The Ultimate Season Review
To wrap up our final issue of the regular season, The German Football Weekly has invited various experts to detail the 60th Bundesliga season in all its entirety
There is just one matchday of the 2022/23 Bundesliga season to go, yet there is still absolutely everything to play for at either end of the table. Just one win separates Dortmund from becoming Bundesliga champions and ending Bayern’s decade of dominance, but a single slip-up could see Der Rekordmeister creep back into top spot and lift the Meisterschale once more.
RB Leipzig confirmed their place in the Champions League with a victory over Bayern last weekend, but for Union and Freiburg, it will go right down to the wire. Just 4 goals separate the two, with Freiburg needing a massive goalscoring performance to turn the tide if Union win their fixture at home to Werder Bremen.
Frankfurt, Wolfsburg, and Leverkusen are all still in tight competition for Europa and Conference League spots, but further down the table is where the true excitement lies. TSG Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen confirmed their survival last week, but 4 other clubs still need a result to not end up facing relegation alongside Hertha Berlin. The absolute worst-case scenario for FC Augsburg will be the relegation play-off, but for VfB Stuttgart, VfL Bochum, and Schalke 04, anything from direct relegation to automatic safety is still a possibility.
With all that said, let us use the final newsletter of the 2022/23 regular season to look back on what has been an enthralling campaign in both the first & second tiers of German football. With the help of Matt (Hertha Berlin fan & host of the Talking Fußball Direct Podcast), Jake ( Un(biased) 1. FC Köln fan & host of the 50 plus Döner German Soccer show on Twitch), and Neel (European football aficionado & frequent German Football Weekly content creator) we tackle the highs and lows of what has been a truly one-of-a-kind German football campaign.
The Player of the Season Was…
I think this is a pretty straightforward one: Jude Bellingham. At this point, everyone knows how good he is, but, if you take a step back, it is still crazy to think that a teenager can present himself as so well-rounded and mature while already playing for one of the best clubs on the planet. His importance to Dortmund’s title charge cannot be overstated as he has been a lynchpin in midfield. He keeps the game ticking over while also chipping in with some crucial goals. Regardless of how the title race pans out on this final matchday, he has to be the player of the season.
When I think of Player of the Season, I am immediately drawn to someone who has been consistent throughout the entire season.
As obvious as that sounds, Jeremie Frimpong has been consistent in a way that I think a lot of nominations haven’t been. He’s had 9 goals and 11 assists as a phenomenal right midfielder/right-back. He was great under the failed Seaone experiment, and absolutely took off when Alonso became manager. He is exceptional at creating opportunities for Diaby, Wirtz, and the countless other attacking gems in the Leverkusen outfit.
His offensive abilities remain the highlight, however, he also has the pace and positioning to provide a decent figure in defense. It’s an incredibly hard pick to choose just one good player this season, but with him being such a big part of the amazing rise through the standings Leverkusen have had, he deserves that distinction!
It’s probably never been harder to select a player of the season in the Bundesliga.
Two elite center forwards departed in the summer, and there is no longer one team dominating the division to narrow down the talent pool. In fact, so competitive has the league been this season, that my player of the season could quite easily end up not even qualifying for European football next season.
Randal Kolo-Muani - one of the undisputed signings of the season - has been a revelation for Eintracht Frankfurt since arriving from FC Nantes. Even as Frankfurt’s performances have dropped in the new year, the club’s chief creator and goalscorer has remained at his dynamic best.
With 14 goals and 13 assists Kolo-Muani is the undisputed top scorer in the German topflight, and almost 50% of Frankfurt’s goals this season have directly involved the sought-after center forward.
It would be hard to argue that Sebastian Haller was the best player in the Bundesliga this season - with only 18 appearances and nine goals, there are many other players who were more productive. But when you take into account the bigger picture, I think his is the story of the season.
Haller, who missed everything prior to the World Cup break while receiving treatment for testicular cancer, came back to a BVB team in sixth place and nine points out of the top spot. Dortmund’s turnaround was a team effort, but Haller’s goals were critical in helping a club known for inconsistency put together a second half for the ages that might just earn them the Bundesliga trophy. You can’t craft a better story of perseverance and rebirth.
The Biggest Flop Was…
I wouldn’t say I was surprised by Hertha Berlin’s season - and I don’t think anyone who has been following them for the last few years was - but they really have been a spectacular flop. Their imminent relegation has been coming for a long time, but in spite of all the warning signs (including the play-off last season), they simply did not get their act together.
Perhaps as a silver lining, if there ever was a good time for the ‘big city club’ to go down to the 2. Bundesliga, this is probably it. The league does not seem as tight at the top as it has been for the last few years, so they have a great opportunity to bounce right back up.
I think a lot of people saw Borussia Mönchengladbach’s terrible campaign coming, but that really doesn’t make how they did this season any less awful.
This squad had way too much talent to be playing the way they played this year, and with the uncertainty surrounding the contract situation at the club, this was a great year to start building a foundation to put themselves in the best possible situation for the upcoming campaign.
Instead, they wasted another terrific year from Marcus Thuram and Jonas Hofmann, winning only 1 road game all year to finish well outside the top-half.
Florian Neuhaus took 3000 steps backwards, Marvin Friedrich was on the team but no one ever saw him, and it is all only made worse by Daniel Farke now more than likely getting fired. Roland Virkus (sporting director) has so much work to do through so much uncertainty to get this club even close to where it looked like they could have gone 2 years ago. It’ll be interesting to see what they do over the summer, but this season was incredibly rough and is definitely going to make it harder for them to put it all back together again.
It was perhaps a bold decision to predict TSG Hoffenheim to qualify for the UEFA Conference league in my pre-season predictions, however all in all, I was fully convinced by the impressive off-season activity.
André Breitenreiter was an experienced managerial appointment who had just achieved historic success in Switzerland, while on the pitch, the free signing of Grischa Prömel even made it to my first choice for the best deal of the summer window.
That the ex-Union midfielder has missed so much of the season through injury is perhaps one reason for Hoffenheim’s dramatic fall, but that alone can’t describe how a club over-flowing with individual talent only ensured their top-flight survival on the penultimate matchday.
The appointment of Pellegrino Matarazzo and a return to a semblance of form from Andrej Kramarić have given Hoffenheim a significant boost in recent weeks, but all in all, it is a season to forget.
Thank god for the DFB Pokal final and the chance it offers to Eintracht Frankfurt to win some silverware, because the Eagles’ Rückrunde collapse has been a doozy.
After a rampant charge through the Champions League group stage and a climb up the Bundesliga table all the way to second on Match Day 16, Frankfurt have been a minor disaster since. With just 16 points in the second half of the season, they’ve been playing roughly as well as Augsburg, Bochum, Stuttgart, and Hoffenheim - all relegation candidates. The slide (and a few public outbursts it engendered) cost coach Oliver Glasner his job - an unthinkable outcome just a few months ago.
The Biggest Overperformance Came From…
I know they were there or thereabouts last season, but I did not expect 1. FC Heidenheim to do so well this season. They have suffered the fewest defeats in the league, and currently sit in second place. They have already secured a spot in the top three and, barring a complete collapse, should win direct promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in club history. It will complete a monumental, yet gradual, rise from the fifth tier of German football at the turn of the century to the absolute top.
Heidenheim are truly a club that captures what German football is all about. They have stuck with manager Franck Schmidt since 2007, so it should be great to see them in the big league next season. Bundesliga defenses beware, Tim Kleindienst is coming for you!
Jeff Chabot was borderline unplayable at the beginning of the season. He wrestled with an injury and was benched in almost all the other fixtures he was fit for. The 2 games in which the Köln centerback did appear were pretty awful and error-prone.
But then, he took off in the new year. Not only has he started every game since the World Cup, but he’s been an absolute wall for Köln’s backline. His performance against Bayern sticks out to me the most; he genuinely looked like he could stop Bayern’s attack if he was battling alone.
If he keeps maintaining this level, at 25 years old, Cologne is going to have another great player that’s been turned into a force by Steffan Baumgart.
I not only think that Janis Blaswich has been the biggest overperformance in this year’s Bundesliga, but the German goalkeeper’s meteoric rise is also one of the biggest stories lost to audiences outside of Germany.
12 months ago, the 32-year-old goalkeeper saw himself relegated to the second tier of Dutch football with Heracles Almelo, entering free agency in the summer uncertain if he would even find a club to continue his career at.
Fast forward to today and he is first-choice at RB Leipzig. He has won a Champions League fixture in the Santiago Bernabéu, beaten FC Bayern in the Allianz Arena, and qualified for the DFB Pokal final.
Since first choice Péter Gulácsi sustained a season-ending knee injury in October, Blaswich has picked up the slack in goal. The German keeper has kept 7 clean sheets in 25 Bundesliga matches, while across 4 starts in the DFB Pokal, he has only conceded 1 goal.
It will be an interesting conundrum when Gulácsi returns to full fitness in the summer. RB Leipzig will have a tough task deciding which of these two stellar keepers will enter the 2023/24 campaign as the first choice.
Union Berlin is a team that for reasons of local antipathy I am barred from having actual warm feelings toward - I do, however, allow myself envy. A lot of it. I know it’s been a few years in the making, but if this side makes the UEFA Champions league with the budget they have, a lot of people in football need to drop everything and run their playbook as closely as they can. They seem to change out their team every summer - selling many of their best players in the process - and still they keep rising. A lot has been said about the Irons, already, and a lot more will need to be said if they sew things up on Saturday. With apologies to Jürgen Klinsmann, it’s almost like they’re the Most Exciting Football Project in Europe.
The Bundesliga Team of the Season Was…
* Maximum of 2 players from one club
The moment of the Bundesliga Season was…
As someone who, like every other neutral, really wants to see Bayern’s dominance end, this wasn’t necessarily the best moment of the season. However, the late drama between Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen was quite something.
In the summer I did think Bayern might slip up a bit this year, but at least early in the season, Dortmund were quick to remind me of their own faltering nature as they threw away a two-goal lead in the 89th minute against Bremen and lost 2-3.
It’s not the only late capitulation they’ve had this season (the recent draw with Stuttgart springs to mind), and if they lose the title, we might look back at this weakness being the leading cause.
My future brain wants this to be Jonas Hector beating Bayern Munich in his last game ever, but since we have deadlines to meet, it’s a tie for me between Nils Petersen’s last goal in Freiburg and Haller’s entire season with Dortmund.
Nils Petersen coming off the bench and scoring for Freiburg is a very familiar sentence for a lot of Bundesliga teams, but there was not a dry eye in the arena when he scored late last Friday against Wolfsburg. He means a lot to the club, and it's great that he got to go out on a high.
For Haller, as someone who also went through cancer, it's something you never forget and can affect you for the rest of your life. Haller came back from such a serious situation and immediately made an impact. He has only gotten better as the season went on.
It’s a great story that he was able to come back so quickly and play at such a high level.
I want to shout out Mathew Burt at this stage as well - the engine behind Bundesliga Fanatic who has provided us great English Bundesliga content through a similar situation.
Perhaps it is recency bias clouding my judgment, but there probably wasn’t a more picturesque moment in this season’s Bundesliga than watching Nils Petersen give his professional farewell in the most fitting way possible.
The Bundesliga’s record substitute goalscorer did what he knows best last Friday, scoring off the bench in front of Freiburg’s home crowd to further cement his status as the league’s all-time great “super sub”.
With 13 substitute goals more than the league’s next best Claudio Pizarro, it’s hard to see anyone replicating the former German international’s unique ability to impact late in a fixture.
While I run the risk of jinxing things ahead of the last match day, watching FC Bayern München commit multiple acts of self-sabotage on the way to blowing their chances at winning silverware in any of the three major competitions they had such high hopes for as recently as February has been a joyous experience.
It’s been hard to watch the club win 10 league titles in a row, but hard to fault them for it as they’ve so often made good decisions off the pitch and played attractive football on it. It’s hard to pass up the chance to hire Thomas Tuchel, but it seemed rash and ruthless even for Bayern’s standards when they gave Julian Nagelsmann the boot mid-season. The change did nothing to improve things and culminated in Bayern’s recent second-half collapse at home to Leipzig that let anybody watching know that this team was nobody’s Meister, much less ready to extend their Rekord.
The Best Moment outside of the Bundesliga was…
This is a recent one: Turbine Potsdam’s relegation from the Frauen Bundesliga after a 1-5 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. The 6-time champions and two-time UWCL holders had a really bad summer last year, but even then, no one could have envisioned just how poorly their season has gone.
After drawing their season opener, they lost every single game until March, when a run of a draw and two wins sparked some hope of a great escape. That was quickly killed, and they are mathematically relegated now. On a wider level, the fact that an independent club has been relegated in such a manner while RB Leipzig will take their place after emphatically winning the 2. Bundesliga might be emblematic of the direction in which the growth of women’s football is headed, not just in Germany but across Europe.
It is easily the windfall the Women’s Euro Cup gave to the Frauen Bundesliga. Although Germany didn’t win the whole thing, it was a gigantic moment for women’s soccer in the country.
Moments like Cologne playing at Rheinenergiestadion, and Bremen playing to a near sold-out crowd, meant that this year people really realized not only the competitive level of the Frauen Bundesliga but also that there really is no reason not to support women's soccer.
Sure there were bumps like field mismanagement delaying several games, but this was a really great year in terms of the increased energy and attention that the Frauen Bundesliga has always deserved.
In an era where the Bundesliga is becoming increasingly populated with up-start projects and commercial investors, having a truly historic club like FC Kaiserslautern return to the second Bundesliga was one of my biggest storylines to watch out for ahead of the campaign.
While I was confident that their combative approach would be enough to sustain second-tier status, even I was baffled when, after more than half the season gone, Die Roten Teufel were within 1-point of the promotion playoff.
Ultimately, Dirk Schuster’s side neither had the individual quality nor the attacking depth to sustain a true promotion push, however, the fact that Kaiserslautern didn’t spend a single day outside of the top half of the table is a truly positive sign for a fanbase which has suffered tremendous heartache over the past decade.
Fans of Germany’s men’s national team won’t remember the 2022 World Cup particularly fondly, but the final match day in Group E will be hard to forget for all its late twists and turns. The permutations of which two teams out of Japan, Spain, Costa Rica, and Germany would advance (and in what order) seemed to change minute by minute in a frenetic phase in the second half of two games running in parallel. Germany ended up the odd team out when they couldn’t find a late goal to draw level with Japan, but the sudden shifts in fortunes made for high drama.
The One Word to Describe the Bundesliga Season is…
Close - This season has been so close and entertaining wherever you look in the table. We’ve had the closest title race in recent memory, the race for the top four and other European spots has also been very exciting, and the relegation battle has been incredible with twists and turns every week. Regardless of how it all ends, this season has been absolutely brilliant from an entertainment point of view, so I’ll take Bayern winning the league ten more times if it means getting seasons like this.
Incredible - This has been one of the most exciting seasons that I can remember. From Union Berlin being in the top 4 all season, the absolute mess of the relegation fight, the close competition for European spots, the comeback of Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, Freiburg continuing their increasing dominance in the league, Hertha always being a source of insanity, Bayern’s situation with Nagelsmann, the super competitive Golden Boot race this year, the list just goes on and on!
Competitive - It’s impossible to choose anything different, largely because “competitiveness” is an extremely refreshing sight for a division that has largely been dominated by one side for the past decade. While it’s nothing new for the relegation battle to go down to the wire, the fact that the title race can still be decided on the final matchday is an almost unheard-of sight since I started following the Bundesliga in the late 2000s.
In fact, one needs to go back to the very first Bundesliga season in my memory - Felix Magath’s 2009 Wolfsburg title - to find the last season where the Meisterschale was still up-for-debate on game week 34!
Painful - Neel addressed Hertha’s grave underperformance earlier in this newsletter; after three straight close shaves in recent seasons, I too was not shocked to see my club down in the league’s lower reaches.
That didn’t mean, however, that their relegation didn’t hurt. It’s been refreshing to see a tight title race and invigorating to see small, well-run clubs like Freiburg and Union take the Champions League race down to the wire, but for me, this will always be ‘the season Hertha went down.’