If I would ask you who the surprise team of the season is so far, what would your answer be? Leipzig? Hoffenheim? Or maybe Frankfurt?
You could make a very good case for all of the above and those are the teams that have been the focal point (next to Dortmund and Bayern obviously) of the media coverage this season, to the detriment of SC Freiburg. The Breisgauer have played one hell of a season so far, sitting in 9th place ahead of teams like Schalke, Gladbach and Wolfsburg, and in striking distance to the places that would allow them to play in Europe next season. Currently they are just seven points off of Borussia Dortmund in third place.
And yet nobody seems to notice the heroics of the small, newly promoted club and that's exactly how they like it. Christian Streich, one of the most peculiar coaches in the Bundesliga, is now in his sixth season with Freiburg and it doesn't matter if they would be in first or last place nobody would even dare to think about sacking him. That's just not the kind of club Freiburg is.
The club that once kept their head coach for over sixteen(!) years (Volker Finke 1991-2007) likes it calm and introspective. You will rarely see any sort of panic or chaos in Freiburg. They are used to being one of the smaller clubs, to being relegated or getting promoted. They are used to losing players to bigger clubs like Matthias Ginter or Roman Bürki to Dortmund. And yet they never waver from their way, which is based around developing young players and selling them at a profit. They follow this strategy tirelessly and it has kept them afloat in a league that has seen the rise of commercialized clubs like RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim.
This is exactly why they are so beloved in Germany. They are not only a constant manufacturer of the next rising stars of the Bundesliga, they are also the constant overachievers despite their Sisyphean task.
If you'll indulge this author for a second, all of the above reasons are why I personally support Freiburg on 32 of the 34 Bundesliga matchdays. There aren't many clubs like this in modern football anymore.
This season is no different from all the others, Christian Streich & Co. have again unearthed an impressive amount of young talented players and developed them, in just a short period of time, into solid Bundesliga starters.
Caglar Söyüncü is one of those players. The 20-year-old who came from Altinordu (Turkey) in the summer has been one of the best centerbacks in the Bundesliga this season and he is a player that Zorc should keep an eye on for the future. Janik Haberer and Maximilian Philipp, both 22, are two other young talents that have taken the next step in their careers this season. There is a very good reason why Zorc chose Freiburg as the club to develop Pascal Stenzel (20) when BVB loaned him out to them last season. Since then he has been performing quite well for them at right-back and he should be a nice rotational player once he returns in the summer. Sadly he'll miss the game on Saturday because of an injury.
Their best player is undoubtedly Vincenzo Grifo. Our backline will have their hands full with the young Italian player. The 23-year-old has scored five goals and amassed 10 assists so far this season while initiating seemingly every single Freiburg attack.
Streich's preferred formation is a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders that are rather used to cover the wingers and strikers than to create chances themselves. Most of Freiburg's offense runs through Grifo and Philipp, their wingers while Haberer and Nils Petersen wait up-front for the crosses.
As for Dortmund this is the projected lineup:
So könnten sie spielen // This is how they might line-up for tomorrow's #scfbvb pic.twitter.com/0KYDPm2DMY— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) February 24, 2017
Dortmund will certainly want to control possession from the get-go and impose their game on the opponent. Freiburg are a talented squad but if Dortmund can replicate their performance from last week, then they should be able to escape the Schwarzwald-Stadion with three points.