İlkay Gündoğan and Granit Xhaka: Which star midfielder has been better so far?

Note: All stats courtesy of Whoscored.com

One of the main lessons that the Bundesliga as a whole has learned since the arrival of Pep Guardiola in Munich is that the midfield is incredibly important. Pep’s Barcelona sides had a historic midfield tandem of Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio, and he’s brought that to the Bundesliga. Thomas Müller headlines a central midfield group that includes Arturo Vidal, Mario Götze, Xabi Alonso, and Thiago Alcantara as well. All of these midfielders were bought by Guardiola except Müller, who made his Bayern breakthrough during the 2009/2010 season, showing the value that the Spanish coach puts on midfielders despite Bayern already having a quality crew before his arrival.

Of course midfielders have always been considered importance, but the importance of having a superb midfield crew is emphasized even more these days, and top midfielders like İlkay Gündoğan (Dortmund) and Granit Xhaka (Gladbach) are a hot commodity in world football. Since these players are so valuable, and are so influential for their respective sides, it’s only fair to compare them.

Comparing the Stats

We’ll begin by comparing the main stat and the most important of all: match rating (Bundesliga only). Gündoğan, 25, has a match rating of 7.43 (19th best in the Bundesliga), which is extraordinary to say the least. Xhaka, 23, is having a great season as well, but his rating is 28th best in the league, at 7.24. Another obvious stat that supports Gündoğan is simply discipline, as defense and discipline are very important for central midfielders. Xhaka’s issues staying out of the book have been quite clear, with his four yellow cards and his astonishing three red cards earned this season. Meanwhile, Gündoğan only has one yellow card thus far, which displays his high level of discipline and composure in the midfield.

Despite the lower match rating and discipline issues, Xhaka has plenty of stats that help his case. He has three goals to his name compared to Gündoğan’s one, despite playing in less games thus far. And Xhaka takes one less shot per game then the Dortmund midfielder, which shows that he is clearly the better finisher. Some of this has to do with how they are used by their managers, since Gündoğan is mainly a passer, and his shot total is only higher since Dortmund dominante their games. Even though Xhaka is the better goalscorer, he doesn’t have any assists this season, which is disappointing for a midfielder of his quality. Gündoğan meanwhile has two assists already, and he passes at an 87% clip, which edges the Swiss midfielder’s passing percentage of 84%.

While Gündoğan appears to be the much better passer of the ball, part of this is due to the tactics of Thomas Tuchel. The German midfielder has the ball on his feet a lot, and while he dazzles Bundesliga fans with some of his passes, other passes are rudimentary compared to Xhaka. The Swiss international passes come more in the form of long balls, which explains why he completes eight long balls compared to Gündoğan’s four, despite a lower amount of passes per game. Xhaka completes these long balls at a great rate, and they help Gladbach tremendously. However, despite all of these long passes that Xhaka completes, Gündoğan also averages more key passes per game than Xhaka does.

Another stat that Gündoğan has going for him involves dribbling, another key component of being a central midfielder. The Dortmund midfielder averages over 2 successful dribbles per game, which is much higher than Xhaka’s total 1 successful dribble. Even though the Swiss midfielder and the German midfielder are both having tremendous seasons, Gündoğan gets the edge based on the stats. Because of the type of central midfield roles they are tasked with, passing, discipline and dribbling are more important than goalscoring, and Gündoğan has been the better of the two in all three categories. Again, he also has the higher match rating, and Gündoğan’s passing has helped Dortmund scored a large amount of goals. Even though part of the German’s success steams from his team’s tactics, he still gets the edge nonetheless.

Value to His Team

This category is when things really get interesting in this comparison, as both player are very valuable to their teams, and stories of both being courted by other clubs are constantly popping up.  First, let’s start with Xhaka since his value to Gladbach is very clear. This is because of his red cards, as they have allowed us to see how Gladbach perform without him, and it allows a clear comparison of how Gladbach perform without him.

Xhaka’s value was shown during his absence, since Die Fohlen were not able to get results and his replacements in the midfield weren’t able to do what he does for Gladbach. In the games he missed after his red card vs. Darmstadt on December 20, Die Fohlen lost to Dortmund at home, and to Mainz on the road. In those games, they scored only one goal, after scoring three against Bayern, Bremen, Hoffenheim and Darmstadt, and two goals against Hannover and in his return against Hamburg. The void that was left in Xhaka’s absence was clear as shown by the goalscoring numbers for Gladbach, and they way that they were playing with him at the center of the park was admirable. Fast paced, quick passing and contributions from everyone led to goals, but Xhaka was clearly the man behind the attack of Die Fohlen. Also, Gladbach slipped in the table during this period as well, going from being in the top four to being on the outside looking in.

Since Gladbach were unable to score goals without Xhaka, while they were scoring goals easily with him shows us just how valuable he is to Andre Schubert’s side. Without him they wouldn’t be contending for the Champions League like they are, and with him they were the best team in the Bundesliga for a period of time. Their fall in the table made Xhaka’s value evident, and it made his absence a talking point for the entire three week period he missed. The Swiss playmaker is one of the most valuable players in the Bundesliga, and the play of Gladbach makes that easy to see.

While Xhaka is incredibly valuable to the North-Rhine Westfalia based club, Gündoğan is obviously quite valuable too. Dortmund don’t score as many goals as they have without the German setting the tone in the midfield. His value is evident every time he plays for Dortmund, Gündoğan is sprays the ball around the pitch, and helps set up teammates. He averages of 86 passes per game, which shows just how often Gündoğan is on the ball, and how his decision-making dictates how Dortmund play. Also, his match rating in Dortmund’s high scoring games demonstrates what he provides to the boys in black and yellow. When Dortmund scored four goals against Stuttgart and Frankfurt, he had ratings over 7.4, which is simply outstanding. In their other four goal games against Ingolstadt (away) and Gladbach (home), he had ratings of 7.5 and 8.15. His outstanding ratings in those games emphasize how integral he is to Dortmund’s ability to score.

Additionally, when Dortmund put five past Augsburg, he had a 7.93 rating, which made that game one of his best. Whenever Gündoğan was at his best, Dortmund as a team were scoring with ease, and making teams look bad in the process. His value to the team is clear, when he plays well, they score and oftentimes win games. He’s had other outstanding performances besides the ones mentioned, and in those games Dortmund usually scored 3 goals or more as well. One of these games was against Gladbach, and Gündoğan scored a goal and he picked up a match rating over 9 while Dortmund scored three goals as a team. In that match, he stepped up while Aubameyang struggled, and showed us how much he means to Dortmund.

His ability to dictate their goalscoring demonstrates his value, and he is almost as valuable as Xhaka. Despite Gundogan being a very valuable player, Xhaka gets the edge here. The goal totals that Gladbach had without him, and how much the dipped in the table during that time showed that Xhaka is the most valuable player on their side. Even without Gündoğan, big name stars like Auba, Reus and Mkhitaryan can carry a team and win games, but for Gladbach, Xhaka is the biggest name on their first team, he carries the team instead of being one of the carriers like Gündoğan.

Since the German is clearly the better individual, and Xhaka is barely the more valuable player, Gündoğan is the better player. Even though Gündoğan has been better, the Switzerland international and the German international are both top class central midfielders. The performances they’ve turned in this season create and will continue to create interest from big clubs. Since Gündoğan and Xhaka are top players on two of the Germany’s best teams, they can both become more than just Bundesliga stars, but household names as well.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.