Hertha Berlin midfielder Valentino Lazaro saw off competition from Cologne's Vincent Koziello and Mainz's Florian Müller to win the Bundesliga Rookie Award by Tag Heuer for the month of March.
Get the lowdown on the candidates below...
Valentino Lazaro(Hertha Berlin)
Hertha Berlin's goal drought spanned 447 minutes before Valentino Lazaro found the net in Hamburg. The Austrian headed in Marvin Plattenhardt's pinpoint cross to level the score at 1-1, paving the way for his side to go on and win 2-1. The fact that it was Lazaro who ended the Old Lady's barren spell was no great surprise: the 21-year-old, who moved to the German capital from Salzburg at the start of the season, was directly involved in six of Hertha's last eight goals (scoring twice, with four assists). In total he has laid on five goals this term – more than any of his team-mates – and the attacking midfielder's pace and energy make him an essential element in the team's forward play.
Watch: Lazaro - Rookie nominee
It is safe to say, then, that the youngster's move to the Bundesliga has certainly paid off, even if he struggled at first due to an ankle complaint. "Despite my injury it was important for me to make the move to Germany," said Lazaro, who made his Salzburg debut at the tender age of 16 and earned his first international cap for Austria at 18. "At the start I needed some time to adapt because every mistake is punished in the Bundesliga." The technically gifted right-footer is now a fixture in the Hertha line-up, thanks in part to his versatility: Lazaro is comfortable on either wing or as a more central playmaker. He has been used in a variety of attacking positions since Matchday 16 and has earned the trust of head coach Pal Dardai: "I'm happy we have him. Valentino's a winner. He's a good guy and has got his own opinion."
He may only stand at 5'6" (168 cm), but what Vincent Koziello lacks in height he more than makes up for with towering displays in Cologne's midfield. The 22-year-old only joined the Billy Goats during the winter break from OGC Nice but he has already established himself as a pillar of Stefan Ruthenbeck's side. The Frenchman's breakthrough came in March, starting his first Bundesliga game in a 2-1 win away to RB Leipzig and netting his first goal in that fixture to level the score at 1-1. Koziello is a hard worker (averaging 7.89 miles per game), at ease in possession (93 per cent pass completion) and robust in the tackle (wining 56 per cent of all duels), making it no surprise that Cologne's upturn in form and results have coincided with his presence in the side. "I've never been the biggest player so I've had to find other ways to establish myself," said the France Under-21 international, who can play both in defensive and attacking midfield. "I have to be more alert, see things further in advance and be more intelligent."
Watch: Koziello - Rookie nominee
Koziello demonstrated his fearlessness in the face of more physical opponents in Cologne's recent derby against Bayer Leverkusen. On one occasion he thundered into a tackle with Jonathan Tah – a defender seemingly twice Koziello's size - setting the tone for his team-mates in a hard-fought match. And while the Bundesliga is new territory for the pint-sized terrier, there are nevertheless some familiar faces for him in Germany: VfB Stuttgart's Benjamin Pavard and Eintracht Frankfurt's Sebastien Haller are former team-mates from the France youth set-up. Yet the question remains as to why he chose to join a team threatened by relegation. "I wanted to go to a club where I was really needed," Koziello explained. "Cologne's current situation presents a big challenge for me. I want to help us stay in the Bundesliga." Thanks to his outstanding displays, the Billy Goats might just make it.
Florian Müller could scarcely have dreamed up a better Bundesliga debut for himself. Injuries to René Adler and Robin Zentner thrust the 20-year-old goalkeeper into the first team in Mainz's crucial relegation six-pointer in Hamburg. He proved equal to the task, almost single-handedly salvaging a 0-0 draw by saving all six shots on his goal – including Filip Kostic's penalty. It was the first time since August 2015 that a goalkeeper kept out a spot-kick on his Bundesliga debut. Mainz's current plight in the thick of a relegation battle does not seem to faze the custodian either. "I'm a laid-back kind of guy," he said after his heroics in Hamburg.
Watch: Müller - Rookie nominee
The German youth international, who joined Mainz from 1. FC Saarbrücken at the age of 15, subsequently kept his place in the side and took to the field against Schalke and in the Rhine-Main derby away to Eintracht Frankfurt. "Florian's been exceptional," said Mainz head coach Sandro Schwarz of his young shot-stopper's first top-flight outings. "He's a hugely talented goalkeeper. We always knew he'd make it into the professional game." Indeed, the 6'3" (192cm) 'keeper is held in such high regard that the club recently extended his contract until 2022. Given his performances in his first three outings, it is easy to see why. Müller saved 71 per cent of all shots on his goal, a tally in line with the Bundesliga average – and not at all bad for a rookie. Furthermore, he has kept out 75 per cent of all the opposition's clear-cut chances. Nobody else in his position comes close to matching that number in the Bundesliga and to put it into context, Sven Ulreich's quota at Bayern Munich is 46 per cent.