The seventeenth matchday in the Bundesliga last week signalled the end of the Hinrunde (first-half of season) and, after the DFB-Pokal third round in mid-week, the winter break in German football has commenced.
This season has already thrown up some surprises with the demise of FC Koeln – who won their first league game on the final matchday – to the erratic form of Borussia Dortmund and the resurgence of Bayer Leverkusen.
There has been no shortage of excellent players having entertained millions, but while the Lewandowskis and Thiagos will take the plaudits, many others have put in great memorable shifts, too.
7. Salif Sane – Hannover 96
Salif Sane has been a loyal servant to Hannover since joining in 2013. After the club were relegated in 2016, the Frenchman helped seal promotion at the first try.
Since then, die Roten have done well to end the year in a mid-table finish with Sane playing all but one game. The centre-back makes full use of his towering 6ft4 height to dominate in the air, while an eye for blocking passing lanes, averaging 2.6 interceptions per match.
Salif has a brother also playing in the Bundesliga in Lamine Sane of Werder Bremen.
6. Philipp Max – FC Augsburg
Not to be confused with Maximilian Philipp of Borussia Dortmund, Philipp Max has been one of the main reasons Augsburg have surprised many this campaign.
The left-back has impressed defensively, but excelled going forward, notching nine assists and a single goal. Die Fuggerstaedter were tipped to finally face the drop, but the silver Olympic medallist’s key passes and attacking prowess may be a catalyst for change in pushing Augsburg back into the European spots.
Little wonder the defender has been linked with Manchester City.
5. Thomas Delaney – Werder Bremen
Arriving almost a year ago, Thomas Delaney has perhaps had the biggest influence on a struggling Werder Bremen side mired in constant relegation worries. The Dane has kept die Gruen-Weissen together as they finally look to be turning a corner after a long winless run.
Delaney has averaged 2.9 tackles in all of Bremen’s league matches this season, and, despite Bremen sitting in 16th, the 26-year-old has been a major reason as to why the side have, statistically, the third-best defensive record in the league – weirdly.
4. Alfred Finnbogason – FC Augsburg
Another instrumental player for the lesser-known Bavarian side, Alfred Finnbogason has already bettered his goal tally than his last two seasons in the Bundesliga.
Sitting behind only Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the race for the Torjaegerkanone (top-scorer award), the Iceland international has an immaculate eleven goals and two assists already – having a hand in almost half of Augsburg’s goals.
Moreover, Finnbogason is the only player to have bagged two hat-tricks this season and is finally blossoming at the age of 28.
3. Mark Uth – TSG Hoffenheim
After being largely confined to the bench in Hoffenheim’s sensational top-four finish last season, Mark Uth has been entrusted with more game time, and has not disappointed.
Like Finnbogason, Uth has already bettered previous campaigns in a matter of months. With nine goals to his name, the former Heerenveen striker has helped Hoffenheim in their dose of second season blues.
The 26-year-old has scored some important strikes, too, in picking up points for Julian Nagelsmann’s constantly changing side, including a brace against FC Bayern Muenchen.
2. Leon Bailey – Bayer Leverkusen
After being forced to watch from the bench during the disaster that was last season, Leon Bailey has blossomed into being Bayer Leverkusen’s best player this year.
Featuring in fourteen Bundesliga matches, the Jamaican winger has injected a huge dose of speed into a Werkself side that seemed in limbo in the summer. Stealing the spotlight from fellow forward Julian Brandt, Bailey has six goals and four assists to his name already with dribbling skills bellying his age.
Sitting in fourth place, Leverkusen look to be back among Germany’s finest, and while they may not face a struggle to keep hold of the pacey youngster.
1. Naldo – FC Schalke 04
After being deprived of Joel Matip in 2016 by Liverpool, Naldo was a mainstay in a leaky Schalke defence last season, but has since grown in stature after Benedikt Hoewedes left for Juventus in the summer.
Naldo is enjoying one of his finest seasons in Germany, having spent a considerable time with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg. Commanding at the back, the Brazilian has been adept at passing out from the back, with a pass success of 87.8% and an average 4.9 duels per game.
Not your average centre-back, Naldo has a flair for contributing to the attack and has a penchant for long shots and free-kicks in particular. At the age of 35, the defender has three goals and two assists this season.