Bundesliga Matchday 29, or “derby weekend,” is now in the books leaving behind some serious implications after a weekend full of exciting games.
If there were any doubts regarding die Meisterschaft, Bayern’s 3-1 win over Stuttgart at a sold out Mercedes-Benz Arena paired with the 2-2 Revierderby between Schalke and Dortmund put that to bed, with the Bavarians now enjoying a seven-point lead over BVB with just five matches to go.
Hertha’s shocking draw at home with Hannover, Ingolstadt’s predicted win (shots 15 to 7 in favor of die Schanzer) over Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Wolfsburg’s draw with Mainz all meant that Leverkusen, with their 2-0 victory in Cologne, their fourth-consecutive win, are now three points clear of the field in fourth and just a point behind Hertha for third! Welcome to the wacky world of the Bundesliga, where a five-week hot stretch can make or break your season, as just nine points separate eighth-place Wolfsburg from 15th place Augsburg, who improved their chances for survival with an away win at Bremen.
Speaking of away wins, Darmstadt know a thing or two about them, as they also won by a score of 1-2, at the enigma that is HSV. The Lilies are now on 32 points, just one behind Stuttgart and one ahead of Hoffenheim, who continued their miraculous form under Nagelsmann with a 2-0 away win in Frankfurt.
Eintracht and Werder were the clear big losers of the weekend, with their losses pairing with wins by relegation competition Darmstadt, Hoffenheim, and Augsburg. Eintracht have the schedule going against them (away to Leverkusen and Darmstadt, home to Mainz and BVB ) before they meet Werder on Matchday 34 in an epic relegation game!
But, let’s not get ahead ourselves. After recapping the round, it’s on to our team of the week:
Bernd Leno – Leverkusen
Leno faced 18 Cologne shots and had to make nine saves to preserve a clean sheet in the Rhine derby. His save percentage is now at 68.6% and trending upwards towards the league average of 70.8, thanks in large part to four-consecutive clean sheets against a quartet of solid mid-table teams with very good (VfB are second in total shots, Wolfsburg fourth) to decent (Cologne tenth – HSV twelfth) shot numbers. The Leverkusen defense, the highest-tackling unit in the league with 20 per match, despite injuries has quietly been holding teams to 9.9 shots per game. When they haven’t, Leno has been there to bail them out. For a team that is the fifth worst (behind Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Bremen, and Frankfurt) in expected goals per shots allowed – due to allowing a ton of danger zone shots – having a reliable keeper capable of the occasional big save is a must. With eleven clean sheets this season, second only behind Manuel Neuer, Bernd Leno is proving that he can be that kind of a goalkeeper.
Aytac Sulu – Darmstadt
Lord Zulu scored his seventh away goal (0 home goals) of the season, and what a goal it was: The center back sprinted 15 yards, beating 3 HSV players to get on the end of another really good Konstantin Rausch set piece before getting his header down low and past Rene Adler. A career lower-league grinder who only became a professional at age 25, the 30-year-old is only 6 feet tall, but deadly in the air and on set pieces, as Leverkusen, Ingolstadt, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and Werder also can attest to. He also added 3 tackles and 3 interceptions with 2 clearances and won over 70% of his challenges.
Benjamin Hübner – Ingolstadt
Eight clearances, seven interceptions, three tackles (including one as the last man), and two shots – this is just exquisite stuff from one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders this season. He is the son of Eintracht sporting director Bruno Hübner and at 2.25 million, a gigantic bargain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the next Kevin Wimmer and signed for an EPL team, given that he is winning 5.4 aerials per match, good for 7th in the league and the best among all defenders!
David Alaba – Bayern
109 touches with 94 % accuracy would have been enough, but his touch and composure on this goal puts strikers to shame. The Austrian genius also added two tackles and five clearances in a commanding display.
Karim Bellarabi – Leverkusen
Bellarabi had two assists in just 55 minutes before succumbing to what looked like an injury. His assist to Javier Hernandez is a pass that he would not have made a month ago. His four assists in his last three games have now put him at seven on the year – a career high! Perhaps Roger Schmidt let him know about his 6% conversion rate (which had been around 3% before he scored against VfB) and somehow convinced him that it would be better to start passing more. The good news is that it’s only taken 27-29 games, but it’s still better than Andre Breitenreiter and Leroy Sané.
Hannover – 12.5 kilometers covered, two shots, two key passes, his second career goal, a shot off the post, and the game of his life. Not bad for a guy we called one of the worst midfielders in the Bundesliga in the Hinrunde. After making twelve appearances in the first half of the season, this was only his fifth game of the Rückrunde, despite no injuries and Hannover not exactly chock full of Xavis and Iniestas in the center of the pitch. It’s basically these types of games (recall the Christian Schulz brace vs Stuttgart) that have earned points for the 96ers, one of the many reasons why the team is heading to the zweite Liga.
Pascal Groß -Ingolstadt
Groß had four key passes and three shots on a game-high 81 touches in a crucial win over BMG while also covering 12 kilometers. He now has 74 key passes, 15 more than second-place Filip Kostic and is another Ingolstadt player surely on the radar of some bigger teams. With his ability to whip-in crosses and set pieces, England would seem like a natural fit, and at 4 million Euros, the former Hoffenheim youth product is a bargain.
Danny Latza – Mainz
80 touches, four aerials won, four key passes, four tackles, and 12.9 kilometers covered (the second most of the match day) put in another one of his industrious performances. The Gelsenkirchen native and former Schalke youth player spent 13 years with the Royal Blues before transfers to Darmstadt and Bochum led him to Mainz lastd July. His combative playing style is music to Julian Baumgartlinger’s ears, but unlike the Austrian, he can also play killer passes, with 32 chances created on the season.
Vedad Ibisevic – Hertha
Ibisevic had five shots, four of which were on target, and a goal that showed-off his great touch in the 2-2 draw versus Hannover. His nine goals on the season are exactly what a team like Stuttgart are missing up front, and his 17-percent conversion rate (along with Kalou’s astronomical 29% rate and 14 goals) is exceptional. The guy also finished the game after breaking this face with 15 minutes to go. What a season for the Bosnian!
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Schalke
The Hunter’s nine goals are masking a mediocre season. In contrast to Ibisevic, the 32-year old Dutchman is only shooting 39%, while the Hertha attacker clicks along at a torrid 60%. The Dutch striker has also needed three penalties (missing against Loris Karius) to score two of his nine goals. If we strip the three penalties, his conversion rate is 13%. His value over Franco di Santo (VOFS to create a baseball/basketball analytics term) was even so low that just a couple of weeks ago the Argentine journeyman took his spot on the starting XI.
In the Revierderby, Huntelaar summoned some of his old strengths, winning eleven aerials, including the one that led to Sokratis taking him down for a penalty, which he calmly converted. There aren’t too many who can out-muscle the rugged Greek defender, but the Hunter got the better of him all afternoon, with a no-nonsense display that bordered on nasty at times (just ask Matthias Ginter about those Karl Malone/David Robinson elbows received from the striker.).
André Schürrle – Wolfsburg
With 8 shots and a goal against Mainz, Schürrle was easily the man of the match for a Wolfsburg side without the suspended Julian Draxler and the rested Ricardo Rodriguez-Vieirinha fullback pairing. While making fun of Schürrle has been the lowest of low-hanging fruit for Bundesliga and Premier League pundits, those laughing should note the following: since the end of January, Schürrle has scored six times in the Bundesliga, fifth best behind Raffael, Sandro Wagner, Robert Lewandowski, and Claudio Pizarro; only Lewandowski (52) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (40) have taken more shots than Schürrle with 37; and Schürrle’s 4.5 shots per 90 minutes is fourth behind the aforementioned duo plus Arjen Robben. His goal was key to defeating Gent in the Champions League, while his defensive contributions in limiting the Kroos-Modric duo were also key to beating Real Madrid last weekend.
Zlatko Junuzovic had SEVEN key passes in a game that Werder somehow lost despite outshooting Augsburg 17-4 . . . Nadiem Amiri scored one minute after coming on . . . Henrikh Mkhitaryan changed the complexity of the Revierderby by setting up Shinji Kagawa, who would have been a lock if he finished his other two chances . . Nico Elvedi had five clearances and interceptions . . . Lewis Holtby was active in midfield and scored a consolation goal for HSV . . . Sandro Wagner is such a boss that he is now setting people up, assisting on Jerome Gondorf‘s goal . . . Caiuby won 13 aerial challenges for Augsburg and set-up Alfred Finnbogason beautifully with a cross . . . Anthony Modeste continues to take heaps of shots, as does Hakan Calhanoglu, while Julian Brandt continues his stellar play . . . Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno can thank Andre Ramalho and Jonathan Tah (15 combined clearances) for his “team of the week” appearance . . . Jonas Hector and Marcel Risse added another four key passes to their already-impressive numbers . . . Stefan Bell misses out, as does Daniel Didavi, despite scoring one of the weirdest goals against Bayern.
As always, let us know if me missed anyone and what you think!