What a difference a few months make! For Lukas Nmecha, Joe Scally and several others, the first half of the 2021/22 Bundesliga season has been nothing short of life changing. Here’s why…
There was a sense of unfinished business in Wolfsburg for Nmecha when he returned to the Volkswagen Arena – this time with younger brother Felix – in summer 2021. The striker had a loan spell with the Wolves in 2019/20 but only made six Bundesliga appearances, five as a substitute, before his goalless stint was cut short and he returned to parent club Manchester City in January 2020.
The Hamburg-born forward subsequently had loans at Middlesbrough and Anderlecht before deciding on a permanent move to Wolfsburg. Perhaps it was that sense of finding a ‘home’ after several loan periods that helped, but whatever the reason, Nmecha looks to have truly found his feet and has started showing on a regular basis what he can do.
The Wolfsburg No.10 scored a late winner in his first outing of the season on Matchday 2 to snatch a 2-1 victory for his side at Hertha Berlin, and followed it up with goals in wins over Greuther Fürth and Bayer Leverkusen. Germany head coach Hansi Flick was suitably impressed, and he earned the first of two senior caps to date for Die Mannschaft in November against Liechtenstein.
Nmecha has continued to find the net and is Wolfsburg’s joint top-scorer alongside Wout Weghorst at the halfway stage with six Bundesliga goals – plus a further two in the UEFA Champions League.
Adli had only made four top-flight appearances in France with Toulouse, plus another 33 in the French second division, when Leverkusen swooped to sign the nimble winger in late August.
As a somewhat untested prospect at the highest level, head coach Gerardo Seoane eased the 21-year-old into the side gently at the start of the campaign: by the end of Matchday 6 Adli had only played 66 minutes of action cross four substitute appearances.
A stunning first goal for the club as a substitute in a 4-0 UEFA Europa League victory away to Celtic at the end of September provided the confidence-boost he needed to kick on, and the left-footer has subsequently started 11 of the team’s 15 competitive games.
Direct, comfortable on either foot and always eager to get forward, he has well and truly established himself in the first team, keeping the likes of Karim Bellarabi and Paulinho out of the team. Adli netted his maiden Bundesliga goal in a 1-0 win over Bochum on Matchday 12, and followed that up with a goal and an assist in the 7-1 thrashing of Fürth a couple of weeks later.
Schlotterbeck had been on the fringes of the Freiburg first team for a couple of years, making 17 (mostly substitute) Bundesliga appearances across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons.
A stint on loan at top-flight rivals Union Berlin last term appears to have been just what he needed: the opportunity to gain regular Bundesliga experience.
Watch: The best of Nico Schlotterbeck
He returned to the Black Forest for 2021/22 and went straight into Christian Streich’s side, starting every game so far this season alongside Philipp Lienhart to help Freiburg into third in the standings with the joint-best defensive record in the division: Bayern are the only team to match their 16 goals conceded thus far.
Robust in the tackle, good on the ball and a threat in opposition territory – Schlotterbeck has two Bundesliga goals to his name this term – the left-footer has also played his way into the Germany reckoning. Although he is yet to make his senior debut, Flick included him in Die Mannschaft’s squads for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September and October.
Following Andre Silva’s departure over the summer, Frankfurt set about restructuring their side to ease some of the creative responsibility on Filip Kostic’s shoulders. And, after an impressive season in the Danish capital with Brondby, the Eagles settled on Lindstrom.
The attacking midfielder, like Frankfurt, took a while to get going in the Bundesliga under new head coach Oliver Glasner, but once they did the results were spectacular.
Having been 15th in the standings and level on points with Augsburg in the relegation play-off spot after Matchday 10, the Eagles shot up to sixth over the winter break after winning six of their seven most recent league assignments.
Lindstrom was a key figure in those triumphs, posting four goals and two assists, while he also scored twice in the UEFA Europa League as Frankfurt progressed to the last 16 as group winners. “You can see that Jesper has found his feet now in the Bundesliga,” Glasner said in mid-December.
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Bundesliga appearances 2021/22: 17
Scally arrived at Gladbach from New York as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in January 2021 and spent the first six months acclimatising with the reserves. An injury to first-choice left-back Remy Bensebaini opened the first-team door for the American in pre-season, and he hasn’t looked back.
Watch: Fast-rising US Foal: Joe Scally
Scally has started all 19 of Gladbach’s competitive games in 2021/22, operating as required at left-back, right-back and as a wing-back on either flank. He survived a baptism of fire in a 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich on Matchday 1, and was part of the team that booted the defending holders out of the DFB Cup with a 5-0 thrashing in the second round.
Furthermore, Scally scored his first Bundesliga goal in the Matchday 7 win in Wolfsburg, cementing his place in the hearts of Foals fans. Now very much part of the first-team furniture at Borussia-Park, Scally also received a maiden call-up to the senior US national team in November 2021. Although he was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Jamaica in CONCACAF zone World Cup qualifying, he looks certain to be a mainstay in Gregg Berhalter’s side for years to come.