disappointing end to the season, yet the campaign as a whole was anything but. They had competed in the German cup showpiece for the first time in their history and earned their best league finish since Streich guided them to fifth back in 2013. Many thought this team had peaked there, but Freiburg and their long-serving figurehead clearly have other ideas and victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 5 of the 2022/23 campaign took the Baden-Württemberg outfit to the top of the table. It suggests there is still plenty more to come for Freiburg and their fans to enjoy in 2022, and beyond.

Union Berlin

Union's own barnstorming finish to the Bundesliga's 2021/22 edition saw them end the term with six wins out of their last seven matches. The sole outlier was a 1-1 draw with rock-bottom Greuther Fürth and, in hindsight, had they won that match then the extra two points would have taken them above Leipzig and into fourth. Like Freiburg, they settled on a spot in this season's UEFA Europa League. And, like Freiburg, it may have made many at the club wonder "what might have been", but it still represented a fine campaign as they backed up the previous year's seventh-placed UEFA Europa Conference League qualification by improving both their domestic and continental standing.

Watch: Union Berlin - tactical analysis

The similarities with Freiburg don't end there, with Union also continuing last season's momentum into this one. Their 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich at the weekend out means they are keeping pace with the record champions on 11 points from their first five matches. They only register behind Bayern on goal difference, with both a point back from Freiburg and Borussia Dortmund at the summit. Key to their continued progress has been the partnership of Sheraldo Becker and Jordan in attack, who have had a direct hand in 11 of Union's 12 league goals. Only the record reigning champions can say they've scored more in the division so far.

Werder Bremen

If you think Union have had a good 2022, you might want to check out Werder, too. The appointment of Ole Werner brought about a dramatic change at the club as they moved from 10th in December last year to second - and the top-flight - midway through the next. Werner won each of his first seven matches in charge as Werder sealed an immediate return to the Bundesliga following the club's relegation in 2020/21.

Watch: Bremen's unforgettable fightback in Dortmund

Werder's record across all competitions in 2022 now reads: P22, W13, D4, L3. That gives the Green-Whites a win percentage of 59 percent since January and they have shown that they are back in the big time looking to make waves, rather than employing any rope-a-dope tactics in a bid for survival. Late comebacks in the 2-2 draw with VfB Stuttgart and the instant classic that was the 3-2 win over Dortmund are case in points of their fighting spirit, while the 2-0 victory over Bochum was a firm statement as to how they see their own status in the league.

Eintracht Frankfurt

While Frankfurt's domestic form in 2022 was woeful at the end of last season, by May it barely mattered as they lifted the Europa League trophy. Their European escapades were truly that of a Hollywood underdog story as they produced famous knockout wins over Real Betis, European giants Barcelona, West Ham and then, in the final, got the better of Rangers. The showpiece alone was cinematic as Eintracht - who adopted their white away kit as a good luck charm after producing an historic win at the Camp Nou in the quarters - came from 1-0 down to first equalise and then claim glory in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.

Watch: Kevin Trapp - forever Frankfurt

Die Adler have now gone full-time with the white home jerseys for 2022/23 and their domestic form is on the up. Their 6-1 Matchday 1 defeat to Bayern was somewhat chastening but they haven't lost in the league since and the 4-0 victory over Leipzig on the fifth week of the new campaign peeled the curtain back on the enormous potential in Oliver Glasner's side. They did miss the chance of another major European scalp as Champions League holders Real Madrid beat them to the 2022 UEFA Super Cup, but Frankfurt will be eyeing up their Group D opponents for yet more magic midweek nights, starting with Sporting on Matchday 1. It may not come as too much of a surprise this time around if, or more like when, they start collecting Champions League wins.


Cologne narrowly missed out on Europa League qualification, but do have Europa Conference League football to look forward to in the months ahead. After finishing seventh last season, the Billy Goats showed just how far they've come under Steffen Baumgart by overturning a 2-1 home defeat in their Conference League play-off with Fehervar, winning the return leg in Hungary 3-0. They're also one of just three unbeaten teams, five matches into the 2022/23 Bundesliga campaign.

Considering not much more than a year has passed since Cologne secured their top-flight status via a relegation play-off win over Bundesliga 2 outfit Holstein Kiel, it's some turnaround. Indeed, the Cathedral City club finished just six points adrift of the Champions League places at the end of Baumgart's debut season in charge. Not even the loss of talisman and 20-goal top scorer Anthony Modeste to Dortmund has brought about a bout of the sophomore slump for the flat cap-wearing tactician, who is proving himself to be one of the most astute coaches in the German game.


If Mainz continue their upward trajectory, they could be playing European football in 2023/23. The 05ers have averaged 1.58 points per game since Bo Svensson took charge in January 2021 which, historically, adds up to a European finish across the course of a 34-fixture campaign. The man at the helm is even outperforming predecessors Jürgen Klopp (1.51 points per game) and Thomas Tuchel (1.43), and claimed a famous win over Bayern last term.

Watch: Highlights of Mainz's triumphant meeting with Bayern

As Bayern can attest, Mainz are a force to be reckoned with on home soil. They only lost twice at the Mewa Arena in 2021/22, whilst conceding a league-low 11 goals. If they can turn their humble abode into a fortress once again, and keep up their stellar work on the road - Mainz have a 100 percent away record so far this season - further scalps can be expected. Five matches into 2022/23, they complete a fabulously unfamiliar top five, while only a handful of names have outscored unheralded Austrian striker Karim Onisiwo (three goals).