The Bundesliga’s ascendance to arguably the most exciting league in the world can (in this writer’s opinion) easily be attributed to the unbelievable quality of its midfielders. While it is the Lewandowskis and Aubameyangs who get all the goals and the deserved credit, one wonders where they would be without the crosses of Douglas Costa, the through balls and key passes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and the general bossing of the midfield that an Arturo Vidal or Ilkay Gündogan provide?
Among the top teams, there exists a multitude of world-class talent, and in cases like Bayern or Dortmund it’s a real tough decision for the manager to only be able to include 4 of them. Just for jealousy’s sake, imagine Carlo Ancelotti’s dilemma when (if everyone is healthy, obviously), he has to choose between Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery vs. Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman on the wings? Did I mention, that Javi Martinez, Xabi Alonso, Thiago, Arturo Vidal, Mario Götze are all competing for 2 or 3 spots in the center of the midfield.
Second place Dortmund have just as good of a case with Weigl, Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, Gündogan and Gonzalo Castro, while third place Hertha’s tireless Vladimir Darida, 4th place Gladbach’s quartet of goal and assist maestro Raffael, youngster defensive midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, wingers Fabian Johnson and Oscar Wendt (a defender in the Marcelo of Real Madrid vein) and noted madman Granit Xhaka have all been responsible for their remarkable turnaround in the post Lucien Favre era. In the fifth spot, it is Leverkusen’s Calhanoglu and Bellarabi, as well as the tough tackling Kevin Kampl that are similarly responsible for the Chicharito revival. Eric Maxim Choupo Moting and current EPL transfer day darling Leroy Sané have been outstanding and have propelled Schalke to its sixth position, while Julian Draxler, Max Arnold and Vieirinha showed their class not just in the Bundesliga, but in Europe, just ask Manchester United!
I am sure that you get the point by now: listing all the quality midfielders would take forever, so suffice it to say, that the Squawka rankings agree with me, 12 of the top 25 are midfielders, and such is the case for 7 out of Whoscored’s top 10.
But enough of the love fest and positivity, this is after all the worst XI of the Hinrunde. In a league full of so much quality, picking bad midfielders is a difficult chore, but alas here it goes: our picks for the 4 Worst Midfielders at the half season mark so far: (min. requirement is 10 games)
Thorgan Hazard of Borussia Mönchengladbach, seems to have caught the Hazarditis that has befallen his brother at Chelsea, as the young Belgian who had 7 assists and was a bright spot in last year’s campaign has been ineffective this year. Despite starting 4 out of the first 5 games of the season under Lucien Favre in the attacking midfielder role, he has fallen out of favor under Andre Schubert as the Belgian has managed 1 assist in 13 appearances in 521 minutes in this Hinrunde. Shockingly, Gladbach have lost 5 out of 6 games in which Hazard has played more than 70 minutes, with week 17’s triumph over Darmstadt being the lone exception. Gladbach of course, have only lost 1 game since starting 0-5 and firing Favre. In the end, the 521 minutes are just not enough to earn him a spot in our Worst XI, but Gladbach fans should beware, Thorgan has started their last 2 thrillers (4:3 vs Werder and 3:2 vs Darmstadt) games of the Hinrunde -their best hope is that Schubert puts him back into his place on the bench.
Matthew Leckie of Ingolstadt is in the top 10 and/or leading in losing possession (3rd with 39) and passing (1st), Serey Die (6yellows and 1 red card) could have made it based on discipline, but Stuttgart fans (shout out to https://www.reddit.com/r/vfbstuttgart/) have suffered enough.Valentin Stocker – Hertha, Ji Dong Won – Augsburg and Halil Altintop – Augsburg miss the cut, not because of their awful performances, but due to not enough appearances. Perhaps their coaches know something….
So, without further ado, here is the list:
1. Alfredo Morales of FC Ingolstadt seems like a very nice guy from this 5 minute Youtube interview.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be very good at soccer, as the American’s team has scored an anemic 11 goals in 17 games, with 3 of them coming vs Darmstadt. Robert Lewandowski is somewhere wondering if he could have scored 11 in one game, had he started against Wolfsburg on that September night!
The 25-year-old, born to a Peruvian-American father and German mother is their center midfielder (12 appearances at this position, with a couple on the left side as well) and chief culprit in Ingolstadt’s miserable attack. In an effort to identify his weaknesses, let’s look deeper into his season via some stats:
His 59% passing completion just jumps off the page, as being particularly atrocious for a player that is supposed to hold the ball and organize the attack. For comparison, when I wrote about the disappointment of Bastian Schweinsteiger at MU his 80% pass completion was one of the major causes, not to mention the fact that the best midfielders average over 90%. In my worst defenders piece I berated Stuttgart’s Emiliano Insua for his passing inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to short passes. Well, Morales is miles behind him, as his ratio of accurate (205) to inaccurate passes (121) is extremely poor. For comparison, top midfielders have 900 to over a 1000 accurate passes and even the leader in inaccurate short passes, Ingolstadt’s Pascal Gross has 568 good ones to his 195 bad ones, for a 3 to 1 ratio. His team passes at 66% on average, which is the 2nd worst in the Bundesliga and Morales is 7 points below that! Just for fun, here is another nugget: there are SEVEN GOALKEEPERS with higher passing percentages than Morales.
Of course, a lot of his bad statistics could be a result of the team’s overall weakness, as they basically never have the ball (just 45% possession is tied for 16th place with Hannover) and play the most long balls/game (81) in the league. When they get a shot off, and 11.8 shots per game (11th in the league) is actually not terrible, it’s usually a super low quality one. Ingolstadt are dead last with 0.3 shots inside the 6 yard box, and take 50% of their shots outside the box. In 17 games, they have only taken FIVE shots inside the 6 yard box! Werder and Hoffenheim, two teams BELOW Ingolstadt have both taken 11, for comparison. Ok, so the team is ineffective, and it’s not all his fault, right?
If you want to argue the narrative, that the team is not allowing Morales to flourish, looking at his midfield teammates quickly obliterates that argument. The aforementioned Pascal Gross and the Brazilian Roger are ranked a respectable 40th (Gross-due to his offense, leading the Bundesliga with 3 key passes per game!) and 36th (Roger, because of his no. 1 rated defense) out of 100 qualified midfielders on Squawka, while Morales ranks 99th. So it is very much the case of the American dragging his team down with his inability to pass accurately and kickstart attacks.
Discipline also seems to be a problem for him, as his 5 yellows are tied for the team lead with Australian Matthew Leckie, while Ingolstadt are in 3rd place in the league with 41 yellows and somehow zero red cards. Of course, if you have ever played football and/or watched a lot of Pepe videos, you know that giving away possession often leads to rash yellow cards in an attempt to win the ball back and/or stop a counter.
In summary, Alfredo Morales is a lock for the worst XI midfield, due to his horrendous passing and possession numbers and his inability to offer much going forward for a team that has scored the fewest goals (11) in the Bundesliga.
2.Darmstadt are a very funky team, and that funkiness has paid off so far, as they await the Rückrunde in 13th place. Jan Rosenthal , is their central attacking midfielder, who wears number ten. Unfortunately, that is the closest he comes to a playmaker, as his team has a league low 37% possession and he has no goals and no assists in 16 games and 991 minutes. He isn’t very good in the air, either losing 58% of his aerials.His passing percentage is a paltry 64% and he averages less than a shot per game, with 0.5 key passes. His 161 successful passes are even well below that of Morales (229) and pale in comparison to average rated midfielders like Mainz’s Baumgartlinger (625) or Frankfurt’s Reinartz (636).Overall, he is ranked 96th out of 100 qualified midfield players on Squawka.
The more interesting part is that Rosenthal is dead last in attacking score, which granted can be deceiving, as it ranks the surprise of the season, Dortmund’s Julian Weigl 96th. But, unlike the excellent Weigl, Rosenthal does not pass the eye test, as Darmstadt are literally the living proof, that a team can get to 17 goals without any semblance of a midfield. Don’t believe me? Watch their goals: If it weren’t for Marcel Heller’s sublime speed on counters along with his skills, moves, and wonder goals, 6 altogether, and central defender Aytac Sulu’s 4 goals off set pieces, with towering forward Sandro Wagner (who ranks 2nd only to Kiessling in aerials) scoring 4 (either from Heller’s assists or from dead ball situations) where would this team be? They have scored 4 goals from open play (for comparison, Stuttgart and Werder both have 10) in 17 matches with astonishing 9 of their 17 goals coming from set pieces! Madness!
3. Manuel Schmiedebach of Hannover 96 is probably most famous for having suffered this brutal challenge by Klaas Jan Huntelaar last February.
He is our third and last member (we need room for some bad forwards) of the Bundesliga Hinrunde’s worst XI. Ranked 98th out of 100 qualified players on Squawka, Schmiedebach makes the list not because of his lack of passing skills (his pass success is a decent 75%), or offensive contributions (he has a formidable 8 key passes and 9 chances created this season, the same as Julian Weigl), but because of his atrocious DEFENSE. You want a (defensive) center midfielder who gets blown by 3 times a game and can’t win a ball in the air (0.7/gm) or on the ground? Manuel is your guy! Let’s break it down further:
He ranks 97th out of 100 with a -93 defensive rating on Squawka. He has played 953 minutes (missing 2 games in September due to knee problems) and has attempted 59 tackles, succeeding 23 times for a puny 39%. For comparison, here is an infographic of the best tacklers courtesy of Bundesliga.com. Again, leaders such as his teammate and general boss of midfield Sadio Sane is at 62, but for a more reasonable comparisons, the aforementioned Baumgartlinger is at 45%. Squawka has him at 34%, in the same category, and 29% in the air. It’s even more astounding, as his team is ranked 4th in the air, winning 53.7% of its duels. Unsurprisingly, Hannover 96 are basically tied for 1st with Augsburg (16.3 to 16.2) in shots per game allowed, as a weak tackling central defensive midfielder will often lead to lots of shots against. Hannover have also conceded 29 goals, good for 4th worst in the league
Schmiedebach’s horrid season is even more perplexing in the context of the excellent one of his counterpart Salif Sane. For more on their comparison, check out the Squawka link. The comparison, I admit is somewhat unfair, as a 5 ft 7 154 pound defensive midfielder and a 6’4″ one will be vastly different in the air for example, but the question is why does his manager put him in that position? Well, Michael Frontzeck won’t be around to answer that question, as he resigned, but maybe new coach Thomas Schaaf (a defender as a player, but not the most defensive minded of managers) can figure out a solution.
So, there you have it, your ideal terrible midfield consists of a turnover machine in Morales, a defensive mid who can’t win a tackle in Schmiedebach and an attacking mid who has 0 goals and 0 assists and offers exactly zero going forward in Rosenthal.
As with parts 1 and 2, let us know in the comments section, if you disagree. Thanks!
Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
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