The Bundesliga’s best XI – Part 5 – Forwards

The conclusion of our five part series takes a look at the best forwards in the Bundesliga so far. Once again, we will be using our own match experiences, combined with analytical resources from all over the web, alongside the Squawka, Whoscored and Kicker ratings. Based on those, we have come up with a list of ten candidates for the two spots:

Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Timo Werner, Andrej Kramaric, Max Philipp, Vedad Ibisevic, Chicharito, Anthony Modeste, Sandro Wagner and either Yussuf Poulsen.

Honorable mentions

Yunus Malli – misses out due to him being more of an attacking midfielder, while Joel Pohjanpalo’s injury probably prevented him from making the list, but at the same time secured him the goals per minutes crown for sure. Mark Uth would’ve had a decent shot, but has unfortunately gotten hurt, though TSG have not felt his absence. Thorgan Hazard has probably been Gladbach’s best player, but 385 minutes are not enough to be considered.

Counting down to the top 5

Yussuf Poulsen is a wonderful player, a rare defensive forward who also possesses great footwork and can cross the ball, alongside exceling in the air and in pressing, but has just one goal so far. He is running under expectations (1.68 to 1 after nine games per Alex Rathke) and has generally pretty solid shot locations. yp

Robert Lewandowski continues to lead the league in total shots with 44 and shots per game at 4.4. He is taking them from excellent locations, 40 of them coming from inside the box, which are in line with his performances in recent years. While he still has seven goals, five of them came in the trashing of Werder and the matches vs Schalke and Ingolstadt in August-September. He ran into a dry spell of going five Bundesliga games without a goal, before scoring two vs Augsburg. There might be an explanation for the relative inconsistency: he is getting just 36% of his shots on target this year, as opposed to 48% of last year’s 30 goal campaign. Perhaps it’s just like his first Bayern year of 38% and 17 goals and not the last Dortmund season of 52% and 20 goals (which seem really low in retrospect). Blocks and shots missing the target account for the missing percentages, as he is posting career-highs with 0.9 blocked and 1.9 shots off target in 2016/17. Still, he isn’t the forward that Bayern fans need to be worrying about.

Timo Werner, Chicharito and Sandro Wagner are all in that four to five goal range with similarly excellent numbers.


Ironically, Sandro Wagner has the highest success rate in take-ons at 70%, but the lowest in aerial duels at 38%. The big Hoffenheim striker has looked impressive at times, collecting three straight games with a goal and two man of the match performances in October. Chicharito has started the season well, once he got over his broken hand and scored five goals over two weeks, but has been MIA since and is posting near career low shot numbers (1.9 shots per game). To his credit, the Mexican has worked hard to improve his all-around game and his pressing qualities are excellent. Timo Werner also plays a key part in Leipzig’s pressing scheme, often as the lead man that runs down unsuspecting defenders. There are still areas where he needs to improve (touch and passing), but he has nearly matched his six goals from last year in 700 minutes, after getting 2200 for VfB, so nobody’s complaining.

The top 5 in reverse order

Max Philipp is definitely the biggest surprise on here, as the 22-year- old has produced five goals on 2.6 shots per game, albeit at a 25% conversion rate. He is a more or less an unknown, after playing 1100 minutes, mostly as a sub in Freiburg’s 14\15 campaign and posting one goal on nineteen shots – though ten of them came from the box. He managed eight goals in 2555 Zweite Liga minutes, but Grifo and Petersen stole the headlines, and even Florian Niederlechner (who split some forward minutes with him) got eight in 1150 minutes. He’s also become a long-distance shooter, as 20 of his 26 shots so far have come from outside the box. The left one is missing his last two games and one goal, but Squawka’s shot accuracy shows him going high and wide a lot, which tends to happen when you shoot from the center circle….


I vaguely recall him taking his first 15 shots from outside of the box, and while he has had great success at those this year, it’s not a great idea in general. You can see a few of his goals from this season at the two minute mark of this video.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of shot locations is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, quietly on eleven goals this year, despite Dortmund going through a transitional year and Auba missing one game. The Gabonese is taking 3.4 shots, but only three of his 31 have come from outside the box, matching a career best rate of ten percent! Auba’s transformation of shot locations began last year, as he was still splitting his outside the box, inside the box shots  30-70 in 2013-14, until last year when he took 102 of his 118 from inside the box. A lot of that is a result of Dortmund’s attacking shift under Thomas Tuchel, and the great service that he received from Hummels, Mkhitaryan and Gundogan in the past, or from Ousmane Dembele, or Gonzalo Castro this year. The other advantage that Auba, thanks to Tuchel’s system, has over pretty much everyone is that he rarely gets blocked – only two shots this season were thwarted by opposition defenders. He also tends to score in bunches, eight of his goals came in three games, with four against HSV on Matchday 10. He was on 4.1 expected goals and seven actual goals, before the match, and I’m sure these massive dots didn’t exactly change that trend. Of course, when you get those kinda gifts and shots, you’ll crush any model.

Vedad Ibisevic is probably the toughest omission in this group. Everyone’s favorite Bosnian who went to Saint Louis University has six goals already for Hertha BSC, even if two of them came from penalties. Then, again the veteran striker knows a thing or two about crushing the Hinrunde, after scoring 18 goals in 17 matches in 2008\09 before going down for the year with an ACL injury that crushed Hoffenheim’s season. Now he’s 32 and having removed himself from a dreadful Stuttgart situation he has found a new lease on life as the new Hertha captain. Ten goals on 2.4 shots last year were excellent, but this year he has also added three assists (the most spectacular being the backheel one against Dortmund to Valentin Stocker) so far. He’s running two goals over expectation, but in the absence of Salomon Kalou in the first eight games, his importance to a Hertha side that crashed out of Europe, but is now thriving in the Bundesliga cannot be overstated.


Then again, shooting from these locations, mostly hitting the target and never getting blocked will lead to outperforming XG models. Alex Meier, eat your heart out!


The winners are


Andrej Kramaric of Hoffenheim is probably the less popular choice, but bear with me. Three goals, five assists, 81% passing, 3.5 shots per game (third most behind Lewy and Modeste), 14 key passes for a team that’s been probably the biggest surprise aside from Leipzig. The Croatian has shown glimpses of this back with Rijeka (5 goals in 6 EL games), Leicester and last season’s three goals in 1000 minutes on 2.8 shots were promising, but this is some epic stuff. Among forwards, he ranks 5th at Whoscored, 11th at Kicker, while Squawka has him third. I suspect that if those sites would look at his XG models, and if he were a little luckier (see Jarstein’s crazy save), he would easily be number two. Through 8 games, that is before the Hertha game,  Alex Rathke’s XG model has him at 3.31 expected goals, but just two actual goals.


If we do a rough calculation of the expected goal value of that shot, based on Ben Torvaney’s model, it’s probably higher than the 34%.

So, while I haven’t seen his latest figures, it’s safe to assume that he’s definitely above four now.

His playmaking is probably underrated, despite playing some great throughballs and setting up teammates. Here are some of the examples of passed into the box.


Finally, he has made our Team of the Week several times already.


Anthony Modeste – There used to be an old Fifa commentator quote “if it’s on target he scores” . Well, that’s Modeste in a nutshell: 20 of his 39 shots have missed the target, but he has 11 goals on the 14 that made it on goal. The former Blackburn man is enjoying a career year, and sits atop the Bundesliga goal charts. Patrick Onofre of the excellent Challengers Podcast did an excellent job of breaking down his success, to which I would add the following ingredients: 1. great service from guys like Marcel Risse – four assists to Modeste already and Jonast Hector\Koka Rausch. 2. he has taken nine shots from inside the six this year, same as he did in TWO seasons at Hoffenheim! (took five all of last year) 3. He has nearly doubled his shot output from the Hoffenheim years at 3.9 this year, and it’s even a big improvement on last year’s 3.2. Finally, some graphs.





So there you have it, the Bundesliga’s best XI after the ten game mark looks like this: screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-6-32-15-pm


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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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