By their own lofty standards, Germany's national and club football teams have not been particularly successful in 2021. Die Mannschaft and Bayern Munich have set the bar remarkably high in football history. Hence, their respective failures at Euro 2020 and the Champions League were a bitter pill to swallow.
On the bright side, there was domestic glory yet again for Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, the German national team executed a near-flawless 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
With the end of Joachim Low's ailing reign and the appointment of Hansi Flick, there is renewed optimism ahead of next year's tournament in Qatar.
Despite lack of team success, Germany's star players continued to excel in 2021
On an individual level, though, there was a lot to cheer about for Die Mannschaft's numerous stars. Kai Havertz scored the only goal of the Champions League final against Manchester City to win Chelsea the title. Meanwhile the Blues manager Thomas Tuchel established himself as one of the world's elite coaches.
Leroy Sane, who suffered a slow start to life in Bavaria, has shown signs of blooming into a world-beater in the second half of the year. Manuel Neuer continues to defy age and his critics while maintaining his place amongst the best shot-stoppers in world football. That said, here are the five best German players of 2021.
Please note that these rankings are not restricted to national team performance. Club displays have also been taken into account.
#5 Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Toni Kroos has had a relatively low-key year. The fact that he made the list despite a rare trophyless season is reflective of the underwhelming 2021 that German players have just endured.
Real Madrid narrowly lost out on the 2020-21 La Liga title to rivals Atletico Madrid. Zidane's men were also eliminated in the Champions League semifinals by eventual winners Chelsea.
But Kroos was his usual classy self, dictating play and pulling the strings with nonchalant ease. The German star has carried his good form into the new season and Real Madrid are currently favorites to secure a record 35th La Liga title.
Kroos also called time on his German national team career after their 2-0 loss against bitter rivals England in the Euro 2020 Round of 16. At 31, Toni Kroos has enough left in the tank but has also been outspoken in his criticism of Qatar's erratic human rights record. He signed off after making 106 appearances for Germany, scoring 17 times and winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
#4 Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
Germany and Bayern Munich star Joshua Kimmich had a strong 2020-21 season. His club won the 2020 UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, German Supercup and the Bundesliga. Kimmich made 39 appearances, scoring five times and providing 14 assists.
However, the likes of Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain are judged based on their Champions League performances. The Bavarians narrowly exited the competition at the hands of PSG and were also dumped out of the DFB-Pokal in the second round.
The Euro disappointment and Kimmich's recent COVID-19 vaccine controversy means 2021 hasn't been the greatest of years for the versatile German star.
#3 Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)
Germany must be desperately searching for a page out of Pep Guardiola's playbook. The Manchester City manager used Ilkay Gundogan in a more advanced role than usual in 2020-21 and reaped the rewards. With 17 goals and six assists, Gundogan enjoyed the most productive season of his career. He was a key player in City's journey to the Premier League title and a Carabao Cup win.
Unfortunately, he couldn't replicate that lethal form for Germany at Euro 2020. The famed Die Mannschaft midfield was blunt and appeared laborious on their way to an early exit.
#2 Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
The sight of a heartbroken Thomas Muller on his knees right after skewing one-on-one wide against England at Euro 2020 sums up Germany's 2021. There was much to admire about Raumdeuter and Bayern Munich this season but there's also a sense of what could have been.
Muller was previously known as a crafty goalscorer with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, he has evolved into arguably the world's most adept assist provider.
With a stunning 25 assists in 46 appearances for Bayern Munich in 2020-21, he was the most prolific assist provider in the Bundesliga. Incredibly, he's on course to surpass that figure this season, and already has 15 league assists in just 17 games.
Muller retains his scoring ability as well and found the net 15 times for Bayern in all competitions last season. At 32, the German star continues to adapt and improvise.
#1 Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
Exactly 12 months ago, Antonio Rudiger was on the verge of leaving Chelsea after failing to convince manager Frank Lampard. Today, the German star is probably the most in-demand centre-back in the world.
Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Chelsea in January this year saw them transformed into a defensive powerhouse. Antonio Rudiger's blistering pace and raw aggression was at the heart of the London giant's newfound solidity.
Despite Chelsea's recent stuttering form, Rudiger continues to impress with his tough tackling and aerial ability. There is uncertainty around his Chelsea future with his contract negotiations proving difficult with the club. However, there is no shortage of clubs willing to shell out a fortune in wages or transfer fees for the German's services.
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