Ten rounds are in the books in Germany, and it’s been arguably the most exciting opener in the Bundesliga since 2007/08 when newly promoted Hoffenheim went on to be Herbstmeister. Fast forward to today, where Nageslmannia is sweeping the nation in Sinnsheim. That is also of course Ralf Rangnick’s former team, while his current one RB Leipzig is on a similar path, as they are astonishingly tied with the mighty Bayern. However, unlike Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men, Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern are earning a lot of points, but are arguably playing below their own lofty standards.
Meanwhile in Berlin, Pál Dárdai is quietly in contention for the coach of the year prize, as he continues to get the most out of a limited squad full of Bundesliga veterans, castoffs and youngsters. Speaking of youngsters: Borussia Dortmund are experiencing some growing pains of their own, and while it has been exhilarating to watch, BVB fans would probably prefer a lower range of outcomes than anywhere from 0:0 to 6:0 on just about any matchday. Eintracht and Cologne have been two more surprise packages, with Niko Kovac’s team doing with a stout defense and the brilliance of Marco Fabián, while it’s mostly about Anthony Modeste and his associates (Hector, Risse and Osako) in the Carnival city for Peter Stöger and co. Freiburg are the only team out of the next four that is happy (though I suspect the Grinch known as Christian Streich does not really know the meaning of the word), and the Breisgau side are still yet to play a draw this season. Leverkusen, Mainz and Gladbach are all underperforming, with cup embarrassments (Sportfreunde Lotte, Man. City and Anderlecht) and injuries (Danny Latza, Andre Ramalho, Yoshinori Muto and Jairo Samperio have combined for under 250 minutes, while Kimo Bellarabi Joel Pohjanpalo, Kevin Volland, Aleksnandr Dragovic Lars Bender have played a combined 1000 minutes, with Thorgan Hazard, Raffael and Mo Dahoud logging a little over 1000 minutes as well) decimating these challengers. The whispers about Roger Schmidt and Andre Schubert’s futures are thus more understandable.
Schalke and Wolfsburg have each had their crisis, with Markus Weinzierl surviving five losses to open the season, while Dieter Hecking was sent packing, with the club replacing him with Valerien Ismael now on at least until the end of the year. Augsburg are dealing with a couple of long-term injuries for Caiuby and Dominik Kohr (who was finally able to start vs. Ingolstadt after that awful foul by Jose Rodriguez), and Dirk Schuster has already used 22 players – tied for third with a number of teams with Wolfsburg second with 24 and Werder running away with the title at 28 players! Yet, the team has retained its strong core with Marwin Hitz (29 years old), Paul Verhaegh (33) and Daniel Baier (32) playing every minute so far. Schuster’s former team Darmstadt are still playing a brutal 37% possession per game style of football, and getting knocked out of the cup by a fourth division side. Their silver lining has been mostly the failure of the opponents, with Wolfsburg gifting them a red card and three points, and the fortunate shot of Sandro Sirigu in the 92nd minute netting them another three in a game where Eintracht outclassed them completely with 78% possession and a 14 to 8 shots edge. Werder are lucky, because they have looked like a 2.Bundesliga team at times, particularly on defense, where once again they are the worst in the league with 27 goals allowed, and the novelty of Alexander Nouri is wearing off with three straight defeats. The should thank their lucky stars for the anemic offenses of Ingolstadt and Hamburg (which also has one of the worst looking defenses in recent memory), as evidenced by both winless teams having fired their coaches already. If you still want to read more on coaches, check out part 1 of our series!
So now that you are all caught up, let’s take a look at the best XI players based on their 2016/17 performance. I’ll be using my own match experiences, team of the week articles, alongside advanced stats, XG metrics and sites like Kicker, Whoscored and Squawka in selecting the most deserving candidates.
Oliver Baumann, Rune Jarstein, Timo Horn, Marwin Hitz, Lukas Hradecky are the top five for me. Let me explain: Manuel Neuer is still number one, but neither he nor Bayern have been impressive this year. Other top teams like BVB (where Roman Burki has had a couple of excellent games – Wolfsburg) or RB Leipzig (where Gulacsi is more of a spectator) have either not needed big performances from their goalies, or were at times exposing them to the point where they couldn’t do anything about it. (Dortmund defense) The usual suspects like Bernd Leno, Yann Sommer, Rene Adler and to a lesser extent Ralf Fahrmann have either been bad to mediocre, or their teams are underperforming. Thus we are left with only five real candidates, who have mostly been instrumental in their teams mostly sitting pretty high in the Bundesliga table. Let’s rank them in reverse order:
Marwin Hitz has been mostly solid since a couple of meh games against Mainz and Werder to start the year, but is missing those standout games that could really make a case for him. His team is also 13th in the Bundesliga, and FCA have conceded 14 goals so far. His save percentage is a little above average at 73%, and he is rated sixth by Kicker, fourth by Whoscored and just eleventh at Squawka. If Koen Casteels had played more than seven games, I might’ve even switched these two.
Lukas Hradecky has already got five clean sheets and is on a 418 minute streak without conceding a goal for Frankfurt. He has also only conceded eight goals, the fourth best mark in the league. My colleague Anas Ali Molla thought it was enough to pick him as the best goalie in the Bundesliga so far, but I’d respectfully disagree for the following reasons: his defense has been stunning, thanks to a couple of things. Losing sub par defenders like Carlos Zambrano and Aleksandar Ignjovski have helped Eintracht, especially when new signings Jesus Vallejo, Guillermo Varela (playing really well prior to his injury in September) (and Michael Hector to a lesser extent) and CDM wizard Omar Mascarell have transformed the defense. It helps that David Abraham and Timmy Chandler are enjoying career years, and Niko Kovac has successfully experimented with a 3-4-3 that often changes to 5-2-2-1 in defense. You can see just how much the defensive personnel has changed below:
and the results have been staggering. SGE are allowing just 2.5 shots on target this year, the third best mark in the Bundesliga behind RBL and Bayern and nearly more than half of last season’s average of 5.32, which ranked them fifth worst!
So, I’m just saying that a lot of those shutouts are courtesy of the defense, which also allows the third fewest shots at 8.6 a game, which is right on par with Conte’s Chelsea (8.4) and RB Leipzig, Guardiola’s Man. City (8.5) and Klopp’s Liverpool (8.1), but still behind Bayern at 6.8. Still, die Adler are in exclusive company defensively, and while Hradecky has been a part of the solution, I can’t justify ranking him any higher than fourth. I do find Squawka’s 18th position for him insulting, while Whoscored ninth is more plausible (Burki, Neuer, Fahrmann and Casteels are ahead of him), but ultimately the Kicker ranking of fifth is one that I agree with the most. Though I don’t get the Michael Esser Darmstadt love, I must confess.
Timo Horn is one of the guys ahead of Hradecky, as he has conceded just seven goals on the year and owns the best save percentage at 84.2%. While the Cologne netminder has been excellent, he has benefited from some stout defending and some excellent luck (the Bayern game and the post) until a knee injury that he suffered this week. Still, that’s not enough to keep him off the podium, and Cologne should get rewarded for their great season so far, even if the Leicester like 4.2% conversion rate for opponents will not last, and it’s safe to say it won’t always take opponents more than twenty shots to score against them….
Oliver Baumann has made the most saves with 41 and the most penalty area stops with 29, but he is ranked just 11th by Kicker and he cost his side at least two points against Mainz, as he committed several blunders in the 4-4 draw. He followed that up with a keeper of the matchday performance against Wolfsburg, stopping nine shots, and has been consistently rated as a 7/10 in matches since. He deserves a ton of praise for his team being the highest among the five, but it’s also worrisome when Hoffenheim are competing for the Champions League while facing relegation level defensive shot numbers. They’ve improved in the last few games, but are still allowing over five shots to hit the target. If you’re gonna say that’s OK, Baumann also led the league with 151 saves last year and Hoffenheim were conceding 5.94 SoT against, I’m willing to concede that point, but it doesn’t exactly help their cause. Those 29 penalty area stops are a 2.9 average, and actually 0.1 more than last season’s 2.8, while the outside of the box saves are down from 1.5 per to 0.9 per game. His 4.1 saves per game is lower than the 4.6 last year, meaning that opponents are forcing him to make fewer saves, but from much better locations. Do expect his 82% save percentage to dip….
Your best goalie of the Bundesliga after ten games is
Rune Jarstein had one bad-looking game vs Eintracht, but it’s mostly a fluke. You can look at the XG map
and the highlights all you want, but you get the same wonky outcome:
Jarstein allowed three goals, but he couldn’t really do anything about Fabian’s counter, was left facing a three yard shot for the second and a seven yard header to the opposite corner through traffic by Michael Hector for the third. Otherwise, his team conceded just seven additional goals, despite his team losing on the expected goals charts on seven of ten matchdays (not included on the chart is the 1-0 loss to Hoffenheim where they got killed in shots 23 to 5 and the convincing 3-0 win vs Gladbach)
As the author of these shot stats, Alex Rathke points it in his Hertha video, BSC are again among the luckiest teams in the league. While we don’t care about the team putting up the lowest XG total of 7.4 goals on offense (actual goals were at 14 after nine matches), it has benefitted from some combination of shot luck randomness and excellent defense. Only 42 of 132 opponent shot reached Jarstein’s goal, a rate of just 31%. For comparison, Leverkusen are at a staggering 49%, Ingolstadt are at 44% and Bayern are at 36%, while Leipzig are showing those teams how to press, but not give up quality shots with a stunning 25%.
Per Alex’s excellent research, we know that after nine games Hertha were expected to concede 14 goals, but have shipped just ten, despite being closer to the bottom of the league in allowing “danger zone” shots at a clip of 6.33 per 90 minutes.
So we can see that Hertha are overperforming on both ends, and while the defensive efforts of John Anthony Brooks and Mitchell Weiser should not go unnoticed, it’s probably luck and more importantly Jarstein that’s been keeping them afloat (gee, where have we seen that before?). Here are some of his season highlights so far:
On MD 9, Jarstein was massive in a 1-0 loss to Hoffenheim with the save of the year among one of his five saves. Poor Andrej Kramaric…
After saving Aubameyang penalty, the Norwegian was arguably the man of the match against Dortmund, where he made an additional four saves, including a point-blank one on Auba at 1:04 here. He also made five saves in a tricky opening day triumph vs Ingolstadt and has four clean sheets on the season, and it’s safe to say that Hertha would be a middle of the pack team without his saves and his 75.6% save percentage. For me, he edges Baumann, because unlike Baumann he has made practically zero serious mistakes (do recall him giving the ball away and getting bailed out by his defenders vs Dortmund) and can’t be blamed for any goals conceded. So while Baumann wins at Squawka and Whoscored, Jarstein beats out Horn at Kicker (also second at Whoscored) and we are also choosing the Norwegian as our top keeper of the Bundesliga after ten games. Stay tuned for the defenders, next!