Thomas Müller, Jadon Sancho and Christopher Nkunku have been nominated among others in the Midfielders position for the Bundesliga's Team of the Season, in association with EA SPORTS.
With Wout Weghorst scoring seemingly non-stop and Wolfsburg's defence rightly lauded for being the second stingiest in the league, there has not been a lot of column inches dedicated to another worthy candidate: Maximilian Arnold. The 26-year-old goes about his business in defensive midfield with minimal fuss, tidying up in front of the back four and quickly finding a teammate with a pass.
Arnold is also the team's designated set-piece specialist, hence his five assists, while his thunderbolt of a left boot has also produced three goals this season. Such is his importance to the side that only injury and suspension have prevented him playing - with club captain and fellow midfielder Josuha Guilavogui subsequently on the bench more often than not. "He's an aggressive leader - and I mean that in a positive way," said RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann earlier this season, making an exception to his rule to not single out about opposition players. "He's a very awkward player to play against. He always wants to win."
Footballers making a rapid rise from young hopeful to established pro is nothing particularly new, but few are as quick as Christoph Baumgartner. Already in his third season at Hoffenheim and still just 21, the attacking midfielder is one of the first names on head coach Sebastian Hoeneß's teamsheet. Nobody at the club has made more league appearances this season (30), while he also became a full Austria international in September 2020.
Equally able to recover possession - he is in the top 10 for tackles won this term (350) - as he is at causing a nuisance further forward - he's in the top 20 for shots taken (50) - Baumgartner also has five goals and three assists this season. No wonder, then, that Hoffenheim handed him a contract extension in March, keeping him at the club until 2025. "Christoph's a highly talented and very intelligent player with a lot of ambition," said Hoeneß. "His reading of the game, feel for where to find space, eye for his teammates and goal threat are extraordinary."
RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann is famed for rotating his side in a bid to keep opponents guessing, but only one outfield player has featured in each of the team's Bundesliga games in 2020/21: Olmo. It's not hard to understand why. Comfortable on the ball, calm under pressure and with a brilliant eye for a pass, the 22-year-old has the ability to unlock even the most deep-lying defences.
Olmo has contributed four goals and nine assists after 31 rounds of fixtures, while his 71 shots at goal put him sixth overall in the league in that particular category, the most of any player who is not a striker. "I think Dani's outstanding," said Nagelsmann this season. "He's got so much verve and a great mentality." So much so, in fact, that the attacking midfielder has also developed into a mainstay of the Spanish national team this term and was hailed by Nagelsmann as the best player on the pitch when La Roja thrashed Germany 6-0 in November 2020.
Doan has featured in all 31 of his side's Bundesliga games, starting 30, and has enjoyed more minutes on the pitch than any other outfield player at the club this term (2,525). Highly prized for his versatility and technique, if Bielefeld manage to avoid relegation it will in large part be thanks to their Japan international.
"Ritsu's an important player for us and someone who can always give his team and the game that extra impetus," said head coach Frank Kramer recently. The Bundesliga's Rookie of the Month winner for March, Doan was nominated for the award in April too. He has four goals and two assists so far in 2020/21, while he's also completed more nutmegs (14) than any other Bundesliga player this season.
Stuttgart’s return to the big time has been nothing short of superb as Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side have emerged as every neutral’s favourite team. Japan international Endo's importance cannot be underestimated, taking the captain's armband on four occasions and missing just 15 minutes of action all season as one of only five outfield players to have started every game after 31 matchdays.
Just like his teammates - and club in general - Endo has taken to the Bundesliga like a proverbial duck to water in his maiden campaign. The 28-year-old has won more tackles (447) than any other player across the entire division and ranks third in the league for most distance covered (212.7 miles). He also showed on Matchday 23 that he can have an impact going forward - scoring his first Bundesliga goals with a brace in the 5-1 win over Schalke that also saw Endo provide assists for two of his team’s other three goals.
Competition for places in the Bayern midfield is fiercer than at most clubs, but when Goretzka is fit, he starts alongside Joshua Kimmich in a central position. Arguably one of the unsung heroes in a team packed with superstars, the 6'2" midfielder is no less important. "He wins a lot of balls, can bridge the midfield with his dynamism and regularly makes runs behind the defence, creating chances for himself," enthused head coach Hansi Flick.
That is backed up by the statistics. A classic box-to-box player, the Germany international has five goals and five assists this term - earning himself the nickname "Scoretzka" from teammate Thomas Müller in the process - but his defensive contribution can also be measured by the 233 tackles he has won, along with 51 aerial duels. An imposing physical presence on the pitch, Goretzka has also added consistency to his top-level displays.
That Freiburg steered well clear of the relegation zone this season, and even have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe, is primarily down to head coach Christian Streich's focus on team work and the collective - although there is still room for a free spirit like Grifo. His talents honed as a street footballer, rather than at an elite youth academy, give him an unpredictable edge, and the attacking midfielder has exploited that perfectly.
His eight Bundesliga strikes and six assists this term mean he has been directly involved in more goals than any other Freiburg player, contributing to almost a third of the side's total tally. "Vince has developed really well, as a player and as a character," said Streich of the Italy international recently. "I'm very satisfied with him. He's matured and really helps the team a lot."
That Frankfurt have sustained their charge for a top-four finish is not only down to Andre Silva's goals and Filip Kostic's assists: Kamada has been equally important to the Eagles this term. Despite head coach Adi Hütter stating that game time would be shared among fellow attacking playmakers Amin Younes and Aymen Barkok at the start of the season, Kamada inevitably gets the nod, and no Frankfurt outfield player has made more Bundesliga appearances than the Japan international in 2020/21 (29).
His tactical awareness, discipline and willingness to fulfill his defensive duties are part of why that is the case, but it is Kamada's dribbling ability, knack of finding space and playing the killer pass that truly set him apart - as his five goals and 11 assists this season underline. "Daichi's a creative player who can make the difference with his ingenuity," purred Hütter.
As contradictory as it may sound, Joshua Kimmich's importance to Bayern became all the more apparent this season when he wasn't playing. After picking up an injury in the Matchday 7 win over Borussia Dortmund, the 26-year-old missed the team's next five league games, during which time they slipped down to second place after recording three draws and two wins.
Arguably the turning point in Bayern's campaign arrived on the midfielder's comeback from injury on Matchday 13, when he came off the bench and teed up Robert Lewandowski to score a last-gasp winner over Bayer Leverkusen. Hansi Flick's side have been top ever since. Famed for his win-at-all-costs mentality, Kimmich also contributes in more tangible ways too, chipping in with three goals and 10 assists, and is one of the league's most reliable, consistent performers.
A knee injury at the start of the season prevented Kostic from tormenting Bundesliga defences in the manner he was used to prior to the winter break, but his performances "exploded" in 2021 according to Adi Hütter. The Frankfurt head coach attributed the winger's improvement to a return to full fitness and the arrival of Serbian compatriot Luka Jovic during the winter transfer period, but whatever the reason, Kostic has been unplayable for months.
The 28-year-old's tally of 12 assists is second only to Thomas Müller, while he also has four goals and more crosses from open play (182) than any other player in the Bundesliga this season. Quick, hard-working and ever eager to get forward, Kostic's crosses and set-piece deliveries have been a fearsome weapon in the Frankfurt armoury this season. "His left foot is like a laser," said former Germany international Didi Hamann, now a television pundit for Sky Germany. "Right now, Kostic is one of the best wingers in the world."
The Brazilian’s first full season in the capital may well have been one mired in a relegation battle, but they remain in with a chance of survival thanks to the efforts of their former RB Leipzig forward. Thus far, Cunha’s seven league goals for the Old Lady can’t be bettered by his teammates, while only Vladimir Darida (six) and Dodi Lukebakio (five) have more than his four assists in the Hertha ranks.
It’s not only his attacking prowess that stands out. Cunha ranks sixth overall in the league for most won tackles (361) and his 595 sprints are more than any other Berlin player. It highlights the fact that there is as much graft as there is craft when it comes to the 21-year-old, who has either scored or provided an assist in five of Hertha’s six league wins after 28 games of the campaign.
After setting a new Bundesliga assist record with 21 last season, Müller seamlessly carried on where he left off this term and, with three matches remaining, once again leads the way with 17 – five more than his closest challenger Filip Kostic. Add in the 10 league goals he has scored and the 31-year-old has been directly involved in almost a third of Bayern strikes this term.
“He’s had a sensational campaign,” said Flick of the attacker after he teed up Leon Goretzka for the only goal of the game in what looks to have been the title decider with RB Leipzig on Matchday 27. “He’s important for us and I’m happy that Thomas is playing the way he’s playing for us.”
Now approaching the end of his second season at Leipzig, Nkunku's transition from gifted but untried youngster into a reliable top-class performer is complete. Not only has the 23-year-old played in 26 of the team's first 31 Bundesliga matches this term, he also started seven of their eight Champions League fixtures.
Able to operate off either flank or more in a more central attacking role, Nkunku thrives in tight spaces and is also a set-piece expert. His six Bundesliga goals and five assists this term tell their own story, while he's not afraid to do the dirty work either: the Frenchman wins an average of nine challenges per game. "He's really good at dribbling at pace, has a great shot and is a very positive person who always has a smile on his face," praised head coach Julian Nagelsmann.
The England international took a while to find his devastating rhythm this season and was not on the scoresheet in the Bundesliga across the first 13 matchdays, even if he remained a key member of the starting line-up. However, once Sancho hit his stride there was no stopping him. "He's been working a bit differently in recent weeks, both in training and in terms of hitting the gym" said teammate Mats Hummels in February. "You get rewarded when you do that."
The 21-year-old certainly was. Sancho was on target as BVB beat Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig in early 2021, and registered six goals and seven of his nine league assists across Dortmund's first 10 Bundesliga games of the year. A muscle injury curtailed his momentum somewhat, but when fit, he starts for Dortmund and continues to enhance his reputation as one of the most decisive attackers in world football.
Gladbach's league form has fluctuated significantly this season as they juggled UEFA Champions League commitments with domestic duties: eye-catching wins over Bayern Munich (3-2), Borussia Dortmund (4-2), RB Leipzig (1-0) and Eintracht Frankfurt (4-0) were offset by frustrating defeats to struggling sides Cologne (2-1), Mainz (2-1) and Augsburg (3-1). Yet through it all, Stindl has been the team's one consistent, performing superbly and spearheading Marco Rose's side from his central playmaker’s position.
The 32-year-old has 12 Bundesliga goals and six assists up to and including Matchday 31, making him the Foals' most dangerous attacking outlet and meaning he has been directly involved in a goal every 89 minutes. For context, only three players - Robert Lewandowski, Andre Silva and Erling Haaland - boast a better average in that regard, and they are all out-and-out strikers. "He's a proper captain," said Gladbach coach Marco Rose of his skipper this season. "He's performed exceptionally." There’s no refuting that.