Team of the Week -Matchday 8 Edition: a New World Order

The Bundesliga has been trying to shed its reputation as a two-team league, with Bayern’s recent dominance (13 titles since Dortmund won in 95-96) of the last two decades only briefly interrupted by Dortmund’s three titles. Hardcore fans will recall the one-off Werder, Stuttgart or Wolfsburg titles, with challengers such as Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg again, firmly entrenched in a top 5 seemingly set in stone. The 2016/17 campaign has been nothing short of revolutionary in this aspect, with Red Bull Leipzig, Hertha BSC, Hoffenheim, FC Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt all currently in the top seven after eight matches! Yes, Bayern (mini-crisis notwithstanding) are still leading, while Dortmund are struggling with the growing pains of a young squad, but it’s the challengers like Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Gladbach and Schalke (despite a solid win against Mainz) who are all outside of the top 10. (not to mention traditional northern powers like Werder and HSV who have been fighting against relegation in the last couple of seasons). It’s a brave new world out there, kids! Franco di Santo, Sandro Wagner and Dario Lezcano all were involved in creating at least two goals, as sure of a sign of an apocalypse as any. So, stock up on VITAMAX and enjoy our MD 8 Team of the Week:


Orjan Nyland – FC Ingolstadt Probably the weirdest choice all year, after all his team allowed three goals. The big Norwegian is not among one of the better Bundesliga goalies, but he made seven saves against BVB, the most on the Matchday. The timing of his saves was incredibly important: three of them were clustered around the 15th minute, as Ingolstadt took the lead, then his save of Castro’s long-range sizzler in the 28th minute protected FCI’s 2-0 margin. His 79th minute stop of Felix Passlack’s wonderstrike at full-stretch was brilliant, and his save on Mario Götze from six yards out was fantastic. He did well to punch away the initial cross and then pulled off a superb close-range stop on Piszczek, only for Greatest American Hero Christian Pulisic to tap in the rebound. Similarly, Nyland could do nothing about Auba’s far post header, ditto on Ramos’ well-struck shot to the far post for the second BVB goal. Between this kind of a goalkeeping performance from Nyland, three monster saves from Weidenfeller and die Schänzer missing about two more clear-cut chances, this game really should’ve ended 6-6.




Mitchell Weiser (Hertha BSC) was a key part in Hertha’s fortunate and crucial victory over Köln with an assist and 72 touches. Five dribbles, three key passes and a great ball for Vedad Ibisevic were his offensive contributions, but the former Bayern man was no slouch on defense, adding five tackles and three interceptions.


Weiser also played a part in limiting Effzeh to 1 for 13 on crosses, despite facing Koka Rausch and Jonas Hector, two outstanding left-footed players capable of playing numerous key passes.


Honorable mention goes to his teammate Niklas Stark, who besides his goal (a gift from Effzeh’s back line) put in seven successful tackles in midfield.

Benjamin Hübner – Hoffenheim played yet another outstanding game for Julian Nagelsmann, as the hulking former Ingolstadt CB racked up seven interceptions and two tackles. His distribution was excellent: 67 pass on 88%, arguably effected by Bayer being forced to play with ten men after the Volland red card. After trying Fabian Schär and Ermin Bicakcic, Nagelsmann is figuring out that Hübner (who was one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders last year at Ingolstadt) is an outstanding defender. hubner

In the three games he has started Hoffenheim have allowed ten shots on target, for an average of 3.3. In the first five games without him TSG conceded nine each to Leipzig and Wolfsburg, six to Mainz, three to Darmstadt and five to Schalke for a total of 32 or 6.4 per game. So that’s HALF as many shots on target allowed with Hübner in the lineup, a big reason why they have grabbed nine points in three games compared seven in the five sans Hübner. Massive difference!

David Alaba (Bayern) just another man of the match performance with 98 touches, two shots, two key passes and one assist from the Austrian. Rampaged forward at will against a helpless Gladbach defense.


Unlike in earlier games (Frankfurt), his defense was brilliant too with three tackles and six interceptions.


Naby Keita (Leipzig) – Winning 21 tackles and collecting 103 touches on 129 and (together with the ever-excellent) Diego Demme) being everywhere for his team were just the start.


Keita also scored two excellent goals in perhaps the most dominant performance by a midfielder in the Bundesliga this season. His solo effort in the first half was breathtaking and there are maybe a handful of midfielders (Dele Alli, prime Andres Iniesta, young Clarence Seedorf) capable of pulling off that combination of speed, power and dribbling.

His passing frequency and solid completion rate were already mentioned above, but the VOLUME on his forward passes is just astounding, particularly when you consider that he and Demme were the two CDMs, with Emil Forsberg and Dominik Kaiser nominally the two attacking midfielders.


Did we mention his defense? He had ten ball recoveries including five tackles and seven interceptions, all game highs. The Bundesliga Fanatic actually caught Clemens Fritz’s post game comments about Keita:

I'm too Old For this shit - I'm too Old For this shit Danny Glover

Kerem Demirbay (Hoffenheim) is quickly becoming a household name in the Bundesliga. The 23-year-old former HSV player has been putting in strong shifts for Hoffenheim (notably vs Schalke) and Saturday vs. Leverkusen was another example.demirbay

He outran Kevin Volland in the fifth minute on a counter and earned a red card for the former TSG man, thus spoiling any chances of a revenge game. He took the ensuing free kick and hit the post, before scoring on a great shot fake that broke the ankles of poor Lars Bender later in the half. Collecting 12 key passes (8 of them coming not from crosses or corners, just one fewer than Franck Ribéry!) in just under 400 minutes is mighty impressive, but perhaps more importantly, TSG have won four games and drew one since Demirbay has been inserted in the starting lineup. Chalk another one up for Nagelsmann and TSG’s scouting department.

Omar Mascarell (Frankfurt) has also a great case for one of the summer’s best signings, as the former Real Madrid player has been a force in the middle for die Adler. Against HSV, he was just a one man destroyer, with seven tackles (he had seven on the year prior to the match despite starting every game!!), six interceptions and four clearances.


You can see how useful he was with his distribution, completing 86% of his 65 passes including two key passes, one of which initiated the attack leading to the opening goal. The 23-year-old is one to watch in the future, and looks to have found a home in Frankfurt after loan spells at Sporting Gijon and Derby County.

Marco Fabián (Frankfurt) repeats with another superb performance. It’s not just the two great assists or another three shots  that make him stand out; numbers that put him in the top five in both categories, but there are there other factors: 1. directness – he attempted 15 forward passes and just 13 backwards – 2. his combativeness – eight ball recoveries and 3. his attacking third passing – 10 of 15. Make no mistake about it: the Mexican has been elite and dare I say better than his more famous Leverkusen compatriot.

Nabil Bentaleb (Schalke) was pretty much the difference with his brace (alongside Franco di Santo’s brilliant holdup play – words seldom uttered, indeed) in an otherwise even game vs Mainz. The former Spurs man has been nothing short of a revelation for the Royal Blues: three goals – all top quality and 12 key passes – non from corners or crosses this season!!!

I mentioned the forward/backward passing splits with Fabian in the paragraph above, well they are even more impressive with Bentaleb as the graphic shows: 9 of 10 backwards but 13 of 21 forwards!




Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim)– Sandro Winger? Six crosses but just one aerial won?  The focal point of a passing attack? Who is this guy?

25 of 31 on completed passes for 80% from Sandro Wagner, a career sub 60% passer? What is going on?


That’s right, everyone’s favorite punchline Sandro Wagner had the game of his life against Leverkusen: a goal and assist on four shots, four key passes! He now has four goals for Julian Nagelsmann, but more importantly looks like an actual proper *gasp* modern creative striker. I’m baffled….

Dario Lezcano (FC Ingolstadt) usually stands out for his combative play and missing of chances. The Paraguayan typically draws the ire of Bundesliga and FCI fans, but on Saturday his performance was atypical and masterful. Perhaps he had more energy to finish his chances (though 35 sprints were top 5 on the Matchday as well), as he was not asked to press Dortmund as much and only a brilliant save by Roman Weidenfeller kept him from getting a hat-trick after putting poor Park on the floor.


Now if they can ever get him and Lukas Hinterseer – who missed a couple of easy chances – cooking at the same time, FCI might just have a shot at survival.


Honorable mentions

There were a lot of really tough cuts in no particular order: Niklas Stark and Vedad Ibisevic, Steven Zuber, Sead Kolasinac, Alessandro Schöpf, Franco di Santo, Max Philipp, Thiago, Douglas Costa, Ousmane Dembele, Ji Dong Won, László Kleinheisler, Diego Demme and Marco Höger all were under heavy consideration.

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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 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

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