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Bayern Munich dominated another Bundesliga season did they dominate Derek Rae’s 2021-22 best XI?

After calling dozens of German top-flight games this season and watching countless more, ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae has settled on his team of the season.

When embarking on a review project like this, you have to be mindful that it’s never going to please everyone. There will be omissions that some regard as egregious and unfair, but this is not meant to be a scientific study analysing every challenge, pass and speed clocked. Instead, it’s simply the best XI that pops into my head as being reflective of the Bundesliga season gone by.

Some players are unlucky to find themselves on the bench as opposed to in the starting XI. Others are unfortunate not to feature in the squad at all. So here we go.

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What? You’re picking the goalkeeper from one of the two automatically relegated clubs? That might be the reaction of someone who watches the Bundesliga only peripherally. It’s improbable that those steeped in the league would feel that way. Ortega, who will leave Bielefeld for an as-yet-unknown destination, began the season as he meant to continue, with a masterful swatting away of SC Freiburg in the opener. He dazzled time and again, and apart from one bad day at VfL Wolfsburg, I can’t recall him letting his team down. Without him, Arminia would have been relegated weeks ago. Whoever lands Ortega will be have done extremely well.

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Is there a more entertaining right-back in the Bundesliga? That the diminutive Frimpong might be even more at home higher up the pitch gives you a clue as to why he’s so eye-catching. His understanding with Moussa Diaby on the Leverkusen right is a joy to behold. Does his game have deficiencies? Arguably yes, when it comes to his defending, and as coach Gerardo Seoane told me a few weeks ago, there is still some smoothing out to do regarding the final pass and decision-making. Frimpong’s season ended prematurely due to injury in the mid-March derby against FC Cologne, but next season could be the time for the Netherlands youth international to properly flourish. He’s already at a very high level.

I’ve no doubt many will disagree with the inclusion of a man who announced long ago he’s leaving Bayern for their nearest rivals in Borussia Dortmund. You can also add to the equation that towards the end of the season, Süle was deployed less and less by Julian Nagelsmann — the Bayern coach really didn’t want the 26-year-old to leave, and you can understand why. For most of the campaign he represented the closest thing the Rekordmeister had to a defensive leader when things occasionally would wobble around him. Süle ultimately didn’t feel appreciated enough at Bayern and their loss is BVB’s gain for the next four years.

But for a late-season dip in form, Schlotterbeck would have had the perfect campaign. Just about everything fell into place for the talented 22-year-old Freiburg defender to the point that by March, it was impossible for Germany coach Hansi Flick to ignore his claim to a national team place. Good in the air, left footed and calm on the ball, Schlotterbeck is projected to partner with Süle in the heart of the Dortmund defence next season. Bayern reportedly made a late push to hijack the deal, but the youngster had already reached his decision. And as if his defensive qualities aren’t enough, who can forget his Hammer-Tor (“thumping goal”) in the dramatic 3-2 win over Wolfsburg?

I wrestled with this one, going back and forth at left-back between the tireless Freiburg skipper and TSG Hoffenheim’s enterprising David Raum. Günter gets the edge for me on a number of grounds. For starters, this down-to-earth fellow personifies Freiburg on the pitch more than anyone else. He’s a true Malocher (someone addicted to hard work) and provides a big part of the platform for the creative Vincenzo Grifo on the left, the team’s Zuckerseite (their productive flank.) Günter really cares. The Freiburg celebration after his short free kick headed home by Lucas Höler against Hoffenheim gives you an insight into what makes the Breisgau club tick. Günter is Christian Streich’s extended arm.

Joshua Kimmich | Midfielder | Bayern Munich

While the Bayern ace only enhanced his on-field reputation and underscored his importance to the Rekordmeister this past season, a debate is raging here in Germany as to whether Kimmich is a true No. 6 by nature. Is he really more of a No. 8? Either way, he was badly missed when out for a couple of months at the end of last year for various COVID-related reasons. Kimmich is Bayern’s midfield navigation system and his deliveries for corners can be highly problematic for the opposition. Along with Leon Goretzka, he’s someone Bayern will be relying on for years to come. He remains indispensable.

Jude Bellingham | Midfielder | Borussia Dortmund

Whenever I commentate on a Dortmund game, I carry out a quick check. Is Bellingham still only 18? The answer is of course yes, but by the time the new campaign begins the Englishman will have blown out 19 candles. The point is that Bellingham plays with a remarkable maturity and his development in Dortmund is clear. In his first season, he was allowed to feel his way somewhat, not always a regular, but with abundant promise. His second time around has seen a significant development. Bellingham is more attack-minded now and a genuine goal threat. He has also become a leader within the team, carrying others on his young, broad shoulders.

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Florian Wirtz | Attacking midfielder | Bayer Leverkusen

You didn’t have to be a Leverkusen fan to let out a loud groan when Wirtz snapped his cruciate in March. A talent like Wirtz, and a German one at that, doesn’t come along every day. As good as Kai Havertz was after coming through the ranks at Leverkusen, Wirtz seemingly had the potential to scale even loftier heights. He may still do, of course, but the injury is undoubtedly a big setback for a player blessed with every attribute an attacking midfielder requires: vision, an eye for a pass, an innate positional sense and a nose for goal. Despite missing the final two months, there’s no way to keep Wirtz off this team.

Thomas Müller | Attacking midfielder | Bayern Munich

It’s hard to believe that two-and-a-half years ago, some were doubting whether Müller still had it. Bayern without Müller would be a bit like Munich without the delightful Marienplatz that dominates the city centre. Müller remains the true assists king of German football and was formally crowned as such for the fourth time in five seasons. Granted, his numbers were heavily loaded in favour of the Hinrunde (the first half of the campaign), in which 13 of his 18 set-ups arrived, yet no one interprets space quite like Müller. His larger-than-life — Radio Müller — personality is worth its weight in gold to Germany’s most popular club.

This was the season when Nkunku showed the football world how versatile he is as an attacker. The word “all-rounder” truly applies to him as there is nothing one-dimensional about the Frenchman, one of so many let go prematurely by Paris Saint-Germain. Nkunku is a thoroughly modern footballer with pace, finishing power, passing qualities and just the ultimate contributor. You also sense the joy he derives from playing, which is not always a given with everyone. Time will tell at what point Leipzig strategically decide to move him on, but I can’t imagine it being this summer.

Part of me wanted to give this position to someone else, such as Patrik Schick or the incredible Anthony Modeste, but Lewandowski remains the gold standard even though the body language away from the game might reveal a slightly unhappy camper. Thirty-five goals represents his second-best Bundesliga haul for a single season, and there have been many more highs in the past few months. My personal favourite was his long-range goal against Hoffenheim with help from his old pal Müller. We can’t be sure what the future holds for a player who clearly wants a change of scenery change, but we can be sure that Lewandowski once again has to be the first name on the team sheet.


Manuel Neuer (goalkeeper, Bayern Munich); Willi Orban (centre-back, RB Leipzig); David Raum (left-back, Hoffenheim); Robert Andrich (midfielder, Bayer Leverkusen); Vincenzo Grifo (attacking midfielder, Freiburg); Patrik Schick (striker, Bayer Leverkusen); Anthony Modeste (striker, Cologne).

He doesn’t have the loudest voice among Bundesliga coaches, but Fischer’s influence travels far. I freely admit that I thought Eisern Union would face challenges, especially given the twin demands of domestic and European competition, but Fischer took all the challenges in his stride. Even after losing playmaker Max Kruse to Wolfsburg in January, he continued to get the most out of his resources. Fifth place is a splendid achievement and so Hut ab (hat off) to Union’s clever Swiss tactician.

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