Matchday 18 Team of the Week – the Air Pascal Groß edition

Matchday 18 is in the books, as the Bundesliga’s Rückrunde kicked off with 31 goals and some shocking results: A shorthanded Frankfurt tricked Schalke again, while Wolfsburg somehow (well, Vieirinha was playing RB) blew a lead at home to an Augsburg side that was missing both Daniel Baier and Paul Verhaegh, who have played every single minute so far. But never fear, R. Framberger is here. No, that’s not the newest lager, it’s FCA right back Raphael Framberger who provided the go-ahead assist to CM Dominik Kohr, who snuck in the back post behind who else but Vieirinha. Speaking of  CMs sneaking in, that’s what Danny Latza did in Mainz, and the 05ers even had a couple late chances to beat BVB, who looked like they prepared for an 80 minute outing. Hertha on the other hand were already 2-0 behind Freiburg thanks to Janik Haberer and Nils Petersen, when Julian “Freiburg killer” Schieber struck again, but it was only a consolation to the sliding Berliners, who have lost four of five with the lone win coming against Darmstadt. Winning was never really on the cards for the Lilies, as they gave up a six-pack at home to Cologne who managed to get half of their 14 shots on target. Aytac Sulu and co had a nightmare afternoon, and about the only thing Effzeh couldn’t get right was poor Christian Clemens scoring one, and maybe Anthony Modeste will even be OK with now having accounted for only 52% of Cologne’s goals. Ingolstadt entered the game vs. HSV as the league’s unluckiest team with a 5.6% conversion rate then proceeded to obliterate HSV from two long-range bombs by Markus Suttner and Pascal Groß

While it’s nice to see Sakai with the goal of the week, HSV have to be alarmed that seemingly every week, every team scores their goal of the season, and\or breaks out of their scoring funk against them.

Speaking of breaking out: it was hard to decide what to take away from Saturday’s TopSpiel. Were Gladbach finally breaking out of their slump, or was it just the case of Jonathan Tah committing two of the more ridiculous individual errors I’ve seen. Seriously JT, you are a beast, please don’t get shoved aside by Lars Stindl and Raffael, two guys who probably couldn’t bench press 50 lbs. Also, when are Dortmund fans going to worry that they will be replacing human turnover machines Matthias Ginter and Marc Bartra with the veteran awful positioning of Ömer Toprak, who looks like a shell of his former self? Also, not to rain on Lars Stindl’s parade (after all he had the highest XG on the team with 3.4 before this match) but I feel like every year he does this: he has a game or two where he scores two or three goals, then proceeds to disappear and end up with under ten goals a season. I would probably also not count on Oscar Wendt’s assists either given that he has eight in his career and he is 31 years old! But at least we still got the Church of Raffael!

When we wrote about the goals of the week, we probably should have mentioned the Werder – Bayern match, which had a 100% ratio of excellent goals. Arjen Robben absolutely killed the ball that Franck Ribery laid off to him, while David Alaba channeled his inner Dmitri Payet for the second, but was on the receiving end of some dirtiness by Max Kruse.

Having rounded up the fixtures, let’s get to the Team of the Week, or the AIRING it out edition!

It would feel wrong to give this to Thomas Kessler, whose team dismantled Darmstadt 6 to 1, though he made a few decent saves. With 31 goals conceded, this was not the weekend for high-end goalkeeping, so Augsburg’s old reliable Marwin Hitz is as good a pick as any, given that his team pulled out the win in Wolfsburg. The 29-year-old made four saves, most notably a good one on Vieirinha at 1-1 in the 58th minute. Other than that he pulled off three routine saves from shots from outside the box and was powerless to stop a point-blank Gomez effort after a brilliant Yunus Malli set piece in the fourth minute. 
It was not really the week for defenders in the Bundesliga, as glaring individual errors, poor marking and positioning (Tah, Sulu and co,Vestergaard, Piszczek, Toprak, Diekmeier, Brooks) all led to numerous goals. There were however several outstanding efforts, despite 31 goals conceded, but we can only pick THREE, because we will go with three CBs.
David Abraham of Eintracht makes another return to the TOTW for his part in the shutout of Schalke. Defensively, the 30-year-old Argentine amassed six interceptions and clearances while winning 6 of 11 aerial duels. His passing at 77% was below his usual mark, but his Kendrick Perkins style moving screen on Naldo (that’s a foul btw!) created the space for the game’s deciding moment: Alex Meier’s goal. On the year, Abraham is winning two-thirds of his challenges and is one of the pillars of the Frankfurt defense that has conceded the leagues’ second fewest goals with just 15. On a side note, it was nice to see that 11 men Eintracht are still holding teams to barely any shots on target (they allowed to Schalke), so that seven they gave up to RBL can be chalked up to playing with ten men for 89 minutes.
His partner in the center will be none other than Dortmund’s Sokratis , who was a one man wrecking crew against Mainz: 12 aerials won of 13 and 14 clearances are what entire defenses usually put up. The Greek defender also completed 84 passes, despite going 8 of 21 on long balls. Matthias Ginter went 3 of 13, though he’s supposed to be the ball-playing CB, but the more worrying sign is that those two combined to pass the ball to each other 50 times! 
On his day, there are few pure defensive CBs than Sokratis in the Bundesliga, but Dortmund desperately need one that can progress the ball forward, because that’s not one of his strengths. 
It’s supposed to be a strength of Marc Bartra, but he can’t stay on the field due to a plethora of woeful defensive displays and turnovers, while Matze Ginter, who has been occasionally solid also struggles going forward:
Caglar Söyüncü represents a rare appearance from a Freiburg defensive player, and with die Breisgauer conceding 30 times already, it’s not difficult to see why. The 20-year-old was quite the monster in the middle for Christian Streich with nine clearances, three tackles and was super unfortunate to not keep a clean sheet. Go and rewatch how much effort he puts in on the Hertha goal, as he makes two tackles, one that should’ve resulted on a Freiburg free kick as the ball bounced onto Vedad Ibisevic’s arm, and almost succeeds in blocking Schieber’s shot. While he has not been consistent, jumping from the 2. Turkish League into the Bundesliga and nailing down a starting spot is quite decent, and he has a bright future ahead of him. 
With apologies to Markus Suttner (12 of 34 passing and most of his key passes are from set pieces, plus the goal took a huge deflection) Marcel Halstenberg pips him for the starting spot. The RB Leipzig man is nominally a left back, but he (no.23) really plays more like a LM. 
Judah Davies did an excellent job breaking down his importance to Leipzig vis-a-vis his diagonal passing game, which is backed up by the following stat: his 20 key passes are fourth on the team, and 15 of those are short passes, with just 3 coming from corners! The more amazing stat is perhaps that out of the 69 passes he attempted on Saturday vs Hoffenheim, only ONE was a long pass! See for yourself!
It’s probably a testament to Leipzig’s coaching that they told him to cut out the long passes, as Halstenberg is just 16 of 50 on those, while succeeding 446 times out of 583 short attempts. People should do what they are good at, what a novel concept, amirite!
This is not his first good game, as his 1597 minutes are second among field players (to Willi Orban) and it’s probably time for some German National Team love, that is if Jogi was watching and not doing other stuff at the game.
Thanks to a hat trick against HSV and a bullet header vs Dortmund Mainz’s Danny Latza is quickly emerging from Darmstadt reject to current hipster CM of the month, which as the original owner of Latza island makes me all warm and fuzzy.  The 27-year-old won 10 of his 13 aerial duels (unlike Fabian Frei, who went just 4 of 10) and is growing into his role of box to box midfielder\ auxiliary playmaker alongside the destroyer known as JP Gbamin. Another one of his assets is his counterpressing, which is shown by nine ball recoveries. 
He also gets bonus points for stifling Gonzalo Castro, who completed just 8 of his 18 passes in the attacking third.
Marco Höger of Köln makes his TOTW debut, but such is life when you play Darmstadt. The 27-year-old who was deemed surplus to requirements at Schalke has revitalized his career at Effzeh and is a huge reason why Yannick Gerhardt’s absence has not been felt. With 3.3 tackles, 1.9 interceptions he is a combative CDM who isn’t afraid to mix it up and usually succeeds: he has won 5o of his 75 attempted tackles which looks to be leading the league per Whoscored. 
Granted the opposition was poor, but Höger posted some unusually great numbers against the Lilies: 3 of 6 on take-ons and 6 of 8 on tackles! At 1.3 million he is among the best bargain transfers of the season!
RBL’s Naby Keita takes on a lot of players and is usually quite good at it. (If you want to get technical he ranks eighth in the league with 65 attempts and third with 45 successful ones behind Julian Brandt (46) and Ousmane Dembele (61!!!). So you would think that going 1 of 5 on take-ons against Hoffenheim means that the Leipzig CM had a bad game. But, there’s no such thing as a bad Naby Keita game. His counterpressing and the threat of his dribbling is so great that even when he fails and loses the ball the team still scores as they did when Keita recovered the ball from poor Kevin Vogt (who despite having an excellent season looked like things were going 2x too fast for him) and slipped in Timo Werner for the equalizer. He also created four chances and was unlucky not to get on a scoresheet after just missing Oliver Baumann’s net. 
Disclaimer: I’ve been waiting to put Pascal Groß of Ingolstadt on the TOTW, so whenever he scores the goal of his life it’s only fair to get him on there. Yeah who cares that he completed 25 of 46 passes, the guy works his behind off and is the heart and soul of an Ingolstadt team that has very little in the way of attacking talent. 
Let’s go with guys who scored braces:
Yuya Osako doubled his season tally and added 25% to his career total in one game for Cologne vs Darmstadt in addition to picking up an assist. Getting in great positions to score has been difficult for the Japanese striker, but he does a decent job on those rare occasions per Alex Rathke’s research.
He was at just 1.4 XG in 1300 plus minutes, so Effzeh fans will welcome any sort of improvement in their quest to find a secondary striker next to Anthony Modeste. Osako has taken a big step in that direction, and if he can contribute a few more goals in the spring Cologne will definitely hang around the European spots.
Lars Stindl is no friend of XG, as the former Hannover striker leads his Gladbach team with 3.44 (prior to Saturday) according to Alex Rathke . It would require research beyond the scope of a TOTW piece to figure out why he has scored so few goals  this year (5 now) and in his career (34 in 197 games), despite some solid advanced metrics: the cliff notes are that he really isn’t doing anything too differently, it’s almost like he is submitting carbon copy seasons. 
Against Leverkusen he scored two excellent goals and went 29 of 36 with eight ball recoveries. Gladbach fans and Dieter “the new Al Pacino of halftime speeches” Hecking will have to hope that more performances like that are coming if BMG are to climb up the table.

Honorable mentions

Apogolies to Timo Werner, Janik Haberer, Levin Oztunali, Max Kruse, Joshua Kimmich, Markus Suttner, David Alaba, Leo Bittencourt, Marcel Sabitzer, Raffael, Christoph Kramer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Makoto Hasebe and Thomas Kessler.

Ineligible (minutes): Artjoms Rudnevs – 2 assists and a goal in 40 minutes, Dominik Kohr

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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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