Goals Galore in MD 17 Team of the Week

It’s been a while, liebe Fussballfreunden, but the Bundesliga returned from its winter break, and that means the return of the much-anticipated, never-duplicated, always-appreciated Team of the Week! (The Bundesliga has been away so long that I’m even talking in rhymes like Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier)

If you wanted a theme for this weekend, it would be “players who scored goals and also dominated games.”

Let’s get to the players:

Goalkeeper 

Again, this was not a great weekend for goalkeepers, as two of them (Jaroslav Drobny and Lukas Hradecky) got early showers for a couple of ridiculous challenges outside the box. Many others didn’t do much in terms of outstanding work (Thomas Kessler, Heinz Lindner, and Rune Jarstein were tied for the most saves with five each) and it would feel wrong to give the award to someone like Heinz Lindner, a babyfaced 26-year-old who had to jump in for Eintracht and ended up making several outstanding saves while still conceding three goals on the day. The best of the bunch was Michael Esser, who only made three saves for Darmstadt, but posted what might the save of the year in a stop on Raffael.

In case you didn’t watch the goalless draw featuring two sides lacking in imagination . . .

What? You thought I would stop taking shots at Dieter Hecking, just because of a new year\new team?

The Darmstadt GK stoned Raffael who was given the ball on a silver platter by Jonas Hoffman, of all people. It was clearly the biggest chance for Gladbach, as confirmed by the huge dot in the middle of  11tegen11’s XG map. 

Defenders

Week 17 provided probably the deepest selection of Bundesliga defenders worthy of TOTW glory. Alas, there are only a few spots.

There were several worthy candidates who put up excellent numbers against offensively challenged teams (looking at the RBL, Hoffenheim, BVB, B04 guys) so in the name of fairness I picked one of each.

Benjamin Henrichs is a household name in these parts, and the still-only-19-year-old is making sure that Bundesliga fans know his name.

Defensively, he amassed TEN interceptions at right back and kept Hertha from creating chances on his side as the picture shows. 

Offensively, he and Kimo Bellarabi were prominently involved in the attack, as the former attacking midfielder earned five fouls alongside 82 touches (second-most behind Kevin Kampl). 

Amazingly, 48% of Leverkusen’s attacks came from the right side, compared to 27% in the middle and just 25% on the left. It’s thus no surprise that most of their open play chances were created by Henrichs and Bellarabi. 

If this were a real starting XI, we would have to line Henrichs up at LB, where he has already made six appearances for Leverkusen this season, because we got Lukasz Piszczek, goalscoring defender, of Borussia Dortmund at right back. Piszczu took advantage of a strange lineup by Alexander Nouri that had nominal LB Santiago Garcia push very high up and almost occupy both his own position and that of the LW.

The situation was far from advantageous for Werder, as the positional graph above shows.

The other reason for that was one of the great strengths of Christian Pulisic: his defensive work, as the number of ball-recoveries show. It all resulted in a lot of freedom for the Pole, who put in a defensive masterclass with seven interceptions and three of his four clearances coming in the box. But the real reason for his inclusion was his offense; with 81 touches, Piszczek finished second on the team behind Shinji Kagawa (who, by the way, went 15 of 19 on passes in the first half and then exploded for 39 of 42 in the second half!).  And, of course. scoring the game-winner to climb to second in team-scoring (tied with Dembele) with four goals was just the cherry on top. Those four goals represent 25% of his career output, as he had scored twelve in 223 Bundesliga matches prior to the start of this season.

Marvin Compper also got on the score sheet for RB Leipzig, with his seventh career goal in his 175th Bundesliga match. Although he did get beaten once by Ante Rebic on a long run that was pretty much Eintracht’s only offensive moment of the match, Compper made up for it with his early goal from a great Marcel Halstenberg rebound and added four clearances, four tackles. and 55-of-63 passing. 

Granted, Frankfurt were playing with ten men for 88 minutes of this one, so take the following stat with #SALTBAE, but Eintracht were allowed just TWO deep completions (defined as passes completed within a 25 yard radius of the opposition’s goal). Compper’s positioning and reading of the game accounted for a lot of that. Because of the ridiculous RB Leipzig season, it will probably get lost among the myriad of great story lines, but Marvin Compper pulling a Sandro Wagner (going from the butt of jokes to one of the best players at his positions) is a fascinating achievement.

Speaking of positioning and reading of the game, Schalke’s Naldo would like to have something to say. The oft-criticized veteran was basically owning the box versus Ingolstadt all day: 

His efforts were very much needed, as Ingolstadt almost doubled-up Schalke in attacking-third passes, 211 attempts to 108. It’s actually pretty amazing that despite all of that possession in the attacking third and the Brazilian making zero tackles, Naldo and co. were able to keep Ingolstadt to mostly long-range shots (with the exceptions being a funky cross that Fahrmann cleared and a late Matthew Leckie opportunity that the Aussie predictably failed to hit the target with). 

Midfielders

Let’s stay with the Gelsenkirchen outfit for the first of our four midfielders: Leon Goretzka. Known as a talented young all-around midfielder, the 21-year-old showed off his offensive game on Saturday, attempting TEN take-ons, succeeding half the time, while also managing four shots (that volley in the first minute sizzled wide after Martin Hansen was rooted to the spot) and two key passes. Most of his dribbling took place in the middle of the park, which is absolutely vital in terms of pressing-resistance against a side like Ingolstadt who are known for their pressing. 

Of these take-ons, six came in the first half, with four succeeding.  It’s also worth mentioning that new guy and scorer of the game-winner Guido Burgstaller owes Goretzka some money after he wasted a brilliant chip from Goretzka in the 69th minute, heading the ball wide from six yards out.

Hakan Calhanoglu is a player who should be on TOTW with some regularity for Leverkusen, but I’m having a hard time remembering him making it more than once this year. With the kind of performance he delivered on Sunday against Hertha Berlin – two goals on six shots, including FIVE on target! – that should change, which is good news for fans of die Werkself.  Much like the real estate cliche, what’s notable on the shots for Calha is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. 

For a guy who takes 63% of his shots from outside the box, this is extraordinary. One can only hope that it happens more often. The other notable number for Bayer was 28: the number of deep completions, with only two of them coming from crosses which showed great access to the danger zones that are so key to modern football. With a fully functioning Calhanoglu scoring goals, Bellarabi and Henrichs owning the right side, Julian Brandt schooling kids with his dribbling, and Kevin Kampl doing Kevin Kampl things, Leverkusen just might get out of their funk.

Thorgan Hazard and Borussia Mönchengladbach could probably do with some of that advice as well, as BMG failed again to get three points on the road, though not because of the Belgian. Hazard was just inches away from scoring; the post kept out his shot after he completely fooled two Darmstadt defenders after he completed six of his ten attempted dribbles. 

The other interesting development was the deployment of hitherto little-used Jonas Hofmann in the right half-space, as Hazard occupied the left half-space, with the former BVB man attempting eight take-ons. While the results were far from ideal, the process was promising: Gladbach attempted just eleven crosses, with three of these coming from set pieces. Perhaps an old dog like cross-master Hecking can learn some new tricks after all?

Nadiem Amiri continues his and Hoffenheim’s assault on the league with a 2-0 win at Augsburg that was rather uneventful. Despite allowing 153 attacking-third passes, the defense of Hoffenheim yielded just nine shots, with two ending up on-target.

They were not exactly great looks, either.

With some help from Kerem Demirbay (two each of shots, key passes and dribbles), Amiri took care of the offense with two wonderful pieces of skill. First, he applied pressure on the Augsburg midfield, got a loose ball that ended up bouncing back to him, and sent Wagner through for the first goal (though the striker threw a “get off me” stiff-arm that woulda made Legarrette Blount proud). Then he was fed a pass by Kevin Vogt across the halfway line in the 64th minute and got the attention of FOUR FCA defenders. In the end, Andrej Kramaric had only to tap-in the second goal.

Game. Set. Match.

When you look at this overall player dashboard, it’s hard to find any fault in his display: 

By the way, does anyone else think it insane that Amiri and Demirbay (probably the best young CM duo in the Bundesliga) have just 4000 combined minutes of league experience, or is it just the genius of Nagelsmann again? A year-and-a-half ago Amiri had just seven Bundesliga appearances, and Demirbay was still slumming it in the Zweite Liga; now they’re ruining Bundesliga midfields for fun.

Forwards

With apologies to Sandro Wagner, Timo Werner, Chicharito, and Mario Gomez, there were two clear-cut choices here.

Dortmund’s André Schürrle seems to be making a habit of strong starts (see the Mainz game in Week 1 where he had six shots and seven key passes). He was at it again versus Werder, finishing with seven shots, many of them coming from inside the box. 

He was sub-par in other facets of the game, including 1-of-5 on take-ons and 5-of-15 in attacking-third passes. However, his presence and activity (49 touches is quite a lot for BVB, who are used to Auba getting 30-ish per match) was admirable in a rare start as a center forward. With Auba’s immediate return from AFCON and the signing of Alexander Isak, Schürrle up top will probably not happen too often.

With his second goal, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski reminded everyone that he might the best center forward in the game. Is it weird that people were saying how Lewy was having a quiet season, despite twelve actual goals scored as well as owning the league’s best expected goals ratio of 9.99 prior to the two he dropped on Freiburg? That second goal, considering the state of the pitch, temperature, game state, etc. is something that perhaps 5-10 CFs are capable of. I was reminded of Marco van Basten, who once was a legendary striker with Ajax and Milan.

CONTROLO FANTASTICO!

Let us know what you think of the picks and if you feel we left someone out.

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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

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