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Christian Streich has worked wonders during a decade at the Freiburg helm and the perennial underdogs once again have Borussia Dortmund in their sights. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
Christian Streich has worked wonders during a decade at the Freiburg helm and the perennial underdogs once again have Borussia Dortmund in their sights. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
bundesliga

Freiburg: the great underdogs out to take down Borussia Dortmund

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Freiburg set the tone for what could be another memorable season with a four-star show against Augsburg on opening weekend. With Borussia Dortmund next up in their first home game on Friday, how do Christian Streich’s team do it?

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Freiburg had a sensational 2021/22 campaign, finishing sixth in the Bundesliga and reaching the DFB Cup final for the first time. Among their standout performances were home wins over Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen as well as away victories in Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and - thanks to six first-half goals - at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

It could have been even better of course. In the Bundesliga, a return of four points from 12 saw them drop out of the top four late in the season, while in the cup final they led against 10-man RB Leipzig only to lose on penalties.

The enigmatic Christian Streich took Freiburg agonisingly close to a first major trophy and the UEFA Champions League. - Martin Rose/Getty Images

The positives far outweighed the negatives, however, since few would have predicted that Freiburg would come so close to UEFA Champions League qualification as well as a first major trophy outside of four Bundesliga 2 title wins. Their head coach - the charismatic Christian Streich - was named Germany’s Coach of the Year for 2022 as a result.

Freiburg started 2022/23 in striking fashion too by winning 4-0 in Augsburg, with Germany defender Matthias Ginter - back for a second stint at his local club - scoring a wonderful volley for the third.

The club’s “very positive” progress was highlighted by Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic ahead of his team’s visit there on Matchday 2. He should know plenty about it, since Freiburg have won their last two home matches against BVB.

“I think the whole of Germany can see the development that Freiburg have had over the last few years,” Terzic said.

“In Christian Streich they have a coach who’s been there since 2012, who has been able to work continuously and who has done a very good job.

“Where they have definitely developed is that they’re always able to compensate for the players who leave. Through good work with young players, but also through good and clever transfers.”

Watch: Freiburg’s win at home to BVB on Matchday 2 of last season

This season already looks a case in point. At centre-back last term Freiburg could count on Nico Schlotterbeck, who developed into one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga before joining Dortmund this summer.

They replaced him by bringing back Ginter, who hails from Freiburg im Breisgau, broke through the youth ranks in 2012, has over 40 caps for Germany, is a FIFA World Cup winner and still only 28.

“The development of the whole club, the potential of the team and the manner of the exchange with the club in recent weeks,” Ginter said after sealing his return. “Finding all that in my hometown can only be described as a stroke of luck nowadays.”

Watch: Ginter struck on his Freiburg debut against Augsburg for the second time

To strengthen at the other end of the field they have added attacking midfielders Ritsu Doan and Daniel-Kofi Kyereh as well as forward Michael Gregoritsch.

Doan knows German football, having got five goals in 34 Bundesliga games on loan at Arminia Bielefeld in 2020/21. He lifted the Dutch Cup with PSV Eindhoven last season and got an extra-time winner for Freiburg at Kaiserslautern in the first round of this year’s German equivalent - before adding another goal against Augsburg.

Ghana international Kyereh got 12 goals and nine assists for St. Pauli in Bundesliga 2 in 2021/22, while Austria attacker Gregoritsch - who has been playing in Germany since 2012 - recorded nine goals for Augsburg last season.

“He played a huge role,” Gregoritsch said of Streich when discussing why he signed for the club. “He’s made almost every player better, so I hope that I’ll be the next one.”

True to form, the 28-year-old got the opening goal and an assist against his former team on Matchday 1.

Those new signings will hope to follow the trail travelled by the likes of Roland Sallai, who has developed so well at Freiburg that he helped Hungary reach UEFA Euro 2022 and has since scored home and away against England.

Watch: Christian Streich – Freiburg Fairy Tale

An experienced core is there to help any newcomers, with left-back and club captain Christian Günter there with Streich since the start. Like Ginter, the 29-year-old rose through the ranks at the club to become a Germany international.

Vincenzo Grifo is an Italian one, excelling in his second spell at the club with nine Bundesliga goals in each of the past two seasons. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder’s dead-ball deliveries have made Freiburg deadly from set-pieces, and he too started the new campaign by scoring against Augsburg.

Goalkeeper Mark Flekken is another to have earned international honours on Streich’s watch, and if the Dutch keeper can’t save Freiburg then maybe supersub extraordinaire Nils Petersen will do the job instead.

The key to it all is Streich. The longest-serving head coach in the Bundesliga has been in charge since December 2011, breaching the top five by the end of 2012/13 before bouncing back from relegation in 2014/15.

The 57-year-old’s team were promoted again as Bundesliga champions in 2015/16, and they have had three top-eight finishes since then.

Bit-by-bit the club based in the picturesque Black Forest area of southwest Germany has grown in a steady and sustainable manner. Moving from the Dreisamstadion - their home since 1954 - to their modern 34,700-capacity Europa-Park ground in October 2021 is testament on their progress. It’s only fitting that Streich and his team will bring UEFA Europa League group-stage football there in September.

Watch: A new home for Freiburg

Tight-knit and hard-working, Freiburg have returned to the European stage for a second time under Streich thanks to talent as well as togetherness.

“They’re all great guys, just like it was back then [in his first spell],” Ginter said of his teammates after the Augsburg win. “I think that’s the biggest plus we have - we have super characters.”

The biggest one of all, of course, is Streich - who is himself a former Freiburg midfielder. Typical of the man, though, he was keen to stress that he’s just a part of a wider operation when he collected his Coach of the Year prize ahead of the Dortmund game.

“I am really accepting this award as a representative of all of those who work as a part of this team,” Streich said.

That team - and their teamwork - has brought about huge success for Freiburg. Who’s to say there won’t be more?