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Problem Positions: Where Does Each Bundesliga Club Need to Strengthen this Summer?
The summer transfer window is now officially open. We take every single Bundesliga club under the lens, identifying the one problem position they need to address over the next weeks.
The summer transfer window is now officially open. It is one of the most exciting times of the year, with the business done over the next two months providing the backbone for a season-ending in success or despair. For today’s newsletter, we take every single Bundesliga club under the lens, identifying the one problem position they need to address over the next weeks.
There are truly two positions that take priority for FC Bayern this summer. The first, and arguably more obvious, comes at center-forward. The Bavarians have yet to compensate for the exit of Robert Lewandowski.
Perhaps less obvious is FC Bayern’s need for a truly dominant defensive midfielder. It’s become all too clear last season that the combination of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka needs refreshing to allow Bayern - and the German national team for that matter - to compete for major continental accolades.
Kimmich is developing into more of a box-to-box midfielder as he enters the prime of his career, leaving Der Rekordmeister without the true defensive destroyer to maintain structure and provide a sense of security ahead of the backline.`
Though Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid has sent over €100m into Borussia Dortmund’s accounts, replacing the generational English talent remains a difficult task. It is an all-encompassing box-to-box midfielder who Dortmund must find this summer, and their first solution in Felix Nmecha is far from ideal in our eyes.
Leaving the off-field issues to one side - a difficult task in its own right - Nmecha simply hasn’t performed at the level to warrant the €30m fee which Dortmund ended up spending for his services.
Despite turning 23 in October, Nmecha has only played one season of routine senior football, impressing irregularly for a Wolfsburg side that relied on other more consistent stars in key phases of the bygone campaign.
A return of 3 goals and 6 assists was by no means poor for the former Manchester City academy graduate, but it does send alarm bells ringing that almost 70% of this output came within a 6-game stretch between matchday 11 and 16. Following the World Cup intermission, Nmecha only contributed to 4 Wolfsburg goals in 17 appearances.
While it is impossible for Dortmund to find a like-for-like replacement to fill the cavernous hole left by Bellingham, a more impressive profile than Nmecha could have been, and still needs to be, identified for BVB to pose a threat to Bayern next season.
RB Leipzig have had to contend with big departures this off-season (Dominik Szoboszlai, Konrad Laimer, Christopher Nkunku, and possibly Joško Gvardiol), but as so often, they have been proactive in finding replacements and using the Salzburg pipeline to their advantage.
Nevertheless, one big question mark remains where the goals will come from without Christopher Nkunku leading the line. The Chelsea-bound forward started only 20 league matches last season, yet ended the campaign with a league-high 16 goals; 5 more than any other player in RB’s squad.
Bar Patrik Schick, a true out-and-out center-forward has never really found a footing in Leipzig’s uniquely fast-paced style, so another false nine in the mold of Nkunku should be exactly what Leipzig look to acquire in the summer window.
With the Champions League on the horizon, Union Berlin will need to bolster the squad if they hope to continue to defy the odds and compete across 3 competitions. The promise of European football has allowed Urs Fischer to keep the spine of his side intact. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that need to be addressed in the upcoming window. The almost-signing of 5-time Champions League winner Isco in January offers a good basis for where we think Die Eiserne can still strengthen this summer.
Since Max Kruse’s departure, Union have been desperately lacking a point of creativity in midfield to unlock defenses from open play. As more Bundesliga sides begin to take note of Union’s counter-attacking prowess and dropping deeper out of possession, the need for creative solutions in possession will be all the more vital.
Finding a creative midfielder who combines the unique technical attributes with the work rate and spirit required of a Urs Fischer midfielder could prove crucial in Union’s ability to smash expectations for yet another season.
Though Die Breisgauer ultimately missed out on Champions League football on the final matchday, the fact that the Europa-Park Stadion will be entertaining European football for a second consecutive season means Freiburg are in an optimal position to attract big talent.
This roster doesn’t need much in the form of depth, making the need for perhaps one marquee signing in an attacking position a potential priority for this summer. Similarly to Union, an attacking midfielder with creative qualities could provide this squad an additional boost in tight fixtures. At present, almost all of Freiburg’s creativity comes from wide positions or from set pieces; none of Die Breisgauer’s central midfielders registered more than 3 direct goal contributions last season.
Xabi Alonso will be looking to imprint his vision onto the Leverkusen squad in his first major window as Bayer boss. An impressive Ruckründe saw Leverkusen scrape into European football, but the loss of Champions League football could see some of the biggest talents still leave the Bay-Arena this month. Any big business should be put off until the futures of Moussa Diaby, Jeremie Frimpong, and Edmond Tapsoba are decided.
Should all 3 stay, perhaps Leverkusen look towards the goalkeeper position as an area to address. Lukas Hradecky looked far from his best last campaign, and at 33 years old, the Finnish shot-stopper could be fazed out for a more impressive talent with experience in a minor European league.
Eintracht Frankfurt have aggressively gone about their business in the early portion of the summer. Two young and talented South American centerbacks have been signed to replace the free departures of Almamy Touré and Evan Ndicka, while Frankfurt have arguably made the league’s largest coup with Ellyes Skhiri announced earlier this week.
With that said, one position which could still use long-term improvement is left-back. Christopher Lenz and Philipp Max are 28 and 29 respectively, leaving space for a developmental prospect to come into the squad. With Lenz’s contract set to expire next summer, Frankfurt could gain a lot from bedding in a foreign fullback talent over the next 8-12 months, before providing a larger first-team role once Lenz departs for free next summer.
There was a lot to like about Niko Kovač’s first season in Wolfsburg. The Croatian manager took a relatively young side to 9th place, missing out on the Europa League by only 1 point. With 12 clean sheets (the joint third-highest total in the 2022/23 season) Wolfsburg’s defense reigned supreme. Unfortunately, the same could not always be said for their attack.
With only 6 goals, Danish international Jonas Wind ended the campaign as the club’s top scorer. No other Bundesliga side’s top-scorer registered fewer goals. To reach even loftier heights next season, Wolfsburg may look to try their hand at getting a truly elite goalscorer in the summer window.
Mainz, like so many clubs on the list, will see their summer business largely dictated by outgoing departures. With at least one of Leandro Barreiro and Anton Stach set to depart the MEWA Arena this month, it is likely that Mainz will look at targeting a central midfielder this window.
However, for the time being, both are still part of the first team squad, meaning that attention could turn to another position - leftback. Aarón Martín saw his contract run out, and loan returnee Anderson Lucoqui is not in the first-team plans, meaning that Anthony Caci remains the only recognized leftback in the squad.
Borussia M’gladbach are bracing for a difficult season ahead. Already, Die Fohlen have lost countless stars whose departures have generated little in the way of profits. All across the pitch, there are fires that need to be put out, but in no area are there greater concerns than in the final third.
The loss of Jonas Hofmann, Lars Stindl, and Marcus Thuram has seen major attacking output leave the club for next to nothing. In fact, 39 of Gladbach’s 52 Bundesliga goals last season were scored by players who are no longer at the club. Not only do the Fohlen need an attacking addition, but they need 2 or 3 to even stand a chance of reaching the security of a mid-table finish.
After much back and forth, FC Köln look to have avoided the repercussions of the FIFA ruling against their illegal transfer of a U19 prospect last summer. That means that the West-German outfit are able to take an active stance in the summer window. It is welcome news for a club that clearly needs activity given high-caliber departures all across the pitch.
Steps have been taken to provide like-for-like replacements for Jonas Hector and Ellyes Skhiri, but perhaps less obvious is the still major need for an additional rightback. Having not renewed the contract of Kingsley Schindler, 28-year-old Benno Schmitz is now the only recognized rightback in the first-team squad. His position was already questioned throughout last season, so Köln would do well to not only strengthen in depth but also provide high-level competition.
After a problematic season that nearly ended in relegation, Hoffenheim will be looking for a more serene mid-table finish this time around. To do so, Die Kraichgauer need to strengthen in various positions. Leftback is arguably top of that list.
Angeliño’s salary demands look unattainable without European football, and the Spaniard will return to parent club RB Leipzig for the time being. Where he will be playing on the first of September remains to be seen, but it doesn’t look like Hoffenheim will be that destination.
Youngster Marco John (21) is returning from a successful loan spell in the 2nd Bundesliga with Greuther Fürth, but nevertheless, it’s hard to consider him ready to play an entire Bundesliga campaign without any serious competition.
Werder Bremen have taken a proactive role in the early stages of the transfer window, making two excellent free acquisitions in the form of Naby Keïta and Dawid Kownacki. A lot of the central positions have been executed on, but Bremen could still use some alternative threats in wide positions.
Ole Werner is unlikely to switch away from his favored 3-5-2, but there is nevertheless a conversation to be had for a true pacy and athletic winger to bolster Bremen’s attacking threat from a substitute role. There is probably no Bundesliga side with less speed and dynamism across the pitch, and Bremen could do well in supplementing the roster with this trait over the next 2 months.
VfL Bochum have already made one addition in the centerback position, but given how poor the defense was last season - a league-high 72 goals conceded - Thomas Letsch should be looking for a complete overhaul to stay in the Bundesliga once more.
Furthermore, a left-footed centerback should be the priority as the other 5 centerbacks in Bochum’s squad are all right-footed. A viable solution already being discussed would be Maxim Leitsch. The 25-year-old left-footed centerback was immense for Bochum in their first campaign back in the Bundesliga, but has struggled with injuries and form since moving to Mainz last July. A return to the Stadion an der Castroper Straße could be a win-win for all parties.
With 37 players, FC Augsburg have the largest squad amongst any of the clubs in the Bundesliga. Die Függerstädter have done their business early, and are well placed for the upcoming campaign. There are still some necessary departures that need to take place, but Enrico Maaßen has a strong core to build on for his second full season in the topflight.
As for problem positions, if one had to choose there is still some possible development to be had on the right wing. The underwhelming, oft-injured and likely departing, Noah Joel Sarenren Bazee is the only recognized right winger in the squad, and he could be replaced with another incoming arrival in the coming weeks.
For the second season in a row, VfB Stuttgart have scraped Bundesliga survival by the skin of their teeth. It’s an excellent opportunity to rebuild the squad from the top down, focusing on one of the most problematic positions; Goalkeeper.
Last season Stuttgart had considerable competition for the number one spot, with Florian Müller and Fabian Bredlow both playing 15+ games in the Bundesliga. Müller has now departed for the vacancy in Freiburg, however, there should be no intention to begin the season with the underwhelming Bredlow between the goalposts. A rumored move for Alexander Nübel would be an excellent piece of business from Die Schwaben.
1. FC Heidenheim
1. FC Heidenheim will be approaching their first-ever season in the Bundesliga as complete outsiders. Nevertheless, to strengthen their hopes of surviving the notoriously difficult first season, smart recruitment is needed in central midfield.
Heidenheim are absolutely spoiled for choice at DM, with 5 recognized defensive midfielders, but as the advanced option to link defense and attack, the club from Baden-Württemberg are completely reliant on the tandem of Jan Schöppner and Kevin Sessa.
To boost their chances, Heidenheim should look for an experienced midfielder with Bundesliga experience. Only 3 players in the squad have made over 10 matches in the Bundesliga, while all combined, Heidenheim does not even crack the 100-appearance mark. This added experience in a position that needs addressing could prove crucial in guiding Heidenheim through a historic topflight campaign.
SV Darmstadt 98
Despite losing the title on the final matchday, Darmstadt were by far the most consistent side in the 22/23 Zweite Bundesliga season. Die Lilien spent 22 matchdays on top of the table and went on a historic 21-game unbeaten streak between July and February.
Darmstadt’s defense reigned supreme - conceding the fewest goals of any 2nd. Bundesliga club since Arminia Bielefeld in 2020 - , consistently covering up for an average attack. Philipp Tietz had a solid return of 12 goals, but behind him, no Darmstadt player even managed more than 7.
With Tietz having reportedly agreed personal terms for a move to FC Augsburg, the need for a truly competitive center-forward is an absolute must for Darmstadt to stand a chance of surviving in the topflight.