The Creative Gene – Statistical Analysis of the Bundesliga’s Top Chance Creators

Statistics are used more often nowadays in football than ever and there is no shortage of data and analytics resources for clubs, coaches, journalists and the average supporters to absorb.

Many times statistics and data can be useful in analyzing particular trends and patterns in teams or players.  The Bundesliga is known for its entertaining attacking qualities where more goals are scored on average than in any of the other top leagues in Europe year in and year out.  To score those goals though scoring opportunities have to be created in the first place.  Let’s take a look at some of the statistics behind goal scoring halfway into the 2012/13 season and see what it means for each club.

To do this I have highlighted the top 3 goal scoring chance creators at each club to identify potential patterns across the league and within their own teams.  For clarity’s sake, chances created entail both the last pass before a goal or the final pass before a goal attempt.

Bayern Munich

Toni Kroos – 47
Franck Ribery – 41
Thomas Müller – 38

It is no surprise to see league leaders Bayern on top in this category.  They have created more goal scoring opportunities than any other team in the league so far (235), almost 14 a match to be exact. In fact, they have created more chances than Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, PSG or their upcoming Champions League opponents Arsenal, in comparison.  Leading the pack are three of Bayern’s outstanding players so far this season with Kroos at the forefront of the playmaking responsibilities.

As we’ll see later, only two players in the league have created more chances than Kroos but the most notable thing is how evenly distributed the chances created are among their three primary attackers. Whereas in the past Bayern were heavily reliant on their wide players to create the bulk of their chances this season almost 30% of their opportunities have been created in the attacking third.  A lot of that has included Ribery and Müller cutting in but also Mario Mandzukic dropping off and participating in the build up.  Mandzukic’s movement has added a greater degree of fluidity and freedom to the rest of the team and it has shown in their record breaking Hinrunde.

Bayer Leverkusen

Gonzalo Castro – 35
Stefan Kiessling – 31
Andre Schürrle – 23

The successful trio of Kiessling, Castro and Schürrle have been a key to Bayer Leverkusen’s good first half to the season and it is no wonder that they lead their team in this category.  Leverkusen have created 172 goal scoring chances halfway into the season and the aforementioned trio has been directly responsible for over 50% of them. Hyypia and Lewandowski have done well to give the trio a platform to express themselves and their chemistry has improved throughout the season and resulted in 22 of their 33 goals so far.

Schürrle’s form has been a welcome relief after a difficult debut season but Castro has perhaps been the biggest revelation of all.  An effective utility player for years, he has finally found his niche in a difficult to categorize yet highly effective role on the right.  21.5% of Leverkusen’s scoring opportunities were created from Castro’s area of the pitch, no doubt aided by the explosive Daniel Carvajal whose workrate and running allows Castro to focus primarily on his offensive duties.

Borussia Dortmund

Marco Reus – 36
Mario Götze – 30
Robert Lewandowski & Marcel Schmelzer – 20

One of Dortmund’s “problems” under Jürgen Klopp has been their chance conversion, almost always creating more than their opponents but not always able to  put them away at the same rate.  Whereas Bayern and Leverkusen needed 5.3 and 5.2 chances to get a goal in the Hinrunde, Dortmund needed 5.6, a marginal but relevant difference considering it could have been decisive in their 6 draws this Hinrunde compared to the 4 last season.

One obvious talking point was the departure of playmaker Shinji Kagawa and how Dortmund would compensate creatively but Götze and Reus seem to have done a formidable job so far, and one that will no doubt improve with time.  Interestingly, rather than pick one as Kagawa’s heir apparent, Klopp seems to have entrusted the playmaking duties to both with the upside being an even more dynamic and unpredictable Dortmund.

Eintracht Frankfurt

Bastian Oczipka – 33
Alexander Meier – 18
Sebastian Jung – 17

The most glaring observation is the impressive output of Frankfurt’s two fullbacks.  No other side in the Bundesliga has made better use of their fullbacks than Armin Veh’s team with both Jung and Oczipka the outstanding players in their respective positions so far.  Only Everton’s Leighton Baines has created more goal scoring chances in Europe’s top five leagues this season than Oczipka who is also second in the league in assists.  Veh understands the importance of a modern fullback and how much flexibility strong players in that position can give the team.

Oczipka and Jung’s contribution (30% of Frankfurt’s chances were created either on the right or left side of the attacking third) along with Meier’s excellent finishing (a goal every 3.6 attempts) have made Frankfurt one of the league’s most efficient team, needing just 4.8 chances to score a goal.  Like most of the top sides in the league, Frankfurt create a boatload of chances but the reason they finished they went into the winter break in fourth is because they put them away better than the rest.

SC Freiburg

Max Kruse – 52
Jonathan Schmid – 25
Julian Schuster – 17

The most impressive thing about Freiburg this season is their fantastic team spirit and performances, echoed by the energetic and impressive player manager Christian Streich, something that is also very much reflected in the stats.  More than most sides in the league, the chances created statistics are spread out pretty evenly throughout the team with one exception, Max Kruse.  The former St. Pauli player has created more goal scoring opportunities than any other player in the league this season, a great beneficiary from Streich’s strikerless system.

Streich’s decision to play without a striker is also reflected in the numbers with Freiburg needing 7.5 chances to score a goal (second highest in the top 10) but their much improved defense (second best in the league) has prevented that from being a problem and it will be interesting to see how the team progresses going forward but their meager output in front of goal is also their strong point because they defend and press in great numbers up there with the likes of Bayern and Dortmund.

1. FSV Mainz

Andreas Ivanschitz – 24
Elkin Soto – 18
Nicolai Müller – 18

Like Frankfurt, Mainz have been very efficient, thanks of course to the form of Adam Szalai, but they have created fewer chances than any of the sides in the top 6 and at 33% their shot accuracy is also well below those of the teams ahead and many below them.  Where Mainz have been very strong this season is in their balance of play with chances created fairly evenly throughout the team and coming from different areas of the pitch.

That balance and consistency has been the strong point of Mainz’s play this season, creating chances at an even rate throughout the season without many dips even in matches they lost but like Frankfurt, they need to increase their output in front of goal.  Shawn Parker’s rise to prominence may have come at the perfect time because Mainz are in need of consistent goal scorers to balance their great workrate and efficiency.

Schalke 04

Jefferson Farfan – 46
Lewis Holtby – 24
Christian Fuchs – 23

Only two teams have created more goal scoring chances so far this season than Schalke yet they find themselves in 7th going into the winter break.  What’s more, six teams have outscored them, four of which creating far less than Schalke have.  So finishing is obviously a concern yet Schalke have not won any of their three games in which they created the most chances so far this season.

An over-reliance perhaps then on Farfan to create may be responsible for some of their poor form, or at least their limited options in a match. 21.4% of their opportunities come from the right whereas only 12.1 come from the left.  Holtby’s contribution and recent talks of him refusing to extend his contract with the club may also be a cause for concern because Schalke have very little in terms of creators in the middle of the pitch other than him.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

Juan Arango – 30
Havard Nordtveit – 18
Patrick Herrman – 12

Speaking of over-reliance, there are no secrets about Gladbach’s one man show this season and even in this category Arango dominates the discussion.  Lucien Favre’s team have created the least amount of scoring opportunities out of the top 12 teams in the league. Only Fortuna Düsseldorf have created fewer chances than Gladbach so far this season which should be a big cause for concern compared to last season, even amidst a transition.

There is a notable dearth in creativity from their attacking players with none of De Jong, de Camargo, Hanke, Rupp or Xhaka in double digits in this category, putting the brunt of the responsibility on a player like Nordtveit who has had to take a more offensive role this season as a result.

VfB Stuttgart

Christian Gentner – 22
Vedad Ibisevic – 17
Ibrahima Traore – 15

While they have created more than Gladbach they too face similar problems in that their attacking players have simply not provided or created enough goal scoring opportunities so far this season.  Several teams below Stuttgart have created more and if it wasn’t for Ibisevic’s form or the consistency of Gentner they might not have gone into the winter break in such a favorable position.

Their bad start to the season was anything but helpful but even after they found their feet again players like Harnik, Kvist, Holzhauser, Hajnal and Okazaki did not quite play to their potential in different spells during the Hinrunde.  One would be hard pressed to guess that Stuttgart’s primary creative forces would consist of a hard working central midfielder and their target forward.

Hamburger SV

Rafael van der Vaart – 26
Dennis Diekmeier – 20
Milan Badelj – 16

Hamburg are another club a bit too reliant on a single player to create. Van der Vaart’s return to the club has worked out well but he only played in 11 of their 17 matches so far this season and still only a few players came close in terms of creating chances.  The closest was actually a right back and while Hamburg do use their fullbacks well not enough is contributed by players around van der Vaart.

That lack of chances is reflected in their total goal output in which Hamburg rank 14th in the league, behind several sides that trail them in the standings.  Then again, Hamburg do create just above the average number of chances in the league but are 5th most wasteful of all Bundesliga sides, scoring a goal for every 7.9 chances they create.

Hannover 96

Szabolcs Huszti – 42
Lars Stindl – 15
Jan Schlaudraff – 15

Last year Moa Abdellaoue was at one point Europe’s most efficient striker, very much reflecting his team’s ability to put away the few chances they created.  This year is not too different.  Hannover don’t create much compared to their counterparts but they are by far the most clinical and efficient team in the league with just 4 chances per goal.

There is a sizable discrepancy though between Huszti’s output and the rest of the team.  The Hungarian is fifth in chances created in the league so far and tied for first in assists.  There is no doubt about Huszti’s quality but Hannover will need his teammates to step up in the second half of the season to ensure they finish in another European spot by the end.

Werder Bremen

Aaron Hunt – 37
Kevin De Bruyne – 36
Eljero Elia – 20

Maybe the most wasteful of the Bundesliga teams this season. By all accounts Bremen should have more goals given how many chances they have created in the Hinrunde.  By comparison, only seven clubs have created more yet they find themselves in 12th in the standings.  Six of the teams ahead of them have created less.

To say they are wasteful then is an understatement.  De Bruyne and Hunt have both been prolific in the creativity department but rotating strikers and the inconsistency of Arnautovic and Elia have left them wanting in terms of finishing. Still, as far as potential is concerned, Bremen are on the right track and at this rate the results and goals should come with time.

Fortuna Düsseldorf

Robbie Kruse – 13
Tobias Levels – 12
Andreas Lambertz – 9

Norbert Meier’s team find themselves at the bottom of the league in terms of chances created.  The fact that Kruse’s 13 is the team high speaks for itself and with a meager 90 chances created in 17 matches they are also the only side in the league not to hit triple digits.

They may have sacrificed attacking punch with their defensive start to the season which is reflected in the low number of goals scored so far but 13th place is respectable for a promoted side and that is largely down to their efficiency which is the third best in the league this season behind Gladbach and Hannover. Still, Meier has to find a way to get more out of his attackers in the second half of the season.

1. FC. Nürnberg

Hiroshi Kiyotake – 47
Hanno Balitsch – 11
Timo Gebhart – 10
Javier Pinola – 10

What jumps off the page right from the start is the huge discrepancy in Kiyotake’s numbers compared to that of his teammates.  In essence that has also been Nürnberg’s biggest problem this season.  Almost every dangerous chances was created through either Kiyotake’s play or his set pieces.

The Japanese playmaker is having a fantastic debut season for the club but only one other Nürnberg player has scored more than two goals so far this season besides him.  In fact, Kiyotake was responsible for almost 50% of Nürnberg’s goals in the Hinrunde and it shows as only three other sides have needed more chances to score a goal than Der Club.

VfL Wolfsburg

Diego – 36
Marcel Schäfer – 17
Ivica Olic – 13

While Wolfsburg may not have been as over-reliant on a single player as Nürnberg it is easy to see where their strong point has lied so far this season.  Diego’s resurgence was a big reason for Wolfsburg’s pick up in form towards the end of the season yet they still find themselves struggling for goals.

Only two clubs have scored fewer goals than Wolfsburg this season and even with Bas Dost finding his form goals are still hard to come by.  Perhaps a result of their mid-season managerial change, their play has been erratic throughout the Hinrunde but the upcoming return of summer signing Vaclav Pillar may give them the extra attacking and creative edge they need and one that takes some pressure off Diego.

1899 Hoffenheim – Rudy important, injury might hurt

Roberto Firmino – 24
Sebastian Rudy – 23
Kevin Volland – 21

Similar to Bremen, Hoffenheim are another club that should by all means have more goals than they do.  23 is not bad considering they are sitting in a relegation spot but they have created more chances (151) than half the league and still finished with their worst first half of the season since they were promoted to the league years ago.

In Volland and Firmino the club has two dynamic young attackers but they are still searching for a finisher ever since Vedad Ibisevic left. Joselu is still adapting to the league and Derdiyok has seen very few minutes.  Markus Babbel’s departure threw even more uncertainty on the direction of the club but the potential is easy to see, it is just a matter of harnessing it properly. Also curious to note is Rudy’s impact and with his long term injury it will be interesting to see how the team adapts.

FC Augsburg

Daniel Baier – 28
Tobias Werner – 17
Aristide Bance – 13

Maybe the most shocking find of this analysis.  Augsburg are 7th in the legue in chances created, truly remarkable considering they are second off the bottom and have only scored 12 goals. And unlike many of their peers, they are evenly distributed throughout the team.

With the positive comes the obvious negative though, no team has been as wasteful as Augsburg, needing on average 14.1 chances to get a goal, a league high by quite a margin.  So the chances are coming in thick and fast for Augsburg but without much end product.  The rotation of six strikers and absence of Sascha Mölders for much of the season may have had to do something with that.  Either way, Augsburg need to obviously improve in this category or their chances of staying will remain slim.

SpVgg Greuther Fürth

Edgar Prib – 19
Zoltan Stieber – 16
Heinrich Schmidtgal – 11

The fewest goals scored, third last in chances created, dead last in the standings.  Things are not looking rosy for Fürth in their maiden voyage in the Bundesliga. A recent article in Germany suggested that teams without a striker may as well cease to exist in the league and while Freiburg may be proving that wrong there is a kernel of truth when Fürth is considered.

Olivier Occean’s departure may have hurt the club more than it likes to admit and so far no one has been able to fill his shoes.  Fürth have created chances in the double digits only once this season and are still searching for their first win at home.  Looking at the numbers and results it is difficult to think how Fürth will improve in the Rückrunde if things stay the same.

Chances Created by Teams 

Chances Created and More by Teams - Bundesliga Hinrunde 2012/13
Chances Created and More by Teams – Bundesliga Hinrunde 2012/13

Chances Created by Players (click to enlarge)

2012:13 Bundesliga Hinrunde Chances Created
Click to expand

Data source: Squawka

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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