Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland has claimed the first Player of the Month prize in the 2021/22 season.
This season once again the Bundesliga will be officially recognising outstanding individual performances with the Player of the Month award. The award, created by the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga in 2018/19 in cooperation with the Bundesliga's official licensing partner, EA Sports, is decided through a two-stage selection process that considers both the players' individual performance data and a vote by fans and experts.
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
To get an idea of how much Erling Haaland loves doing what he does best for Borussia Dortmund, you just had to see the 21-year-old on Matchday 1. In Dortmund's 5-2 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt, the Norwegian shone with two goals and two assists, and he celebrated his stellar performance alone in front of the Dortmund fans after the final whistle. "He deserves to go and get a personal ovation from the Süd[tribüne]," said Dortmund coach Marco Rose. In addition to his four goal contributions on the opening day of the season, the Haaland also scored the dramatic last-gasp winner in his side's win against Hoffenheim.
With a hand in five goals in the first three games of the season, he has blazed a trail at the top of the scoring charts, surprising even those who know his full potential best. "Erling's a machine," said his teenage teammate Jude Bellingham after that jaw-dropping stoppage-time winner against Hoffenheim. "I just can't put into words how good he is. What he does is incredible." That was a historic goal from Dortmund's top-scorer, who was recently named by UEFA as Forward of the Season for his performances in last season's Champions League, since it was his 43rd in his 46th game. To put that into context, only Bundesliga legend Uwe Seeler reached that mark sooner, needing just 44 Bundesliga games for his first 43 goals.
The other nominees
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
With five goals in the first three games of the season, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has latched seamlessly onto his record-breaking antics from last term, and already added another record to his growing collection. The 33-year-old, who was recently crowned Germany's Footballer of the Year for 2021, scored for the 12th straight Bundesliga home fixture when he netted a hat-trick against Hertha Berlin, matching a record held by Gerd Müller (1969/70) and Jupp Heynckes (1972/73). His current scoring streak in all league fixtures lies at 13 consecutive games, which is a new personal record and is just three games shy of Gerd Müller's all-time league record of 16.
"His hunger and desire are extraordinary," said Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann. Lewandowski confirmed as much, and his performances have done enough to back up his new coach's assessment. "Of course I'm always hungry, but I'm feeling particularly good physically - probably better than I was three years ago," Lewandowski said. "I'm not thinking of records - I just focus on my job in every game and don't give a thought to what records I could set." He may not have known it, but another one fell in Bayern's 3-2 win over Cologne, with Lewandowski's opening goal equalling a European club record of 74 consecutive competitive games with at least one Bayern goal. They have since gone two better than Real Madrid's previous best and have scored at least once in 76 straight games, and a Lewandowski goal has been among many of them.
Florian Kainz (Cologne)
It was a "great feeling". With a rare brace, Florian Kainz helped Cologne make a flying start to the season with a 3-1 opening day win over Hertha Berlin. After heading the Billy Goats in front after half-time, the Austrian increased their lead just three minutes later to complete a priceless victory. It has been quite a start to the season, both for Kainz and Cologne, whose new coach Steffen Baumgart has made a few changes to way he wants his team to play. "Our style of play is different," said Kainz, who missed much of the 2020/21 season due to a serious knee injury. "As such, we are performing differently."
The 28-year-old is now back at full fitness, and Baumgart needs him to stay that way. "We play a very intense style of play," Kainz said. "We want to press, attack high up the field and transition quickly." With 221 intensive runs and 77 sprints, the Austrian has been leading by example for his team, while his crossing qualities - having delivered the third most crosses in the Bundesliga in August, with 14 - and threat from set plays is an important weapon in Cologne's attacking armoury. The new approach appears to be bearing fruit for the Billy Goats, who already have six points from the first three games of the season, and the Austrian has made a major contribution to that. In addition to his two goals against Hertha, he set one up against Bochum and has therefore had a hand in three goals already this season. That might explain why he has a "great feeling".
Marc-Oliver Kempf (VfB Stuttgart)
The icing on the cake for VfB Stuttgart is Marc-Oliver Kempf. The central defender played all three of the Swabians' games in August, from start to finish, and bossed the back line demonstratively. The 26-year-old has certainly stood out in the first few weeks of the season, scoring his first ever Bundesliga brace in the 5-1 win over Greuther Fürth to become the club's top goalscorer of the current season together with Hamadi Al Ghaddioui. "I think I've always had a good eye for goal, so it's even nicer to prove it not just once, but twice," said the defensive player after making waves at the other end of the field.
He has been head and shoulders above the rest - almost literally. In Stuttgart's biggest ever opening-day win in the Bundesliga, Kempf scored the sixth of his total eight Bundesliga goals with his head, underlining his aerial strength which he puts to great effect also when performing his defensive duties. His 66 per cent success rate in challenges over the first three matchdays was the highest of any Stuttgart player, and he has been an example of fair play too, committing just one foul to date. Only Wataru Endo can come close to such figures in Pellegrino Matarazzo's team, while Kempf not only knows how to win the ball back, but also what to do with it when he has it, boasting an 86 per cent successful pass rate. That really is just the icing on the cake for Stuttgart.
Kevin Mbabu (Wolfsburg)
Three games, nine points: Wolfsburg have made a perfect start to the season. After beating Bochum 1-0 and RB Leipzig by the same scoreline, the Wolves also got the better of Hertha Berlin, emerging as 2-1 winners from a keenly-fought contest. One player who has gone the distance in all three of those games is Kevin Mbabu. The Switzerland international, who had a particularly convincing Euro 2020, has cemented the place on the right-hand side of Mark van Bommel's four-man defence that he had already made his own last season, when he helped the Wolves qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
His resolute, direct style of play is what sets Mbabu apart. This season, he has made the most challenges (88) in the whole of the Bundesliga, winning an impressive 50 per cent of them. Defensively, the Swiss is a guarantee, and he likes to make an impression going forwards too. "I hope I am able to deliver six assists," he told the Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung. "That may be a high expectation for a defender, but I've got to think big." Despite having set up four shots already this season, none have been transformed into goals just yet, but the 26-year-old did pave the way for the winning goal against Bochum with his throw-in. Surely he will be able to live with that for now, in view of Wolfsburg's overall perfect start to the season.
Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Gio Reyna's declared aim for the season was to play as much as possible. After the first three games, he's certainly heading in the right direction to fulfil that objective. The US youngster has started all three of Dortmund's games so far this season, paying back the faith shown in him by coach Marco Rose with some strong performances. The highly talented 18-year-old scored two goals in August and was the player who took the second highest number of shots for BVB (seven, only Haaland shot more often), while he teed up more shots than anybody else, putting a teammate into a shooting position eight times.
Not only is Reyna providing for his colleagues, he is also taking a lot on board from one particular teammate whom he considers a role model. "Marco Reus is an absolute legend at this club," said the son of former Bundesliga player Claudio Reyna in an interview with Kicker magazine, full of praise for his club captain. "I have always been looking up to him and seeing what I can copy off him. I think it's fantastic that we have him here." Reyna has already bettered his idol in one area by making his 50th Bundesliga appearance against Hoffenheim on Matchday 3. At the age of 18 years and 287 days, he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach this half-century milestone, dislodging Kai Havertz from the summit of this particular classification.