Bundesliga Team of the Week for Matchday 23

Matchday 23 was full of comebacks and frantic finishes, as several matches featured late game heroics in an entertaining weekend in the Bundesliga. Before revealing our team of the week, let’s do a quick rundown of the weekend action, starting from the bottom and working our way up to the top of the table. Players who will feature in the team of the week will appear in BOLD.

The relegation teams Hannover, Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen were involved in three of the biggest thrillers of the weekend, with Hannover miraculously taking 3 points and ending the unbeaten run of Stuttgart. The 96ers won thanks to two great set pieces by Hiroshi Kiyotake, coolly finished off by veteran defender Christian Schulz (it helped that on both occasions Kevin Großkreutz indulged in some remote defending from somewhere in Turkey perhaps), whose brace meant that in one match he equalled his scoring tally from the last 2 seasons combined and gave Hannover its fifth win and a total of 17 points.

Hoffenheim remained on 18 points, despite shocking Dortmund for the better part of the match but came away empty-handed after a BvB 3 goal flurry in the last 10 minutes at the Signal Iduna Park. The 26-9 shot discrepancy looks gaudy in the end, but it is this picture of expected goals which describes the match perfectly.

BvB (led by the disastrous Shinji Kagawa) were poor until Sebastian Rudy’s red card (absolutely deserved, by the way) in the 58th minute. This  tweet  was a perfect summary: ”  Feb 28  In the 37th minute, BvB have only 2 shots, neither on goal.”

Substitute Ilkay Gündogan once again proved his worth to Dortmund, and a rare moment of brilliance from the seldom used Adrian Ramos combined with Henrikh Mikhtaryan’s now expected goal and assist brought Dortmund back. Hoffenheim and Julian Nagelsmann will be immensely disappointed by not getting a point and now will look to take all 3 points against Augsburg on Wednesday.

Werder Bremen needed an 89th minute equalizer from ageless wonder Claudio Pizarro – much to the delight of one Mr. Wildhagen in the stands – to save a point versus Darmstadt. The 14th place SV98 were led by goal apiece by the Twin Towers of Sandro Wagner and Aytac Sulu who have now remarkably combined for 15 goals on the season.

15th place Eintracht and 13th Augsburg both drew over the weekend, both good results given the quality of opposition in Schalke and Gladbach, but perhaps unlucky given the way the games unfolded. The goalless draw for Die Adler meant that the Fabian/Huszti/Meier trio again got shut out, the 3rd time in the last 5 matches, while optimists will focus praise on the 3 clean sheets earned by Frankfurt in that span. This latest clean sheet, however, had more to do with the enigma that is Schalke, as they managed just 7 shots against the average of 13 that Frankfurt usually allows. Injuries and whatever funk Leroy Sané is in are not helping the Royal Blues, but Andre Breitenreiter appears to just be throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks, as evidenced by starting his two fullbacks Caicara and Kolasinac as attacking midfielders for the first time this season in round 23.

Augsburg should have kept all 3 points in the WWK arena, as they outshot Gladbach 24-10 in a wild game that had 3 goals in 4 minutes in the beginning of the second half. Struggling with shot accuracy is old news with Augsburg of course, as the Bavarian side sport a 23.8% shooting percentage (calculated by dividing goals for by shots on target for – this is prior to Rd.23), the 3rd worst mark in the league. For further evidence, 9 of the 24 shots were off target and I counted at least 3 of those by Jan Moravek in the first half, plus the 2 shots that hit the post by Bobadilla and by Finnbogason. The miss by the Icelandic striker in the 93rd minute looked to be a surefire game winner, as Yann Sommer helplessly watched the ball roll gently onto the post. To be fair, the entertaining end-to-end style of the match was partially due to Gladbach’s disappointing defensive performance, as the Xhaka/ Dahoud duo got its lunch money taken by 22-year-old Dominik Kohr in the middle of the pitch, while the defensive communication by the Christensen and Nordtveit duo left a lot to be desired.

Hamburg and Ingolstadt played a bland 1-1 draw which will go down in the annals as the game where two of the 3 worst forwards of the Hinrunde in Lukas Hinterseer (FCI) and Josip Drmic (HSV) both scored – to triple their combined goals this season (1 to 3)! Somewhere in a ski resort in Austria, Lukas’ uncle, Hansi Hinterseer, is smiling while doing the ski twist with a few bottles of schnapps.

FC Cologne’s loss to Hertha was also far from entertaining, and the home side will rue the referee’s decision not to give a late penalty for a clear handball by Per Skjelbred. Hertha, on the other hand, once again proved why they are superior to the 4 big budget teams (Gladbach, Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg), as they were able to grind out a tough away win to put them on 39 points.

Mainz looked impressive in a 3-1 victory over a depleted Leverkusen side, as Yunus Malli came out of his hibernation to record 9 of his team’s 14 shots and more importantly score his first 2 goals since December 5th. Jhon Cordoba also added another goal and had the most tackles won in round 23 with 21. It looks as though last week’s loss to Hoffenheim was an aberration for Martin Schmidt’s men.

Finally, Bayern started out bright, but needed 3-4 important saves from Manuel Neuer in the end of the first half to keep its clean sheet against the counterattacking Wolves. Despite a typical 70-30 possession edge, Bayern struggled to get shots (finished with 14) and needed Franck Ribéry’s and Kingsley Coman’s individual brilliance, as well as a great Lewandowski finish to overcome the tactically astute Wolfsburg 0-2.

In the end, the top 3 remains unchanged, with Gladbach and Mainz on 36 ponts in the 4-5 spot followed by Leverkusen and Schalke with 35 in the 6-7 spot. 3 points separate the teams from 8-12, while Augsburg, Darmstadt and Frankfurt with their 3 draws all could have avoided having to look in their rearview mirrors. Their failures to win winnable games means that Bremen are now just 2 back of Eintracht, while Hannover’s surprise win has them breathing down unlucky Hoffenheim’s neck at 17 and 18 points reflectively. With Matchday 24 getting underway on Tuesday with two matches and Wednesday with seven, let us take a look at Matchday 23’s Team of the Week.

Neuer, The World's Best
Neuer, The World’s Best

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer – Bayern made 8 saves on the day versus Wolfsburg which is significant for two reasons. 1. This is the most saves Neuer has ever made for Bayern! 2. Prior to this game the 29-year-old goalie has made 22 saves in 22 games! When your team is that good that the opposition basically never gets a shot off (Bayern allow 6.9 per game) and you’re never forced to make a save, coming up with 8 saves in a game is absolutely massive. This was his 13th clean sheet of the season, and Bayern have conceded just 11 goals. For comparison, Dortmund allow 8 shots per game, and Roman Bürki has made 39 saves ( + 3 on Sunday), but has let in 24 goals (+1 on Sunday). Of course, a lot of other factors go into shot stopping and defense, but it’s just another area where Bayern have a big edge over the rest of the league. As an aside, poor Ron-Robert Zieler of Hannover has had to make over 100 saves already, 30 more than any other keeper in the Bundesliga. Speaking of Hannover….

Defenders – Christian Schulz of Hannover – leads this group, as the 32-year-old’s two goals lifted Hannover over Stuttgart, but he was no slouch defensively either with 9 clearances to his name. His partner in the defense, Salif Sane, had an even better defensive game with 9 clearances and 5 interceptions, but those two goals were the difference between the two teams, so Schulz gets the nod. Aytac Sulu of Darmstadt scored his 6th goal of the season, all away from home and all from set pieces, as the 30-year-old former Bundesliga 3 player is quickly becoming something of a hot commodity. His partner Slobodan Rajkovic edged him out with 15 clearances to Sulu’s 2, but the Turkish defender’s goal and 5 interceptions and 4 blocked shots ultimately earned him this spot. Former Darmstadt center back, Leon Balogun – Mainz deserves to be included for yet another strong performance against Leverkusen, as the Nigerian-born defender amassed 5 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances, with a whopping 16 tackles won. Lukasz Piszczek had 136 touches, 4 shots and 4 key passes and an assist in the crazy come from behind win against Hoffenheim. The Polish defender is in excellent form and is making a return to the team of the week, as his heatmap was basically a giant flaming green streak from one box to the other on the right hand side of the pitch.

Gladbach’s Nico Elvedi -an assist, 5 interceptions and 6 clearances and Schalke’s Joel Matip – 13 clearances just miss out, but deserve honorable mentions.

Midfield

Dominik Kohr
Dominik Kohr

Dominik Kohr – FC Augsburg outplayed future Premier League stars (?) Granit Xhaka and Mahmoud Dahoud of the Foals, with 4 total tackles, 4 interceptions and 3 clearances while also leading his team with 84 touches. This recently turned 22-year-old also had 2 shots and a key pass on 86% passing in a strong performance. If he learns to cut down on his turnovers, the former Leverkusen and current Germany U-20 international has a bright future at a bigger club ahead of him.

Henrikh Mikhtaryan – Dortmund is the Bundesliga’s best midfielder, with 8 man of the match awards, 9 goals and 10 assists in the  Bundesliga so far. The Armenian’s numbers for all competitions are 37 games, 19 goals and 19 assists – just absolute staggering. The easiest of choices for this week’s team of the week. Speaking of obvious choices…

Yunus MalliMainz 9 shots, 5 on target, 2 key passes and 2 goals, you can’t really ask for more from your main attacking midfielder. The 23-year-old has struggled to score since December and his Dortmund transfer collapse looked to have had an emotional impact on him. It must be nice for Mainz fans to see him return to form, while Dortmund fans are probably salivating for a summer transfer after witnessing the Shinji Kagawa on ice spectacular on Sunday.

Filip Kostic – Vfb Stuttgart had a slow start to the game against Hannover, but ended up troubling the Hannover defense with his blazing speed. With 18 tackles won, and suffering 5 fouls to go along with 5 key passes, as well as 15 crosses (apologies to his excellent Romanian teammate Alex Maxim – who had 17 crosses, 3 key passes and 5 shots), Kostic was a constant menace for die Schwaben.

Kingsley Coman is still somehow only 19 years old and wreaking havoc in the Bundesliga already. His well-taken shot opened the scoring for Bayern, but it was his brilliant run, past a hapless Ricardo Rodriguez (arguably one of the 3 best wingbacks in the Bundesliga and a frequent Real Madrid/EPL transfer target) that set up Robert Lewandowski’s finish that was the highlight of the match. The fact that Bayern can roll out Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry and find gems like Coman (on loan from Juventus) is just super Golden State Warrions level shooting unfair.

Forward

Raffael is the first Bundesliga player to reach double figures in goals and assists this year and is transforming himself into a lethal finisher aside from being a superb setup man. The assists are already a career high, and he needs 5 more goals to equal his 2013/14 tally. How this 30-year-old is not getting a call from Brazil and Dunga is mystifying.

As always, let us know in the comments what you think of our selections.

 

 

 

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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