10 moments that made the 2017/18 season
James Rodriguez’s free-kick picking out the top corner against Leverkusen, Naldo crashing home a last-gasp equaliser in the daddy of the Mother of all Derbies, VAR, the first female top-flight referee, and the death of the Dino: what the Bundesliga 2017/18 season didn’t have isn’t worth having.
It has not been easy, but bundesliga.com has finally cut down a sensational nine months of thrills and spills to compile a top ten of the 2017/18’s key moments.
1) James, reborn at Bayern
“He does things very well, but he can do even better,” said Jupp Heynckes of James in February. Should the exacting Bayern Munich boss have set the Colombia international some end-of-season exams, no doubt he accompanied a stunning set of results with a quick reminder not to slacken off under Niko Kovac next term, the second of his two-year loan from Real Madrid.
Watch: James’ contribution to Bayern’s title win
James certainly has given himself quite something to live up to after a stunning first season in Germany. The talent that convinced UEFA Champions League defending champions and finalists Madrid to invest heavily in him after the 2014 FIFA World Cup was reawakened in Bavaria where he was the on-field catalyst of many of Bayern’s top moments, including his virtuoso performance in the Der Klassiker dismissal of Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 28, and a gravity-defying free-kick to give the Rückrunde a spectacular, winning start against Bayer Leverkusen.
“I’m very happy with this and I hope I can win more trophies,” said James, a Bundesliga winner with seven goals and a double-digit assist tally contributed to the title-winning cause. “In the end this is what you’re working towards.” And you’d better keep working, James, because Don Jupp will be watching.
2) English invasion
The Bundesliga’s reputation as fertile ground for young homegrown talent — on and now off the pitch too — is well established, and youthful promise in other countries is now deciding the grass is greener in Germany. Jadon Sancho’s switch from Manchester City to Dortmund was the headline move in a rush of transfers from the English Premier League to the Bundesliga.
Reece Oxford joined Borussia Mönchengladbach from West Ham United on loan, Ryan Kent left Liverpool to gain experience at Freiburg, and Everton’s Ademola Lookman opted for a loan spell at Leipzig, scoring within ten minutes of making his debut.
“It’s one of the most unusual situations I’ve been in,” Everton boss Sam Allardyce said at the time Lookman was seeking a move to kickstart his career. “We got some deals for him but he was adamant he chose Germany.” Given his success, and that of the others, he won’t be the last.
3) ‘Bundesliga debut with your petrol, sir?’
When you pull into a service station, you usually leave with a full tank, some bonus points on your member’s card, and a bar of chocolate ‘for the road.’ Not Ridle Baku.
The Mainz-born forward was christened Bote Nzuzi but is known by his nickname ‘Ridle’, a misspelled tribute from his father to former Dortmund forward Karl-Heinz Riedle, and had already made something of a name for himself by appearing in a DFB Cup game in December.
He clearly had impressed Mainz boss Sandro Schwarz enough to cause the first-team coach to get the club’s second-team bus — en route to Freiburg for a game — to pull off the road and drop off the young forward, who was needed to fill out the first-team squad for their Matchday 32 encounter with RB Leipzig.
Two goals, including one in a win over Dortmund that secured Mainz’s top-flight status, and a hand in a third in three top-flight matches later, and the 20-year-old is going to have to find himself a permanent seat on the first-team bus from now on.
4) Ruhr Valley ruckus
Dortmund played host to Schalke in late November, but don’t worry if you haven’t caught your breath since the Matchday 13 encounter. You’re not alone! The 91st Revierderby was a game for the ages, though not for the faint-hearted, a ripsnorter that had all the ingredients a classic requires: drama, more drama, and late drama.
Watch: You might want to be lying down when you see this
The first half was all about the hosts. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 12th-minute opener started an obscene orgy of goals that had Dortmund 4-0 up within a 25-minute golden glut for Peter Bosz‘s side. Surely BVB, without a win in five, were set for a memorable maximum haul? Wrong!
Guido Burgstaller‘s 61st-minute header sparked a comeback of epic proportions with a Hollywood ending: Naldo crashing home a header four minutes into added time. “I think that great football match was a crucial experience for the team,” Schalke’s Brazilian matchwinner said, reflecting on the impact the result had had on the Bundesliga runners-up. “We knew that if we could do that when we were 4-0 down, we could do anything.”
5) Batsman & Robin
If someone were to make a BVB theme park, the 2017/18 season would be the rollercoaster. In fact, the tumultuous derby draw with Schalke summed up in 90 minutes what the club went through in ten months. It would surely have been easier had Marco Reus been fit throughout.
Still, the Germany international was able to have a significant impact when he returned from eight months on the sidelines with a serious knee injury sustained in the 2016/17 DFB Cup final. His seven goals in an 11-game flourish at the end of the season were invaluable in helping Dortmund cling on to a top-four place.
Watch: Michy Batshuayi’s goalscoring prowess at its best
Reus’ absence, coupled with top scorer Aubameyang’s January departure for Arsenal, could have been a fatal blow to those ambitions but for Michy Bathshuayi‘s explosive, effective cameo.
With the World Cup looming after being starved of time on pitch at Chelsea, the Belgium international forward exploded into the Bundesliga with a hand in all three goals on his debut in the 3-2 win over Cologne on Matchday 21, while his 94th-minute winner against Eintracht Frankfurt five games later was just as invaluable.
Had injury not cut short his campaign four games from the finish, he would surely have improved on his exceptional haul of seven goals in 10 matches. Now, all Dortmund fans want for Christmas is their ‘Batsman’ back, preferably from the start of the season.
6) Refereeing revolution
VAR, three letters that heralded a new age in German football last August when the Video Assistant Referee was used in the DFL Supercup between Bayern and Dortmund. Its introduction into the Bundesliga came with the first major decision decided by the match official located in the DFL’s studios in Cologne: Charles Aranguiz‘s pull on Robert Lewandowski was not spotted by Tobias Stieler on the pitch in Munich, but it was picked up by VAR Dr. Jochen Drees in Bayern’s 3-1 win over Leverkusen.
7, Heynckes, fourth time lucky too
When a club is in crisis, they usually opt for a safe pair of hands. Jupp Heynckes is certainly that, but where the German football icon is concerned, he also has the Midas touch with Bayern. Actually, he turns everything to silverware rather than gold, and the Bayern bosses surely had that in mind when they called on him to take over the Bavarian giants for the fourth time in his career, replacing Carlo Ancelotti in early October.
Watch: Heynckes talks about his Bayern successor, Niko Kovac
Ancelotti’s credit from winning the 2016/17 title had been quickly used up with a sluggish start to the season, but the squad responded rapidly to Heynckes, who had steered many of them to an historic treble just four years earlier.
A five-point deficit to leaders Dortmund when he took over was radically transformed into a 29-point advantage over the side that would eventually finish fourth come the season’s end. Even runners-up Schalke were a distant 21 points behind. It was simply stunning, adding to a list of impressive achievements in his career that means Heynckes, who has said he now craves “a little bit of anonymity” in retirement, will always stand out from the crowd.
8) The Dino dies out
It had been coming for Hamburg. There had been close shaves and miraculous escapes in recent seasons; 2017/18 was to prove one disastrous campaign too many for the stumbling Bundesliga Dino, the only club that had featured in every German top-flight campaign since the Bundesliga’s inception in 1963.
All but doomed with games running out, they still almost pulled it off winning four of their last six games — recording as many victories in that time as they had managed in their previous 28 league outings — to come oh-so-close, but still falling two points short of 16th place and the relegation/promotion play-off that might have kept the clock that tracked their Bundesliga longevity ticking over.
“It’s a shame,” said dejected midfielder Aaron Hunt after the Matchday 34 win over Mönchengladbach, a final hurrah before the clock stopped at 54 years, 261 days, zero hours and 36 minutes. “We didn’t play like relegation candidates.”
9) The last slice of Pizza
His statistics tell the whole story: 192 goals in 446 Bundesliga matches. Stand up Claudio Pizarro, the Bundesliga’s all-time leading foreign-born goalscorer, who — at 39 — is still not finished finding the back of the net. Wherever he goes next, the Peruvian has certainly left his mark on German football since making his debut in 1999.
Watch: 20 years, 20 Pizarro goals
Three spells at Werder Bremen have been punctuated by two silverware-filled stays at Bayern and — last season — by a short stint at Cologne that did not save the Billy Goats, but did bring one final Bundesliga goal in the 3-2 defeat to Stuttgart on Matchday 25. “I’m still fit and have desire to play football,” he said recently when asked about his future. “That’s not it for me.” What is certain is that Pizza’s record will take some topping.
10) Groundbreaking whistleblower
Bibiana Steinhaus made history in 2017/18. The 39-year-old is a familiar face at the centre of the biggest games in women’s football, and had already spent a decade in men’s football at Bundesliga 2 level before finally breaking through the grass ceiling to become the top-flight’s first female referee when she took charge of Hertha Berlin’s 1-1 draw with Bremen on Matchday 3, the first of eight encounters in the season.
“The media attention is of course much bigger in the Bundesliga, but I can still go to the supermarket,” the 39-year-old police officer explained, before suggesting she may be able to push the shopping trolley a little more quickly now. “My training intensity has changed and also the balance between action and recovery. I have to really listen to my body.”