The Worst XI of the Hinrunde, Part 2: Defenders

In part 2 of our series on the Hinrunde’s worst XI, we take a closer look at those defenders who have distinguished themselves as particularly terrible this fall. Our analysis is based on a combination of matches watched, statistics from Whoscored.com, Squawka.com, as well as Kicker’s rankings.

VFL Wolfsburg’s Dante does not make our list, due to his excellent passing skills (not exactly a huge secret amongst Bundesliga fans) and overall decent play, but the Brazilian veteran does receive an honorable mention for his too-frequent mistakes thus far this season.

Stuttgart’s Emiliano Insua and Timo Baumgartl

VFB Stuttgart have given up the most goals in the Bundesliga so far – 37 conceded – and we have been merciful with them, passing on Tyton for the worst goalkeeper of the Hinrunde. Unsurprisingly, they are top 5 of the league in all kinds of other categories, as well: 3rd most aggressive team (39 yellow cards and a league worst 4 red cards), with Serey Die collecting 6 yellows in just 12 games. Even Granit Xhaka thinks that’s too aggressive. VfB is also number 1 in being dribbled past with 12.6 per game, and have even scored 4 own goals!

Aside from Tyton in goal, the chief culprits have been their defenders, as they account for 4 of the bottom 6 in Squawka’s rankings, an impressive feat, given that only 70 defenders qualified by playing more than 12 games. Unfortunately, we can only pick so many players for our worst XI, so with apologies to Serey Die, and Daniel Schwab, we are picking Emiliano Insua from Stuttgart.

The 26-year-old Argentine, who was once a promising teenage signing for Liverpool (and has played for Atletico Madrid, Sporting CP and Galatasaray), signed for VfB over the summer. He has been particularly awful at passing. His 69% accuracy is very low for a centerback, and 11% below his not very impressive teammate Die and a far cry from elite defenders like David Alaba (92%) or Jerome Boateng (88%), who regularly hit 90% or higher.

Diving down a bit deeper, we can see that Insua’s greatest weakness is short passes, as he has made 124 inaccurate ones over 17 games, for a little over 7 a game. By comparison, Alaba and Ingolstadt’s Marvin Matip have 56 each. Furthermore, it’s more alarming, that Insua only has 395 successful short passes, so his 3 to 1 ratio is well below elite passing defenders like the aforementioned Boateng (boasting a 12-to-1 ratio), Alaba (who is also a left back, like Insua) or Hummels (912 to 100). Thus, one half of the argument for Insua goes something like this: his errant passes often lead to turnover, which put his weak defense under even more pressure. The other component is his lack of speed and poor positional awareness, as seen from the game vs Dortmund, with goals 2 and 3 being prime examples (though I suspect I could’ve picked any of his games at random).

Timo Baumgartl, also of VfB Stuttgart occupies our second spot on the worst defense. The 19-year-old is ranked number on 1 on the Whoscored list mentioned above. Bundesliga fans will remember him from having to be consoled, after committing this egregious error against Dortmund and gifting Marco Reus a goal in February:

Much of the same that applies to Insua and the rest of VfB (again, conceding 2.2 goals per game) is also true for the youngster. If we take a closer look at his performance from the Dortmund game, we can observe several errors: he is too slow to react to players making runs (Aubameyang just basically cuts the ball back and he cannot react), or is often indecisive in going for tackles (allowing the cross from Reus for goal number 3) and poor positioning (allowing speedy players to run in behind him). Again, I suspect that these are recurring errors, though I admittedly have not watched all of their games, (did see him score an own goal vs Augsburg) given that I am not a masochist. Unlike Insua, at least Baumgartl has youth on his side and a lot of this stuff can be chalked up to inexperience and overall lack of talent around him.

Hannover 96’s Hiroki Sakai

Stuttgart fans can now breathe a sigh of relief, as there will not be any more VFB players on defense in our Worst XI of the Hinrunde. Hannover, on the other hand are actually below Stuttgart in the standings, and their manager Michael Frontzeck resigned at the end of the Hinrunde. The difference amongst the two teams has been that Hannover, after an equally lousy start, could not get any traction late in the Hinrunde (3 points post November), while Stuttgart have actually gained 13 points in the last 8 matches. This is not a good team, they score very infrequently (1.1 per game) as they take the 2nd fewest shots per game with 9.6, and have only 45% of possession. They have given up 29 goals as well. Those numbers can be somewhat deceiving, so I have chosen their game against Bayern from Match Day 17 (which I had a chance to watch as well) as a microcosm of their season.

Bayern outshot them 20 to 6 and if it were not for Ron Robert Zieler and his world-class saves and a bit of bad luck on the part of the Bayern strikers, this game would have been 5 or 6 to zero. Even, the leading tackler of the Bundesliga, Salif Sané was powerless to stop the Bayern attack.

The Japanese right back Hiroki Sakai (ranked 80th out of 88 qualified defenders on Squawka), just could not deal with the excellent play of youngster Kingsley Coman, who had eight successful dribbles, and numerous crosses against him. The 1:21 mark of the video is a nice demonstration, as Coman channels his inner Douglas Costa and just crushes poor Sakai repeatedly.

So Hannover’s is poor Hinrunde came down to a combination of lackluster offense and leaky defense (2nd worst in the league with 16.2 shots allowed per game) – which would be even worse if not for the excellent performance of Ron Robert Zieler (ranked 5th among keepers)- and Sakai has been one of the main culprits. The optimists and Hannover fans should look to Dárdai and Hertha for their roadmap out of this terrible situation, as the Hungarian coach has transformed a statistically and tactically similar (previously eschewing possession, low shots per game) team into a 3rd place contender!

Darmstadt’s Fabian Holland

Holland has the lowest rating on Squawka and is second only to the aforementioned Baumgartl on Whoscored, so he is our lock for the 4th defender spot, although his teammate György Garics can really only thank this author’s ever so slight favoritism towards Hungarians (yes, I know he is technically Austrian) for his exclusion. Darmstadt are an extremely funky team, with an astoundingly low 37% possession as well as having scored 9 of their 17 goals off set pieces. They are basically the antithesis of Bayern, with 180 short passes per game (Xabi Alonso has authored over 200 passes in a game several times himself and Thiago often gets to 190) to Bayern’s 683.

Going further with the Bayern comparison, Holland is basically the anti Philipp Lahm, terrible in possession, and an awful passer with a 58% success rate (Lahm has 944 passes to Hollands 95) without Lahm’s attacking skills and motor.

The former Hertha defender, was ironically at his worst this Hinrunde against his old club, as he failed to deny the cross for the opening goal from Vedad Ibisevic and got badly outmuscled by Salomon Kalou for the 4th.

If we want to look for excuses for Holland, it is worth noting that he missed over 2 months in the middle of the season from the end of September to the end of November because of a groin strain and got injured in the game against Hertha again, although he finished out the Hinrunde playing in the loss against Gladbach.

So there you have it, Insua, Baumgartl, Sakai and Holland make up the worst defense of the Hinrunde! As always, let us know in the comments section if you disagree.

Coming up next in part 3, the Hinrunde’s worst midfielders.

(Header image by Matthias Hangst.)

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Abel started out watching and playing soccer in Hungary, before falling in love with the Bundesliga in the mid -90s (thanks to Kicker and Sat1's Ran). Now, he's in the USA -- and still loving it all many years later. Abel is faithful to BVB, but also endlessly fascinated by the emergence of new teams and talents from Germany, to the point that he even started a website about it, at www.bundespremierleague.com. Otherwise, you can find him working in publishing, teaching ESL, and/or drinking craft beer - not necessarily at the same time, or in that order. Abel tweets at @VanbastenESL and @BundesPL