Just a single point and a single goal separated SC Freiburg from a place in next season’s Europa League with VfL Wolfsburg pipping the Breisgauer to 7th spot in the Bundesliga. Disappointing for sure, yet another season when the Black Forest side surpassed expectations and hit the heights that so-called bigger clubs failed to reach.
The fixture computer was rather generous to Freiburg at the start of the season and Christian Streich’s side took full advantage with four wins (Mainz, Paderborn, Hoffenheim, Düsseldorf), one draw (Augsburg) and one defeat (Köln) in their opening matches. With six games played, Freiburg were third in the table, just a point behind leaders Bayern.
When the more serious tests arrived, Freiburg however continued to stand their ground. They held Dortmund to a 2-2 draw at the Schwarzwald Stadion on matchday 7 and then beat RB Leipzig 2-1 two weeks later. Before the end of the Hinrunde, they had also notched up wins against Eintracht Frankfurt and VfL Wolfsburg, while Leverkusen were only able to take a point from them at the Bay Arena.
By the time they travelled to the Allianz Arena for the penultimate match of the Hinrunde, they were full of confidence and really deserved the point they had earned at the 90th minute mark. Unfortunately, two injury time goals from Joshua Zirkzee and Serge Gnabry stole the points, but the fact they were disappointed to leave without a point was testament to their performances in the first half of the season.
Freiburg went into the Winterpause in 8th place just four points away from a Champions League spot. If there was a feeling that it couldn’t last and that the Freiburg bubble would burst, it was unfounded. They did suffer three defeats in the first six games after the restart, but wins picked up against Mainz, Hoffenheim and Union Berlin kept them in the top half and away from the danger zone.
Ten points from a possible fifteen in the last five matches of the season saw Freiburg come within a whisker of taking 7th spot and achieving European football next season. The news that coach Christian Streich had signed a new contract at the beginning of June was compensation though with the club’s charismatic and talismanic trainer committing his future to the club.
Freiburg without Streich just wouldn’t be the same. “We didn’t have to negotiate for long, because I’m in such a special situation to be able to be at this club” the coach explained. “I’m not saying it’s better than everywhere else, but it’s somewhere special to me. I’m really looking forward to developing my relationship with these players out on the pitch and improving year on year.”
A top ten finish and binding their coach even tighter to the SC Freiburg bosom- a highly successful season all round.
After holding Dortmund to a draw on matchday 7, Freiburg went one better with a 2-1 win over Leipzig on matchday 9. A goal from Nicholas Höfler in first half stoppage time gave the home side the lead and Nils Petersen looked to have sealed the win in the 90th minute. The Saxony side did pull one back in the 92nd minute, but it was not enough to spoil the Freiburg party.
They may have left empty handed, but their performance against Bayern at home was another high point of the Hinrunde. They fully deserved a point, only to be denied by two late goals. Vincenzo Grifo’s second half goal equalised Robert Lewandowski’s 16th minute opener and a share of the spoils looked on the cards only for Zirkzee and Gnabry to snatch the glory in time added on.
Narrowly missing out on a Europa League place was disappointing and would have put the icing on the cake of a very good season. Matchdays 19 and 20 brough successive defeats to bottom side Paderborn at home and Köln away. Paderborn only picked up two wins away from home all season with this being one of them. They secured a 2-0 win despite playing the last 30 minutes with ten men following Jamilu Collins’ red card.
The 4-0 loss at the Rhein-Energie Stadion was Freiburg’s heaviest defeat all season. Two goals in stoppage time gave the Geißböcke a comfortable win and stood in stark contrast to most of Freiburg’s other performances last season.
They also lost both encounters with Union Berlin in October- 2-0 away in the league and 3-1 at home in the DFB Pokal.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 13-9-12, 48 points (1.41 per game), 8th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 29 points (9-2-6) Away Record: 19 points (4-7-6)
Goals: 48 (1.41 per game), Goals Against: 47 (1.38 per game), Diff: 1
xG: 42.8, xGA: 62.2, Diff: -19.4
Freiburg scored 48 goals giving them an average of 1.41 per game. Nils Petersen was the club’s top scorer with 11 with Lucas Höler adding eight and Luca Waldschmidt scoring seven. The U-21 striker was limited to 14 starts due to a knee and a foot injury.
Christian Streich at times favoured a standard 4-4-2 formation or a slightly altered 4-2-2-2, which allowed playing two out-and-out strikers.
At other times it was more a 3-4-3 with three central defenders and wingbacks, leaving Petersen as the lone striker. Freiburg ranked 10th in the league for both shots (435) and shots on target (140). They were awarded a league high six penalties and converted five of them (three from Waldschmidt and one apiece for Petersen and Grifo).
Alexander Schwolow had yet another impressive season in goal- so much so that he looks to be leaving Freiburg in the summer. Christian Streich was able to field a regular back for of Christian Günter, Jonathan Schmid, Robin Koch, and Dominique Heintz with support coming in from the likes of Philipp Lienhart and Manuel Gulde.
They conceded 47 goals giving them an average of 1.38 per game. Dominique Heintz ranked joint 7th in the league for tackles in the defensive third (44), and ranked 4th overall for clearances (179). Robin Koch was third overall in the Bundesliga for aerial duels won and he is another player Freiburg might struggle to hold onto this summer.
Nicolas Höfler was the key midfielder in the centre, being partnered mainly by Yanik Haberer, Amir Abrashi and even Robin Koch at times. Vincenzo Grifo provided eight assists and scored four goals from a more advanced position. Höfler ranked joint 6th in the Bundesliga for tackles in the midfield third, and second overall for interceptions (71).
In Streich’s system it was the full back’s job to get forward, to support leaving the central ‘Doppelsechs’ to cover the defence.
Freiburg aren’t the sort of club to be throwing silly money around in the transfer windows, but what business they do, is usually wise business. Bringing back a Christian Streich favourite in Vincenzo Grifo for €7 million was their biggest outlay and he showed that he could still have an impact with eight assists.
Full back Jonathan Schmid was another shrewd arrival from Augsburg, and he cost just €4 million. The Frenchman only missed one game all season and scored five goals to go alongside his defensive contribution. Korean Chang-hoon Kwon made just six starts as a right winger and scored twice. Luca Itter came in from Wolfsburg for €2.5 million but made only three sub appearances.
The second Korean to arrive also had a limited impact. Bayern II attacker Woo-yeong Jeong was unable to break into the first team squad and was mainly kept with the U-23’s.
Player of the Season
Captain Christian Günter was the standout performer this season leading by example. He started all 34 matches and of the outfield players in the Bundesliga amassed the most minutes throughout the season. From left back or a left wingback position Günter scored two and provided eight assists.
His attacking runs and crosses from the left were a key part of Freiburg’s attacking threat this season. He ranked second in the entire Bundesliga for total crosses (279). In terms of shot creating actions he ranked 6th in the league (62) and for progressive distance carried he was 14th overall but ranked alongside the likes of Rapahel Guerreiro and Benjamin Pavard with a total of 5273 yards over the season.
Just a couple of points were missing to make this an A grade season with European qualification, but you won’t find many Freiburg fans complaining about their campaign overall. The club outshone many bigger names, have tied Christian Streich to a longer-term contract and their brand-new stadium is coming along nicely.
There will be a few players poached this summer, but the club are expert and refreshing their squad. All in all, a very good season from the Breisgauer.