MD 20 Team of the Week – the old guard is back! (six degrees of Leverkusen!)

If you somehow stopped watching the Bundesliga at the end of last season (TERRIBLE!) and only tuned in on this weekend, you’d have happily acknowledged that the recent challengers to Bayern (Leverkusen, Gladbach, Schalke, Mainz, Wolfsburg) all took three points. Perhaps you would have even been excited about good ole HSV taking three points away from home. Sure, you would’ve raised an eyebrow over the pesky Lilies beating Dortmund, but perhaps you would’ve explained by BVB resting some players who were arguably tired after going the distance vs Hertha in the cup for the Benfica match on Tuesday.


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Well technically, those teams did win, but the bigger news was that the teams ranked two through seven all lost: RB Leipzig had everything go awry, including conceding two set pieces (same as they let in the previous 19 games), Yussuf “Air” Poulsen coming on, getting inches away from scoring before getting hurt all in just ten minutes, Timo Werner being very rusty, etc. Eintracht (without their defensive leader David Abraham) got manhandled by Kevin Kampl and the speed of Karim Bellarabi and Chicharito finished them off. Yet somehow, SGE stayed in third, as Hertha was just run off the pitch by Schalke’s impressive midfield in the TopSpiel, while Cologne and Hoffenheim were unable to get anything out of two very winnable matches against Freiburg and Wolfsburg respectively. The end result was that now that twelfth-placed Mainz (thanks Marwin Hitz!!) is now just seven points off the seven place, despite a woeful season and allowing the third most goals in the league at 35! At the bottom HSV are now three points clear of the playoff spot, while Wolfsburg are now six points clear of the 16th place, where Werder Bremen dwell thanks to a four game losing streak! But hey, at least their CBs are passing to each others at a matchday best rate! 

The team of the week for MD 20:

Although we didn’t plan on doing this, it seems like our theme of the week is Leverkusen players, past and present


Last week’s winner Yann Sommer pulled off six saves this week against Werder, but Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno was arguably more impressive in a 3-0 win. His save on a Branimir Hrgota breakaway in the 19th minute was only exceeded by his 26th minute stonewalling of the Swede was absolute crucial. Had Frankfurt converted either of those great chances, the game would’ve massively changed.


WendellLeverkusen’s left back was in great form against Eintracht as the Brazilian won  TEN TACKLES out of eleven attempts! The lone miss led to a huge chance for Hrgota that Leno saved from point-blank range.

Eintracht tried several different guys on the right side, of whom Timmy Chandler was the only one with any success, going 2 of 4 on take-ons and getting in three key passes. It’s not a great sign if Branimir Hrgota (0 for 3) Ante Rebic (2 for 7 in just 38 minutes, though most came on the other side) Shani Tarashaj (1 for 4 vs Wendell) combine to also put up zero key passes. (It’s worth mentioning that Aymen Barkok and Bastian Oczipka went 11 of 14 on take-ons on the other side versus Wendell and Bellarabi who went just 3 of 9 on tackles!!)

You can see the unbalanced Adler (going from left to right) from this take-on success map and note how little success they had in the bottom right hand corner, where they kept running into the Wall of Wendell!

Mainz’s Andre Ramalho – is currently on loan from die Werkself until June 30th. The Brazilian was imperial against Augsburg, with seven tackles, and numerous clearances. (Instat has him at 19, Whoscored at 8). Augsburg were completely limited from any kind of a good shooting chance, per Michael Caley’s XG map and Ramalho was a huge part of that. That is great news for FSV fans, as Mainz have struggled at CB (along with CM) this season and perhaps Ramalho is the answer to the CB problem. (we know that Nico Bungert and Leon Balogun are not) Martin Schmidt will have to hope he can play more than the 480 minutes he has this year, as he didn’t make his season debut due to a calf injury until November 6, and this was just his first appearance at CB. 

Kyriakos Papadopoulos – HSV there was no way to leave “nicht ein Stürmer” out after another  brilliant outing vs Leipzig. By now we are getting used to him putting up defensive maps comprised of countless green circles (clearances), but he scored another set-piece header and probably would’ve scored a second had Walace not beaten him to the ball. 

Sure he was helped by those two early goals allowing HSV to park the bus and play to his strengths (duels, especially in the air) and his passing was suboptimal (11 of 19) including 8 of 16 forward, but nobody in Hamburg is particularly going to care if he keeps scoring and they keep winning.

Honorable mentions go out to Neven Subotic and Bernardo (six tackles won) as the former went 14\16 on headers and led the league in duels per Instat.


Assists and chances created are the name of the game here:

HSV’s Nico Müller – three assists doubled his tally for the year and is already at a career-high six after MD 20, with five coming in the last five matches! Naysayers will point out that two of those came via corners, but he only had four key passes from those before this game. In fact 18 of his 25 key passes have been short passes and just five have been crosses\corners, so throughballs on counters like the assist to Aaron Hunt have been the norm not the exception.

Now back to the Leverkusen portion:

Karim Bellarabi really should’ve also had three assists, after this brilliant sidefoot pass beat Hradecky, but Chicharito fluffed the header. To be fair, both made up for it with that second goal, which is a candidate for goal of the season. Kimo’s importance to B04 cannot be overstated: he has four assists despite just 408 minutes after a horrible injury suffered on MD two forced him to miss the entire Hinrunde.  The Instat stats bear this out, and I’m sure Bastian Oczipka could attest how annoying it must have been to play against Bellarabi, who also led the league with 49 sprints made!

Arturo Vidal who is now at Bayern made his name at Bayer 04 back in the day. The Chilean might’ve had enough with the missed chances by Lewy and Thomas M and got up into the box in the 90th minute to bang in the winning goal. The reason for his frustration would’ve been obvious, as he won seven tackles, made four interceptions and three clearances, winning 15 of his 20 duels. Did we mention that he had the most touches in the game with 120 and completed 97 passes? (That number is fourth on the matchday behind Werder’s CBs and Ginter, neither of whom had any impact on their matches).

Kevin Kampl is in many ways an heir to Vidal at Leverkusen – going 21 of 26 on attacking third passes with four key passes is massive, but he just misses out to Jerome the Darmstadt wizard Gondorf! Yes, that’s not a typo, the 28-year-old had the game of his life against BVB with eight tackles won per Whoscored – 20 per, four interceptions and three key passes! That’s pretty astounding from a guy who has not played in the Bundesliga until last season! Great dashboard too!

Schalke overpowered Hertha in the middle of the park thanks to the wonderful duo of Nabil Bentaleb, who provided two assists and Leon Goretzka whose goal I picked as the goal of the week on Talking Fussball. Bentaleb who received 68 passes, well over his average of 40 per game also went 60 of 76 on passes. More importantly 44 of 49 in the middle third, where his pressing resistance and ability to evade oncoming defenders (4\5 on take-ons this game) has been so key for the Royal Blues. He was great at pressing as well, as the nine ball recoveries indicate, but of course his offensive output is his biggest asset: three chances created from open play, two of them assists, so it’s not a surprise that Schalke are about to make the loan deal from Spurs into a permanent one for 16 million pounds if he meets an appearance clause (that’s been reduced from 20 to 18 games because of his AFCON participation) this weekend vs Cologne.

Fellow 22-year-old Goretzka was just inches away from getting a brace, as his rocket hit the post with Jarstein turned to stone. The attacking midfielder who created five chances and took four shots is now at three goals and is on pace to eclipse his career bests in several categories:

  • he already took 16 shots from inside the penalty area, and should break his previous best of 23 from the 13\14 season where he burst onto the scene before missing most of the next year due to injuries.
  • having logged 1533 minutes, Goretzka should eclipse the 2000 mark and beat his 1993 minutes best from last season
  • he is averaging 38.3 passes this year and 1.2 key passes which would slightly top his 15\16 marks
  • the 1.9 fouls he is drawing would be a huge improvement over his previous high of 1.3, in fact he has already been fouled 35 times, one more than all of last year.
  • he still has the same defensive impact (2.4 tackles won, 2.8 tackles are right around the last few years) despite playing six teams in the CAM role as opposed to 14 times in the CM spot.

He is already a master at getting quality shots from around the penalty spot, and if he can work on cutting back on some of the long shots seen in Alex Rathke’s shot model, it wouldn’t be insane to seem him edge towards ten goals per season.

Walace deserves honorable mention alongside (former Werkself and Schalke player) Sidney “Darmstadt’s Dortmund Destroyer” Sam, Vincenzo Grifo (4\6 shots on target and a goal), Christoph Kramer (I see you making INTs and running 45 yds and dropping dimes to Hazard!!), Maxi Arnold (would be nice if it didn’t take another 20 matches to have a good game) and Thiago – just the usual 96% pass success, five tackles won and 107 touches.


Chicharito Hernandez had the best Aubameyang game ever, going 5 of 10 on passes, but actually finishing his chances, unlike the Dortmunder, who by the way is leading the league in XG with 10.92 per Alex Rathke and actual goals at 16 (so chillax people!). Though the Gabonese has played in three more games (or 270 minutes) more than Hernandez, he has double his output! Hernandez, who is now at 5.38 XG is at eight goals for the season and as Roger Schmidt’s job security seems directly correlated to the Mexican’s scoring, will need to keep this up if Bayer are to make a charge up the table. There a lot of good news for Bayer fans: Chicharito tends to score in bunches and he’s already had three shots hit the post including a penalty.

Honorable mentions – Jhon Cordoba, Jan Rosenthal.

So there you have it! Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.


Special thanks to for exclusive stats provided for this piece.

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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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