Bundesliga Matchday 20 Team of the Week

On a weekend where 4 of the league’s 5 best teams were involved against each other many Bundesliga fans probably predicted an exciting set of fixtures full of goals. Well, as it turned out, it was not the Bayern vs. Bayer derby, or Borussia Dortmund’s visit to the capital to play Hertha Berlin that brought down the house, as both games ended in goalless draws. It was rather two of the Bundesliga’s rollercoaster teams in VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Mönchengladbach that provided the fireworks, with 4 and 5 goals, respectively.

With the help of Raffael and Lars Stindl, Gladbach’s youngsters, Nico Elvedi (a vital last-ditch tackle to save a goal, Mahmoud Dahoud (a regular and a hockey assist) and Andreas Christensen (2 goals!) ran roughshod over Werder Bremen to kick off Matchday 20 on Friday with a 5-1 beatdown. In the battle of current and former VfB Stuttgart coaches, Jürgen Kramny triumphed over birthday boy Armin Veh, whose Eintracht Frankfurt fought hard (and were the victims of some questionable officiating – referring to the first Stuttgart goal and the ensuing PK that was not given, and some awful luck – how Alex Meier did not score a hat-trick is still astounding), but left the Commerzbank Arena empty-handed.

Ingolstadt also receive praise for doubling their shots total average (12 to 24) in their 2 to 1 win over Augsburg, with Dario Lezcano and Moritz Hartmann leading the charge with 5 and 4 shots respectively. Sentimental favorite and Bundesliga key pass leader, Pascal Groß covered 12.3 kilometers and added another 6 key passes, as everyone’s favorite relegation candidate just keep disproving doubters. Die Schanzer are now up to 10th position, despite scoring just 14 total goals in 20 matches.

Having taken care of the round, let’s go to Matchday 20’s team of the week:

Goalkeeper – it was slim pickings this week, as only 4 keepers had more than 2 saves and while Roman Bürki was a big reason why Dortmund escaped their visit to Hertha with a point, the award goes to Hamburg’s Rene Adler for facing 20 shots against FC Cologne and making 5 saves to salvage a point.

Defense

Junior Caicara – Schalke 04 – provided 2 assists at right back in a 3-0 win over the sinking Wolfsburg battleship. The Brazilian defender stole the show in Julian Draxler’s return to Gelsenkirchen and compounded the misery for Die Wölfe, who continue to have the worst away record in the Bundesliga. He set up goals for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and substitute Alessandro Schöpf with 2 sharp low passes, though in fairness VfL keeper Diego Benaglio could have done better on both of the goals. Still, 3 key passes, 3 total tackles, 2 interceptions and 5 clearances with 2 assists are more than enough to earn a spot in our team of the week.

Georg Niedermeier – VfB Stuttgart has been instrumental in die Schwaben’s spring revival, as the 29-year-old has replaced youngster and one of the worst defenders of the Hinrunde, Timo Baumgartl in the center of the defense. The results speak for themselves – after 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund at the end of November, the Niedermeier led Stuttgart defense has conceded only 5 goals in 5 games (this is the league’s worst defense with 41 goals allowed, mind you!) while earning 13 points. With 14 points from 6 matches, VfB have gained more than any team over the last 6 matchdays! On Saturday, the big center back scored on a powerful header from a lovely Gentner cross and assisted Daniel Didavi’s 9th goal of the year in the aforementioned 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. He was perhaps a bit at fault for not getting a body on the Frankfurt attacker prior to the Alex Meier goal (though Tyton could have done a better job of saving the header somewhere that did not include right at the feet of Meier), but Niedermeier also had 5 interceptions, 5 clearances and 3 blocked shots with a team high 76 touches and 58 passes on 91% accuracy in an otherwise imperial performance. Although, it will not show up on the stat sheet, it was Niedermeier’s 40 yard pass through the middle of the pitch that Timo Werner laid off to Lukas Rupp, whose through ball Christian Gentner slotted home to make it 1-0. When it was all said and done, Stuttgart have now climbed to 12th place and one has to wonder where they would be if he started over Baumgartl from the beginning of the season.

Slobodan Rajkovic – SV Darmstadt -led his team with a header off a post, a goal and an assist,in a classic 36% possession victory over lowly Hoffenheim. In true Darmstadt fashion, the Lilies scored from 2 set pieces, bring their total tally to 11 goals! with the center back pairing of Aytac Sulu splitting the goals. The duo of Sulu and Rajkovic have now combined for 6 of the team’s 21 goals, as they are now in 11th place in the standings.

Andreas Christensen – Borussia Mönchengladbach scored his first two career Bundesliga goals and shut down Anthony Ujah (8 goals for Werder this season) in his best game of the season on Friday. The 19-year-old Dane, on loan from Chelsea, had the simplest of tasks, crashing the net twice for two goals, where the Werder defense showed why it is the worst in the league. With 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances the back to Chelsea rumors have already started, as Gladbach are reportedly interested in a permanent deal with the defender.

Midfield

Christian Gentner – VfB Stuttgart – was voted man of the match against Frankfurt, as he opened the scoring and set up Niedermeier for another one. The center midfielder put in quite a shift on the defensive side, with 3 interceptions, 3 clearances and 3 blocked shots (to be fair, one of them was a blatant handball inside the box on 37 minutes that should have been whistled). His most important contribution, as strange as that sounds from a guy who had a goal and an assist, was perhaps his goal-line clearance (at the 4:19 mark here) as Alex Meier and Frankfurt must have thought they have equalized. Much like the aforementioned Niedermeier, the 30-year-old Gentner has also picked it up in the Rückrunde, scoring 2 of his 3 goals on the season in the last 3 weeks. Next week’s fixture against the Berlin Wall of Hertha will be a tough one, especially without leading scorer and best player Daniel Didavi, who will be automatically suspended after a double yellow sending off. It will be up to Rupp, Gentner and Kostic to pick up the slack.

Danny Latza – repeats for Mainz 05, with a 5 key pass performance in center midfield, as he was superb against Hannover 96. He also added 12km covered and 9 tackles, 4 interceptions and 3 clearances in a 1-0 victory. Thanks to a stingy defense and a combative midfield with Latza and Baumgartlinger, Mainz are 7th in the table, as timely goals by Jairo Samperio have countered the recent slump of the 15-goal duo of Yunus Malli and Yoshinuri Muto.

Mahmoud Dahoud – Gladbach – The 20-year-old German-Syrian midfielder, has already been linked with Pep Guardiola taking him over to Mancheter City, was back in action after missing last week’s game to a hand injury. Four shots, 3 key passes and 2 goals created -it would be hard to ask for anything more from such a promising player. The telling statistic here is that since September 23, the first game that Dahoud started for The Foals, the team has earned 29 points – second only to Bayern – as it looks increasingly evident that Andre Schubert is an excellent evaluator/developer of young talent.

Vladimir Darida – Hertha BSC has been the engine for the third place team and was in excellent form against Dortmund on Saturday. The 25-year-old Czech led the Bundesliga in running with 13.1 kms, but also contributed 3 key passes, 3 tackles and 2 interceptions in a cagey 0-0 affair. He has been one of the signings of the season and a huge reason, along with midfield partner Per Skjebred, why Hertha have gone on a Leicester City lite run from relegation to Champions League aspirations.

Pascal Groß – Fc Ingolstadt – 6 key passes – and 51 total as well as 13 crosses are all team-highs for the 24-year-old midfielder, whose team incidentally had 24 shots against Augsburg. 24 is an extraordinary number for Ingolstadt, given that they are averaging 12 a game, and it’s been the Groß show all year: his 57 chances created (2 assists and a whopping 55 key passes) are tops in the Bundesliga, despite his team finding the net only 14 times all season. If it were for some league average forward play and finishing, Groß would probably be up there with Mkhitaryan and Raffael in the assist leaderboards. In his first season in the Bundesliga, the 24-year-old should be getting some EURO 2016 buzz.

Forward

Raffael – Gladbach – Somehow this is the first time that the veteran forward makes our team of the week, which is a shame considering that the Brazilian has 8 goals and is tied for the lead with Henrikh Mkhitaryan with 9 assists. A well-taken penalty was the icing on the cake, as his 4 shots (3 on target), 3 key passes and 93% passing all showed his true class for a young Gladbach side. The 30-year-old journeyman, who has had previous stints with Schalke and Hertha Berlin, has already passed his career-high in assists and has earned man of the match honors 4 times already. Symbolic of the resurgence under Andre Schubert, (after not really getting along with Lucien Favre) Raffael’s intelligence and playmaking ability has been the X-factor that has made BMG into an offensive juggernaut that has now eclipsed the 40 goal mark after 20 games in the Bundesliga.

Apologies go out to Dortmund’s Sokratis (124 touches and one game-saving tackle), Gladbach’s Nico Elvedi (speaking of goal-saving tackles), Julian Weigl (an otherworldly 97.4% passing on 114 attempts!). Augsburg’s Konstantinos Stafyilidis would have made it most weeks. Schalke’s Johannes Geis misses the cut, despite a lovely free-kick and 4 shots in the victory over Wolfsburg, as does Leroy Sane, despite a league leading 46 sprints. Leon Balogun of Mainz 05 is left wondering what more he has to do with 11 clearances and 9 interceptions against Hannover 96 to make our team….

As always, let us know if we missed someone.

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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