Sardar Azmoun joins Max Kruse up front and Ricardo Pepi is one of three American teenagers in the XI. bundesliga.com has picked out a top quality line-up of new signings to watch out for in the second half of the campaign.
If Fürth plan to pull off a great escape and stay in the Bundesliga, they need all the help they can get. A netminder like Linde, then, could be useful for the league's bottom club. At 6'5", he's a particularly imposing figure. The 28-year-old has signifcant experience too, having been part of the Swedish squad that won the 2015 European U21 Championship as well as a regular for Molde when they lifted the 2019 Norwegian league title. He took his previous club to the verge of the UEFA Champions League group stage with a penalty save in a shootout against Qarabag in September 2020, then helped them to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League with a victory over Hoffenheim along the way. After seven years with Molde, Linde is ready for his latest challenge. "With this move to the Bundesliga, a long-held wish to seek my chance in one of the best leagues in Europe has been fulfilled."
Country: USA (U20 cap)
From: FC Dallas
Over 60 Americans have now featured in the Bundesliga, and Che is hoping to become the next to make an appearance after signing an 18-month loan deal. The teenager already has an idea of what German football is like, having played eight times for the Bayern Munich reserve team in the third division while on loan for the second half of the 2020/21 season. Since then the versatile defender has lined out in 15 Major League Soccer games for Dallas, meaning he should be primed to make an impact after linking up with compatriot Chris Richards at Hoffenheim. "Che has a good combination of dynamism and other essential attributes for a defender," Hoffenheim head coach Sebastian Hoeneß said of the latest arrival. "He's flexible and can play on the right, in the middle or on the left of defence."
Friedrich has been a rock at the back for Union throughout their journey from Bundesliga 2 to the top end of the Bundesliga. The 6'3" defender's most famous moment for the club from the capital was when he headed home what proved a decisive goal in their promotion/relegation play-off with VfB Stuttgart in May 2019. The former Augsburg and Schalke player then went on to prove his worth at both ends of the pitch in the top flight. The 2020/21 season was especially impressive for Union's star performer at the heart of the backline - who continued to be one of the Bundesliga's most dangerous players from a set-piece situation. Friedrich started all 34 league matches that year and scored five goals, including in famous home wins over Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig that helped Union qualify for Europe. After 141 games for Union, Gladbach's new No. 5 has signed up with the Foals until 2026.
Watch: Learn more about Justin Che
It's clear that Hertha have had some serious defensive problems this season, conceding 42 goals in their first 20 league matches of the campaign. No surprise, then, that the team with the second-worst defensive record in the league would look to find some solutions in winter. Kempf, with over 100 top-flight games behind him, looks a good one. This season the former Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg and Stuttgart player did have his progress checked by a hamstring injury that kept him out for a month. He helped Stuttgart finish ninth last term, however, and also got three goals in 12 appearances for them in 2021/22. A former European U19 and U21 champion with Germany, he arrives at a good age and with a point to prove. "His presence, leadership qualities and mentality will definitely benefit us," said Hertha sporting director Fredi Bobic.
Position: Right back/wing-back
Country: Belgium (U21 cap)
From: Standard Liege
Siquet could need some time to settle in, but there's every reason to believe he can be the next young Belgian to make his mark in the Bundesliga. The likes of Sebastiaan Bornauw, Dodi Lukebakio and Aster Vranckx have shown the way, and Freiburg were keen to get him on board this winter in the face of some serious competition. The attacking full-back only made his senior debut in a UEFA Europa League match in November 2020 but he has since clocked up 35 Belgian league starts during a rapid rise over the last 18 months. Siquet is familiar with both the 3-4-3 and 4-4-2 systems that Christian Streich has operated with this season, and was officially recognised as the Belgian Pro League's best player under the age of 20 just a few days before his move to Germany in January. "His game intelligence, his energy and his constant urge to drive forward make him stand out," said Freiburg sporting director Klemens Hartenbach.
In the heat of a relegation battle, keeping a cool head is important. That's why Bielefeld's signing of Castro could be crucial. The veteran former Germany midfielder had been without a club since leaving Stuttgart ahead of the new campaign, but Frank Kramer felt a man with over 400 Bundesliga games to his name would be worth having around. The former Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund player wasted little time before making his presence felt, firing home a brilliant equaliser in the Matchday 19 draw with Fürth. "I just want to prove that I'm not too old and not ready to be written off," Castro told bundesliga.com soon after signing.
Country: Hungary (15 caps/three goals)
From: Dunajska Streda
To: Union Berlin
A player who will be familiar to fans of the Germany national team, Schäfer is now hoping to make even more of a name for himself in the Bundesliga. A central midfielder who can also play on the left, he impressed with MTK Budapest as a teenager before earning a move to Italian side Genoa in January 2020. While he didn't feature for the senior team there or on loan at Chievo Verona, he would go on to play 61 times for Slovak side Dunajska Streda. After making his debut for Hungary in September 2020, Schäfer was included in their UEFA Euro 2020 squad last summer. He started all three group matches and got their second goal in a 2-2 draw with Germany - being named as his country's best performer in 2021 as a result. "We have been following Andras closely for some time and we like his mentality, his development and his courageous play with the ball," said Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert.
The Bundesliga has been good for American players, and Paredes hopes he has what it to takes to make himself at home in it. The pacy teen made his professional debut at 16 with Loudoun United - DC United's reserve side - before going on to line out 41 times in all competitions with the first team. Now - after Bayern Munich and Canada star Alphonso Davies provided some inspiration - he is ready to take the next step.
"Despite his age he's already gained some experience at first-team level, and as well as the left wing he can also play in the centre," said Wolfsburg sporting director Marcel Schäfer. "He also brings pace and dynamism. He's very agile and nimble on the ball, covers a lot of ground on the pitch and has a really good mentality."
Country: USA (eight caps/three goals)
From: FC Dallas
Another from the FC Dallas conveyer belt, Pepi arrived in Germany with a big reputation and the accolades to back it up. He made his MLS debut as a 16-year-old in 2019, and was named the league's Young Player of the Year for 2021 after scoring 13 times in 31 matches. The youngest player ever to score an MLS hat-trick has already been on the scoresheet multiple times for his country, and he has now made a dream come true by jetting across the Atlantic. According to former Germany and USA manager Jürgen Klinsmann, the 6'0" striker suits the German game. Pepi, meanwhile, plans to prove as much. The youngster is clearly not short on confidence, saying he is out to emulate Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski. "I admire Lewandowski and I want to reach his level," Pepi said shortly after making his Augsburg debut.
Watch: Learn why Pepi chose Augsburg
Country: Iran (60 caps/39 goals)
From: Zenit St Petersburg
To: Bayer Leverkusen
Initially announced as a signing for summer 2022, Azmoun has instead arrived early to boost Leverkusen's chances of securing a top-four finish. The Iranian's switch should do just that, since he has moved to Germany at the peak of his powers and with plenty of successful experiences to draw on. The tricky attacker has spent the bulk of his career in Russia, winning three league titles while playing off giant Russian frontman Artem Dzyuba. The Russian league's top goalscorer in 2019/20 and Player of the Year for 2020/21, Azmoun played at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has helped Iran qualify for this year's edition too. Leverkusen board member Rudi Völler - who knows a thing or two about the subject as a former international - says the latest signing will add more than just goals. "Sardar Azmoun also sets up a lot of goals and is an outstanding fit for Die Werkself as a player who combines well with others."
Country: Germany (14 caps/four goals)
From: Union Berlin
Kruse's surprise return to Wolfsburg was announced late in the transfer window but Union still had just enough time to sign Sven Michel from Paderborn as a replacement. Kruse left his old club in an excellent position, and will now hope to haul the Wolves out of trouble. Jonas Wind has also joined - while Wout Weghorst departed for Burnley - but much of the focus will be on how veteran attacker Kruse will fare. The 33-year-old got six league goals and eight assists during a previous one-season spell with Wolfsburg in 2015/16, before grabbing sixteen goals in 38 Bundesliga games across eighteen months with Union. The ex-Germany international scored five goals and made four more for his old club this season - including two in each category in his final four games for the club. That means he could well provide the quality and street smarts in attack that Wolfsburg need to start climbing back up the table. For his part, the former Werder Bremen attacker says he has an "open chapter" at Wolfsburg that needs to be written to its end.
Watch: Kruse struck in his last game for Union
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