From this season’s high-profile captures of Timo Werner, Thiago and Kai Havertz to the arrivals of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gündogan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Heung-Min Son in recent years, the path from the Bundesliga to the Premier League is now one well-trodden. It’s a tradition likely to continue this summer as with a plethora of world-class talent to choose from. Nathan Evans analyses which German top-flight stars could be heavily courted by English clubs in this upcoming transfer window.
Eintracht Frankfurt forward André Silva has enjoyed a stand-out redemption campaign with the Champions League hopefuls throughout the 2020-21 season. After failing to make the grade with AC Milan following an expensive €38 million move in June 2017 from FC Porto, the Portuguese international originally joined Frankfurt on a two-year loan deal in early September 2019 and he hasn’t looked back since.
Now a permanent Eintracht player and with 42 goals and 10 assists in 68 matches for Die Adler, Silva has blossomed into one of European footballs most potent strikers during his stint with the club. Standing over six feet in height and with strength in abundance, Silva can do it all whilst leading the line. It speaks volumes that back in 2017 Cristiano Ronaldo was quick to lavish praise: “When I retire, Portugal will be in good hands because they’ve already found a great striker: André Silva.” And even though his development has taken a little while longer than originally anticipated, Silva has now made his way to the top-table of elite football.
With 25 goals in 29 Bundesliga matches this campaign, Frankfurt fans have witnessed intelligent poacher’s finishes and powerful headers aplenty from the former Porto hitman. When compared to other notable strikers currently plying their trade in Germany’s top flight, Silva’s in-depth statistics in front of goal are nothing short of remarkable.
With 56 shots on target this season, Silva successfully strikes at goal more often than any other forward in the Bundesliga. That coupled with his big-chance conversion rate of 57.5% – also the highest figure of the six top-scoring players – highlights his deadly approach in front of goal. In fact, his predatory instincts are best shown through his xG. Silva has 25 goals Bundesliga goals from an xG total of 22.8 or 19 strikes from a non-penalty xG of 18.1 when excluding his six spot kicks. A real old school fox-in-the-box, his 184 touches in the penalty area rank him second in the league behind only Robert Lewandowski, as he constantly causes problems for opposing defenders.
But Silva isn’t just a goal scorer.
He also has four assists. That means he’s directly played a part in 46.7% of Eintracht’s goals as the Hessen-based side make a somewhat surprising charge for Champions League qualification. He’s also created more chances for his teammates (27) than both Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland in Germany’s top flight this season.
With the departure of Sergio Agüero at the Etihad Stadium, the current unknown status of Harry Kane’s future and the somewhat lack of a true out-and-out striker at Old Trafford – an aging Edinson Cavani aside –Silva could and probably should be at the top of many Premier League clubs transfer wish lists this summer.
Having developed into one of the Bundesliga’s most talented playmakers over the past few seasons, 27-year-old Marcel Sabitzer has played a monumental role in Leipzig’s growth during his time with the club. Now with over 200 club appearances across all competitions to his name, the Austrian international has helped guide the Saxony outfit from midtable surroundings in 2. Bundesliga to the very precipice of the German top flight. However, seemingly now looking for pastures new this summer according to recent reports, north London has long been touted as a potential landing spot for the midfielder.
Granted, this season the Leipzig captain has struggled individually to reach the heights of his previous campaign, one in which he anchored the German side’s run to the Champions League semi-final stage. His seven goals and three assists in 24 Bundesliga matches are still impressive, but injuries have somewhat hampered the midfielder from the get-go this time around. Instead, Sabitzer’s worth this campaign has perhaps come more prominently from his versatility under departing manager Julian Nagelsmann.
During his time in eastern Germany, RB’s new captain has played an incredible eight different positions for his side and this season has featured as a central midfielder, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and left winger in Nagelsmann’s innovative formations.
That isn’t the only reason Sabitzer makes it onto this list. He excels in several different areas of play.
The midfield dynamo loves to advance up the field before striking at goal from range as seen with his phenomenal 30-yard finish versus Hertha BSC back in February. In fact, Leipzig’s captain has attempted 52 shots this campaign – the joint-second most by a midfielder in the league – and his conversation rate of 13.5% is above the average for a Bundesliga midfielder in 2020-21 (9.9%), despite being unlucky from time to time, hitting the woodwork on three occasions.
The Austrian international further possesses some of the best close control, technical ability and vision in the Bundesliga. With 170 passes into the final third of the pitch through 24 matches, Sabitzer is a player who likes to progress to ball up field for his team. On top of that, the utility man has also attempted 81 passes into the opponent’s penalty area, a more than decent return given his increasingly reserved role in the side this campaign.
The defensive side of the midfielder’s game has improved drastically over recent seasons too. Now often deployed in the box-to-box role, Sabitzer has 135 ball recoveries to his name this season and has made 32 interceptions and 27 tackles – one of only four RB Leipzig players to average over three tackles & interceptions per 90 in the 2020-21 Bundesliga.
As far as all-round midfielders go, Sabitzer is potentially one of the best and most underrated currently playing in Europe’s top five leagues. Perhaps Austrian national team manager Franco Foda said it best last season: “Marcel is a player who gives everything for 90 minutes, does a lot for the team and works a lot defensively. He runs a lot, has some good technical moments, and is now scoring goals.”
A pacey and tricky forward who is capable of playing up front as the lone striker, on either wing or behind in the No. 10 role, Hertha BSC’s 21-year-old Brazilian striker Matheus Cunha continues to impress in the Bundesliga despite his team’s poor showing during the 2020-21 campaign.
With his return of seven goals and four assists in 26 Bundesliga matches this campaign, it would perhaps look to many that on paper Cunha has largely struggled but with Hertha sitting 14th in the standings and just a point from the relegation zone at present, the young Brazilian has been one of very few success stories for the capital club. Not the most lethal striker in front of goal just yet in his career, the former Leipzig forward does need to fine-tune his finishing. But across the board elsewhere, Cunha is a special player that has the ability to change a match in the blink of an eye.
Extremely skilful with the ball under his spell, the former FC Sion man has won 207 duels this season – the fourth most in the Bundesliga – whilst his 148 take-ons give him the top spot in that category in the German top flight (119 of those coming in the opposition half). Those numbers put the Brazilian in great company as Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe lead the way in La Liga and Ligue 1. With a low centre of gravity and fantastic agility to match, Cunha is capable of passing opposition players with little effort and as such, a player of his ilk could very well suit some of the Premier League’s bigger teams.
His blend of deceiving pace and potent trickery, matched with his tremendously consistent end product, is best highlighted when looking at the chances the Hertha forward has created this campaign for his teammates.
Alongside the most drives from an individual into the penalty area in the league (12), Cunha has the fifth-most shot involvements following a ball carry this season with his continued effort ending in 24 shots and 13 chances created. Given his team’s lowly position on the Bundesliga ladder, that total is an impressive feat and only goes to prove how valuable a player like Cunha could be for a team chasing European football next season if a deal materialises.
In modern day football, centre backs now have to have an impressive and wide-ranging skillset. That player not only has to be adept at defending on the backfoot but needs to have the confidence to be able to control the ball under pressure and progress possession up the field when possible. Bayer Leverkusen’s Edmond Tapsoba fits that mould superbly, and at just 22 years old, the Burkina Faso international is already one of the best young defenders in Europe.
With multiple Premier League clubs in desperate need of a dominating central defender next season, Tapsoba could fit the bill. Blessed with height – standing at 6-foot-3 – and plenty of pace, which is rare for a player in that position, the Leverkusen defender exudes confidence on the ball. The best progressive ball carrier of any defender in the Bundesliga this campaign, the 22-year-old has completed the most successful passes (2,388) league-wide despite missing two matches after testing positive for Covid-19 in late November. He has completed 711 successful passes into the opposition’s half – the sixth most in the Bundesliga and third highest amongst natural centre backs – and boasts an 89.8% pass accuracy. In fact, of players with 1,000+ Bundesliga minutes played this season, the Leverkusen defender has produced the third-highest ball carry distance per 90 (258.8 metres) and the second-highest ball carry progression distance per 90 (141.9).
That doesn’t mean that Tapsoba is a slouch from a more defensively standpoint, however.
Through 29 Bundesliga matches, the young defender has further proven that he has the defensive ability needed to succeed despite Leverkusen largely struggling by their own usually high standards. His 265 ball recoveries place him with the most in the league for an outfield player by a difference of 26 to his closest competitor, his 45 interceptions put him above other leading centre backs in the league – notably Bayern Munich-bound Dayot Upamecano (30) – and his aerial duel success rate stands at 66%, well above the Bundesliga average for defenders (57%).
To compare Tapsoba to another youthful defender across Europe’s top five leagues, he’s very similar to Leicester City’s Wesley Fofana, not only in size, ability and potential but also this season from a statistical point of view. The pair have put up very similar passing, possession and defensive-action numbers. Given Fofana’s phenomenal rise with the Foxes this campaign following his move from Saint-Etienne, Edmond Tapsoba could prove to be an excellent addition for one of Europe’s biggest clubs this summer.
Most likely the least well known of the players on this list, Stuttgart striker Saša Kalajdžićhas excelled in the Bundesliga this campaign and has enjoyed an excellent breakout season with the historic German outfit. With 14 goals and four assists through 30 top-flight appearances, the Austrian forward is a key reason as to why the promoted side have spent much of the season looking up at the European qualification spots rather than over their shoulder at the ensuing relegation dogfight.
Standing at a huge 6-foot-5, the 23-year-old former Admira Wacker youth product is expectedly dominant in the air, capable of bullying the most experienced defenders on his day – his 85 aerial duel successes highlight that statement. Per the 46 forwards to have played 1,000+ minutes in the Bundesliga this campaign, only seven have a higher aerial duels per 90 average (7.3) and only four have a better success rate (55.6%). It’s unsurprising then that seven of his 14 strikes this season have come courtesy of his head, but it’s his all-round play and high work rate that stand him out against the rest.
To contrast to a similar forward in a similar German side, Kalajdžić has had exactly the same number of touches in the opposition box this season in the Bundesliga as Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick (107), but compared to 17.6% of Schick’s total touch count coming in the opposition box, Kalajdžić’s ratio is at 11.8%, showing the amount of work he puts in for his side outside of the box to create opportunity. Despite that ratio though, all 14 of his goals this season have come inside the box and he’s only attempted seven shots from outside the penalty area.
Kalajdžić was a former youth-level midfielder and was touted from an early age due to his technical ability first and foremost. Despite his tall frame now, he was originally signed prior to his teenage growth spurt and given that, his footwork is exceptional for a big man. Previous comparisons to the famous Peter Crouch put that best into perspective.
Ahead of an intriguing summer for the youngster – who will very likely be heading to Euro 2020 with Austria – VfB Stuttgart sporting director Sven Mislintat has gone on recent record to say, “We know how good he is. We will hold talks with Saša in the summer at the latest, either before or after the European Championship.” Still under contract until 2023 regardless, it could take a sizeable offer to obtain his services this summer, but with major European clubs – including Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus – already eyeing up the dominating striker, his days in the south of Germany look to be limited.
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