Football, soccer, the beautiful game… it’s estimated that more than 250 million people play the sport in some capacity worldwide, but who is doing what, and where, when the 22 players take to the field? From Manuel Neuer to Robert Lewandowski, the German top flight boasts some of the best players in the world in their positions. bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
- The most defensive position in soccerMain job to stop opposition goalsAlso organises the defence and builds play from the backWears gloves, and a different coloured jersey from teammatesOnly player who can use their hands in their 18-yard box (apart from throw-ins!)
Bundesliga archetype: Manuel Neuer
The best goalkeeper in the world, and arguably of all time. Neuer has the shot-stopping ability of anyone who has gone before him, but the term “sweeper-keeper” was effectively invented for the Bayern Munich man, who has revolutionised the position in a 12-year career which has brought six Bundesliga titles, a UEFA Champions League and the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany. On the rare occasions that his club or national team defence is breached, Neuer races off his line to quell the danger. When his team is in possession he is just as valuable, with distribution and technique honed from moonlighting in midfield in training. And for anyone who doubts that the 32-year-old is averse to the traditional nitty-gritty of the position, it’s worth knowing that Neuer has repelled an average of 77 percent of his shots in more than a DECADE in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Neuer and his Bundesliga brethren at their best!
- Lines up either side of the defenceMarks opposition wingersProvides support for the wide midfielder ahead of themMay overlap and send crosses into the opposition boxOften takes throw-ins
Bundesliga archetype: Jonas Hector
Hector may be the most loyal man in football - Germany's first-choice left-back is staying with Cologne next season despite the Billy Goats' relegation to Bundesliga 2. However, it's not for nothing that Joachim Löw has picked him almost without interruption since the November following Die Mannschaft's triumph in Brazil. A full-back who would rather sit back and offer support to the defenders inside him and the midfielder up ahead, Hector's influence at Cologne was palpable last term: in the 20 games he started, Effzeh picked up an average of one point per game; in the 14 without him they only managed an average of 0.6. Not that Hector is uncomfortable further forward, as evidenced by his Goal of the Month winner for May.
Those worried about how Bayern and Germany might replace Philipp Lahm – a paragon in the position – have had those fears allayed by the stunning emergence of Kimmich. Initially a box-to-box midfielder, the former RB Leipzig man was even used at centre-back by Pep Guardiola in the 2015/16 season. Now 23, Kimmich has fused those skill-sets to become arguably the world’s best right-back. Ten assists in the Bundesliga season just gone might have been 18 had his teammates converted the further eight clear-cut chances he created. Goals scored home and away in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals against eventual European champions Real Madrid further confirmed Kimmich’s nascent talent.
That Schalke defender Naldo was a serious candidate for Brazil's World Cup squad underlines just how impressive the 35-year-old was in his 12th Bundesliga season. A centre-forward's worst nightmare, the 6'6" enforcer won 73 percent of his challenges in 2017/18, completed 91 percent of his passes, while his goal-threat at the other end was outstanding. Naldo scored seven times - more than any other Bundesliga defender - including a stunning last-minute header to snatch a 4-4 draw with Revierderby rivals Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 13.
Not so long ago, Vogt was a journeyman central midfielder who had a respectable Bundesliga career with Bochum, Augsburg and Cologne but without setting the world alight. Under the auspices of the Bundesliga's youngest ever coach Julian Nagelsmann, he has been remoulded into the perfect sweeper, though. A top speed of 22 miles per hour make Vogt the perfect man to plug gaps that might emerge in behind more conventional centre-backs when a through-ball or long pass forward from the opposition beats them. Just as effective once in possession, Vogt's 2,474 touches were a league high last term. Little wonder Hoffenheim sealed an automatic Champions League place for the first time in their history.
Somewhere between a stopper and a sweeper, Boateng and club and national teammate Mats Hummels have redefined the central defensive role since approaching their collective peaks around 2010. The quintessential ball-playing centre-backs, Boateng perhaps edges Hummels as the quarter-back, who sometimes masquerades as the stopper when they play together. Boateng's pass completion was a heat-seeking 87 percent in 2017/18 even though he attempted some 192 long balls. He successfully teed up 12 shots on the opposition goal with raking balls from deep, two of which were scored. Tom Brady eat your heart out.
Just when the playing careers of Roy Keane, Edgar Davids and Gennaro Gattuso were beginning to fade from the collective footballing memory, along came Ascacibar. Before defensive midfielders evolved into deep-lying playmakers, they were expected to break up play rather than kick it off, and that’s exactly what the Argentine does for Stuttgart. He may have a tattoo of compatriot Diego Maradona – perhaps the most gifted attacking player of all time – on his leg, but for Ascacibar stopping such players in their tracks is significantly more important. “My dedication and will to win are part of South American culture,” he said on arriving in the Bundesliga from Estudiantes last summer. Those on the wrong side of one of his 285 challenges this term are unlikely to disagree.
Weigl, 22, has become the cornerstone of the Dortmund midfield since bursting onto the scene in 2015. The ease with which he recycles possession belies his tender years, while his passing range is tailor-made for the deep-lying role. And while he might not be the most daunting proposition physically, what he lacks in brawn he more than makes up for in brain. The former 1860 Munich youth player boasts an average pass completion rate of 90 per cent and wins over 60 per cent of his attempted challenges. He also holds the record for most touches in a single Bundesliga game (216) - a best-mark previously held by another esteemed Bundesliga synergist, former Bayern beating heart Xabi Alonso.
Predecessor and successor have passed like ships in the night, but if there's one player capable of filling the shoes of box-to-box supremo Arturo Vidal in the Bayern midfield, it's Goretzka. The 23-year-old has it all: the creativity, the defensive know-how, the engine, the end product - and he's a self-styled leader. He came through at Bochum, before making the step up with Schalke in 2013/14, those gazelle-like bursts driving the Ruhr district club to a runners-up finish in his final season with the club just last term. Likened to Michael Ballack, he is very much the future of Bayern and Germany.
- Provides width in midfieldGives full-backs defensive protectionCompresses play in opponents’ halfMay cross from deeper positions than wingersCombines speed and stamina
Bundesliga archetype: Leon Bailey
Bailey had an electric first full season in Germany, with England said to be exploring the Jamaican’s international eligibility after a campaign in which he scored 12 goals and laid on six assists in all competitions for Leverkusen. Bailey floated in 86 crosses last season, 17 of which led to shots on goal, but his searing pace – 21.6 miles per hour at top speed – meant that those crosses could come from deep before his marker got to him, or from a high and wide attacking position after he had raced past his man. He may not have the accuracy of a David Beckham yet, but his physical advantages mean he might never need it.
“Players like James made us stronger,” lamented Cristiano Ronaldo when the Colombian was allowed to leave Real Madrid for Bayern last summer. The European champions’ loss certainly proved to be the Bavarians’ gain. James moved up a gear, and a position, once Jupp Heynckes succeeded Carlo Ancelotti in October, creating 72 chances – more than any other Bayern player – whilst finding the target seven times himself. James also landed an incredible 74 of his 87 long ball attempts with his wand of a left foot. Such is the nature of a mercurial No.10, words rarely do them justice… so sit back and enjoy:
Watch: All of James' Bundesliga goals and assists to date!
- The widest attacking playerTakes on opposition defendersProvides crosses into the boxMeets crosses from the opposite wingOften the fastest player on the field
Bundesliga archetype: Christian Pulisic
Dortmund endured an up and down campaign, leading the table until Matchday 10, dipping as low as eighth by December, and ending up in fourth. Pulisic nonetheless enjoyed his best season to date at the Signal Iduna Park, chipping in with five goals and six assists in all competitions. The USA failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, meanwhile, and yet Pulisic had a direct hand in 11 goals in CONCACAF qualifying. A leader when the chips are down at the tender age of 19, Pulisic often plays centrally for the USMNT, but is camped out on his favoured right-hand side for Dortmund, where his speed and ball control allow him to beat the opposition left-back on the outside. Only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar attempted more dribbles than Pulisic’s 217 across Europe’s five major leagues (per UEFA coefficient) last season, while his six league assists might have been 42 had his teammates been more clinical with the chances he created.
There is scarcely a sight more iconic then Robben cutting inside from the right and steering a left-footed shot into the far corner of his opponents’ goal. Everyone knows he’s going to do it; nobody knows how to stop it. The Dutch wing wizard was used on the left when breaking through for PSV Eindhoven and the Netherlands as a youngster, with subsequent spells at Chelsea and Real Madrid just as likely to see him stationed on his natural side. Since joining Bayern in 2009 he has made the right wing his own, though, with Robben and fellow inverted winger Franck Ribery – collectively known as Robbery – stealing the show with 34 trophies between them. The fastest player in the world when clocked at just under 23 miles per hour at the 2014 World Cup, that Robben may have lost a yard barely matters. On the left, he might fly past fewer opponents than in the days of yore. On the right, ball control, trickery, and a dip of the shoulder take on greater importance. And he’ll have those in his armoury for some time yet.
Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 13 July 2014, 5.43pm local time: “Show the world you are better than Messi and decide the World Cup” – Germany coach Joachim Löw to a 22-year-old Mario Götze…
Maracana, Rio, 13 July 2014, 6.08pm local time: Götze, having replaced Miroslav Klose, steers home Andre Schürrle’s cross with an exquisite volley to lift Die Mannschaft to a fourth World Cup at Argentina’s expense.
The way Götze ghosted in between Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay made him impossible to pick up. The centre-backs knew who was marking Klose, a natural striker, and when, all game. When Götze came on, he drifted between the lines of Argentina’s defence and midfield. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. In a few short seconds, Argentina were floored.
Recent seasons have been less kind to the Dortmund man, but after recovering from metabolic troubles he still managed 19 league starts for Die Schwarzgelben in 2017/18, six of them wins. A full return to form and fitness is hotly anticipated - on his day, nobody is capable of a sucker punch quite like Götze is.
To describe Müller as an archetype of any position might seem, on initial inspection, to be doing him down. The self-monikered Raumdeuter, Müller’s style has been leaving pundits – and indeed defenders – perplexed for years. However, his coaches and teammates know better. Of the above list, it is only technical skill that the Bayern icon allegedly lacks. And even then, Müller’s awkward gait belies an ability to control the ball that few can match. No ordinary player could bag 10 goals across two World Cups, while 104 Bundesliga strikes and 115 assists tell their own story.
A reference in his position, Lewandowski amassed a barely fathomable haul of 58 goals in all competitions for Bayern and Poland in 2017/18, the latter of which he captains. Only current Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, with 59, exceeded Lewy’s tally. The Portuguese is a converted winger, though, and holding up the ball for others is of little concern to him. Winner of the Torjägerkanone as the Bundesliga's top scorer in three of the last five seasons, Lewandowski scored every 75 minutes he played in 2017/18, and remains one of the most feared strikers in the world.
Watch: What makes Lewandowski so special?