36 Goals, 23 Thoughts on Matchday 23 and the Team of the Week

36 goals were scored on a captivating MD 23 and there’s just so much to talk about, I’ve decided to narrow it down to 23 talking points. Hopefully it’ll be easier to digest in bits, and it saves some time. After that we’ll get to the Team of the Week!

  1. Here is the table since the winter break:

2. A couple of takeaways: With a solid defense and an occasionally powerful offense, Gladbach are a thing again under Hecking (see below). Bayern are obliterating the league, Dortmund have been (aside from an ugly hiccup at Darmstadt) just as good, while Hoffenheim and Leipzig have taken a small step back and have occasionally looked shakier than in the fall. Augsburg  are rising thanks to two away wins and some Raul Bobadilla explosion – the Paraguayan has taken 22 shots and scored two goals in just seven games! while Freiburg took two 3-0 losses from the two Borussia teams but made up for it with narrow wins over fellow Europa League competitors Eintracht, Cologne and Hertha, winning 2-1 all three times. That will have them knocking on the top seven door, where as you can see from the table and infer from the previous sentence there have been some serious free-falling teams. Eintracht’s injuries, a tough road schedule and three red cards (now leading the league with six while also getting the most yellows with 61) have doomed them, Hertha are undergoing their spring swoon (as the XG community rejoices) and Cologne are still Modeste (four goals in seven) dependent. We will talk about Leverkusen and Schalke in more detail below, and we’ll touch on the situations in Hamburg and Wolfsburg. Ingolstadt have lost four of five and the defense was in shambles against Hoffenheim where they had the lead after an hour played. Darmstadt and new coach Torsten Frings have given up, though it hasn’t really been evident based on the last few weeks.

3. Auf Wiedersehen Herr Schmidt – After the 6-2 loss in Dortmund (featuring several bad clearances (1st and 3rd goal), Toprak and Wendell pull down\take out Schürrle for 5th) came on the heels of a naive 2-4 loss to Atletico Madrid, Leverkusen have, albeit regretfullyfired Roger Schmidt. The former Salzburg manager, who has been at the club since 2014 was winless without Chicharito this year with 0 wins 1 draw and 6 losses and grabbed just three wins and four losses from seven matches on the back of a disappointing Hinrunde. There are a myriad of issues that have doomed him, and as one of the German sports magazines said, the situation at Bayer was a trap that even the Great Houdini couldn’t escape from. So to answer our earlier question: Leverkusen haven’t cleaned up their mess but they are picking up a new broom in Tayfun Korkut who was let go by Kaiserslautern in late December. DW journalist Stefan Bienkowski summed things up quite well:

I guess we can start thinking about their summer and a potential Völler-Klinsi reunion!

4. Fridays are wild: RBL-Augsburg doubled up the expected goals, as Stafylidis went Robert Carlos, while Martin Hinteregger became the new Lucio per kicker.

5. Schalke in shambles? Solid defense falls apart! I could go with either headline, as the Royal Blues, who are still third in the league with 3.35 shots on target allowed (Bayern are first with 2.48 and RBL second at 2.91) came into the Gladbach derby having conceded just 23 goals in 22 games which put them level on Dortmund and tied for third behind the foursome of RBL, SGE, TSG and Köln. Their advanced metrics were a little lower, but still above average, per the Challengerspodcast.

So naturally they allowed four goals on seven of 19 shots hitting the target. Höwedes and Schöpf were pointing at each other, but you know things are bad when Tobias Strobl is waltzing past you and setting up goals and Oskar Wendt is finishing them. Take it away BENT!

Evidently, payback is a b…., and Schalke are now just four points away from relegation so suddenly the easy – looking home match vs Augsburg looks difficult, especially given Augsburg’s road form (4-3-4 this year). But hey at least they won’t see Gladbach again….:P I mean when I look at the 11tegen11 passing map, I’m pretty sure these two teams did a Nic Cage\John Travolta FACE\OFF swap!

6. If you recall, Gladbach used to be quite prolific at “ye olde CBs having a private game in the back” thingie back with Schubert., but under Dieter Hecking, they look like a team that has gotten back to a simple 4-4-2, conceding possession, but hitting on the counter. Also, just the seven shots and a couple of lives ruined by Raffael in that Topspiel, nothing to see here people!

7. Dortmund had too much individual skill  for Leverkusen: Aubameyang was effective at the counter press before the first goal and scored his usual couple “tap-ins”, while Dembéle, whose shot fake is still unstoppable, chipped in with SIX shots and a great curling assist.

8. Pulisic for Reus – was a borderline unfair change, as both had great games: the 27-year-old bedazzled the Leverkusen defense with his dribbling and dragged several defenders out of position with his intelligent running, before adding another page to his injury history. No, seriously, it’s at THREE PAGES on Transfermarkt! Get better soon, Marco!

Pulisic was a blur and put in another wonderful shift as a sub, a role where his pace, directness and trickiness seems to exhibit itself better than as a starter, though this statement should be further investigated.

9. Tactically, the match was also fascinating, as Tuchel found a solution, to the Leverkusen press by going with a 3-4-2-1 with Guerreiro and Durm as athletic wingbacks and Castro dropping in next to Weigl, leaving Dembele and Reus to roam. It was so good, that Spielverlagerung had two different analysts write it up, for English readers I highly recommend Tom Payne‘s expert breakdown.

10. Hübner scores vs old team – was the headline for Hoffenheim against Ingolstadt where the expected goals were two to one, but the actual scoreline was only 2 to 1 until the 59th minute, after which TSG blew the doors off die Schanzer thanks to goals from Ádám Szalai.

11. The million dollar question remains: Is Julian Nagelsmann making Szalai look good, or is he actually decent? Fielding him next to Sandro Wagner to deal with the three aerially strong FCI defenders (Matip, Bregerie and Tisserand all win over three headers per match!) was a great wrinkle and the Hungarian’s running into space was a vital part of the comeback.

12.The rest of the recipe for the turnaround included some Sebastian Rudy key passes and set pieces with a little bit of magic from the trio of 52nd minute sub Andrej “please let me out of the doghouse” Kramaric, Nadiem Amiri and  Kerem “ankle-breaker” Demirbay on the counters. It also was the game where the Ingolstadt were unlucky narrative could finally die. RIP!

13. Darmstadt owned Werder in the first half, but poor Aytac Sulu must regret his Faustian bargain of last year (seven goals!), as he was stoned by Wiedwald before clattering fellow old man Claudio Pizarro to effectively hand the match to Werder. By the way, I’m not ready to live in a world where A.) Werder have a competent defense and B.) Felix Wiedwald has two clean sheets in the last three matches and might threepeat as TOTW goalie! HELP!!!!

14. Bayern v Köln – Well I was gonna go with the INSTAT stats on this one, but this image will suffice. 

15. But in all seriousness, it was an action-packed first half – Neuer sick save on Osako in the 17th min was followed by a rare Coman start which almost led to Cologne keeper Thomas Kessler trying to gift him a goal. Still in the 20th we saw an Alaba shot, and excellent Vidal assist on a rare Javi Martinez goal, and the Spaniard almost had another in the 64th. Köln’s usually stout defense was as they say in pundit land ” in sixes and sevens” so much so that Juan Bernat had a shot deflected in while Franck Ribery came in to finish things off.

16. HSV beat Hertha in a – pardon my French – shit show – and I can’t tell whether Aaron Hunt’s importance (four key passes) is a blessing or an indictment on the lack of creativity. Make no mistake, Hunt is a fine player, but he was just about out the door for nothing in the winter break (Trabzonspor!). It’s crazy how he is their most creative player (tied with Filip Kostic with 1.5 key passes per 90 in just 671s, nearly 1000 fewer than the Serbian whose spot he is slowly taking) and he does it with a 75% pass accuracy that is miles better than the high 50s where Müller and Kostic dwell.

17. Of course, it is never all rosy for HSV: they will be without Mergim Mavraj for four weeks, and will have to rely on Gideon Jung playing somewhat out of position at CB. With the addition of Walace and finally a decent game from Zlatan Albin Ekdal there is at least some hope there.

18. For their opponents, Hertha BSC there was not much in the game: eight shots, one on target got Pál Dárdai mad: “That had nothing to do with football” the Hungarian bellowed! Cheer up Pali, at least Mitchell Weiser is about to come back against Dortmund and die Alte Dame is still in fifth, despite ranking 14th of 18 in expected goal difference per Alex Rathke.

19. One culprit has been Eintracht Frankfurt, who are the “House of Lords” again. Let us take a trip back to early February, it was a simpler time.

Die Adler were third with a 25 – 15 goal difference. But since then, they have scored one goal and conceded NINE, which resulted in four losses in a row. Their excellent defense – the SHOTS ON TARGET allowed which was under three all year has shot up to now at 3.6 per. Sure the injuries and the red cards\suspensions as well as the idea of Michael Hector being the anchor of their defense (out of necessity) have contributed, but blaming the ref (for the second Niederlechner goal that was actually offside) isn’t gonna solve it all. Nor is visiting Bayern on the next matchday….

20. Speaking of Florian Niederlechner: he has now tied Max Philipp for the team lead with seven goals after a brace against the aforementioned Frankfurt defense. That’s pretty astounding when you consider that he is a 26-year-old who came into the season with zero Bundesliga goals, playing just 176 minutes with Mainz last year. In fact, as last as 2013\14 Niederlechner playing in the 3. Liga at Heidenheim under the fiery Frank Schmidt who saw him score 15 goals the next year only to witness Mainz shelling out two million Euros for him. He is still on loan at SC Freiburg, though he’s expected to finalize his move in the summer for 2.5 million. Yup, Christian Streich did it again!

21. Saving the worst for last: Mainz – Wolfsburg was a bland game on the Yunus Malli comeback tour’s first stop, but hey, score one for Michael Caley’s XG model.

22. Andries Jonker was in charge for the first time and the Dutchman went with a 4-2-3-1 with Bazoer and Luiz Gustavo as CDMs. There was no room in the starting XI for Yannick Gerhardt or Vieirinha, and Ntep wasn’t used despite Wolfsburg subbing just twice! Gomez had an easy header from two yards. Maybe Jonker knows how to work that Gomez button?  Check out that story at Kicker on Gomez going from the reserve team at  Bayern to goalscorer! Apparently VfL also lost Jeffrey Bruma for a month and that might hurt them with a trip to Leipzig next.

For Mainz, the only highlight was the great pressing and assist by Leven Öztunali who is quickly turning into an excellent winger!

23. THIRTY SIX GOALS!!! Those the kind matchdays that make managers age faster. Let us end on a staggering note: Christian Streich (2011) and Peter Stöger (2013) are the longest tenured managers currently in the Bundesliga, and the Cologne skipper was in the Zweite Liga as late as 2013\14 (won it), while the Freiburg coach won the second division last year.

Matchday 23 Team of the Week:



Werder Bremen’s Felix Wiedwald made three saves, but two huge ones in first half to stymie Darmstadt, and since his competitors and fellow clean sheet holders Rene Adler and Manuel Neuer faced THREE shots on target combined, the award remains with Wiedwald for the third week!

In defense:

Augsburg’s Martin Hinteregger, starred in the best and only Martin Hinteregger revenge game! (Read on the former Salzburg player’s thoughts on RBL here)

The Austrian beats out Konstantinos Stafylidis – who added another three bad crosses to his season total. Somebody should really talk to him and Jonathan Schmid, the two of the have combined to go 10 for 104 on crosses this season!!!

Others (looking at you Filip Kostic!) have higher volume, but they are the only two in single-digits.


Joining him is Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Hübner who had a crazy line: goal, seven aerials won, four tackles, three interceptions, five clearances, three shots, two on goal! Ironically, Ingolstadt could have definitely used Benjamin, as Romain Bregerie (who lost track of Szalai on the second goal, failed to deny Andrej Kramaric the cross prior to the Hungarian striker’s second) and Marcel Tisserand (seen jogging while Szalai was streaking in for the fourth goal) did not cover themselves in glory.

Rounding out our three-man back line is Dortmund’s Marc Bartra who has been in stellar form in the last few matches. Still an excellent build-up player and very comfortable on the ball, the former Barca man has cut out the “Bartra moments” and has been super solid for an injury-plagued Dortmund back line. He doubled up his season average by winning six aerial duels, put in four interceptions, five clearances and also added two blocks to boot.


Leipzig’s Naby Keita had three shots, three key pass, eight dribbles, plus a sublime assist (preceded by the trademark nifty footwork past two defenders) to Timo Werner. Did I mention he recovered eight balls?

Sebastian Rudy – had himself a ballgame against Ingolstadt with a goal, assist, plus TEN interceptions!!!

One of the best deep-lying playmakers in Germany, who is more than capable of picking out a key pass – the 26-year-old averages 1.7 per contest and is 10th among all players with a total of 35! – Rudy excelled in all facets of the game, dictating Hoffenheim’s comeback with his passing,

and breaking up tons of Ingolstadt attacks. Nine of these 10 interceptions came after the 37th minute Almog Cohen equalizer.

In case you missed it, Bayern got this guy for free at age 26…..

The third midfielder in the middle is Bayern’s Thiago – 149 touches, six key passes, five dribbles, three tackles, six INTs, 90% passing. JUST TOO GOOD!

On the wings we have the Dortmund dynamo Ousmane Dembéle who racked up six shots, four on target, three key passes, and approximately 145 nightmarish moments for Leverkusen fans despite going two for six on dribbles.

Fabian Johnson had  two goals on four shots for Gladbach two key passes, but also made four tackles in easily his best game of the year. Team USA fans should hope to see Fabi J keep up this kind of form after a tough season so far.


Freiburg are on the board with Florian Niederlechner, whose speed is still a huge asset. The forward who we described in detail above bagged two goals on three shots as one of five players to get a brace on the matchday!

Another one of those was Ádám Szalai, who is now scoring more goals per minute (one every 68) than Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski or Aubameyang which clearly mean’s that he’s the greatest player ever and that the Chinese Super League will make him the first 1 million per week player in about two weeks.

All kidding aside, the big Hungarian’s movement was excellent and his work rate was exceptional!

Raise your hand if you had him in the top 10 in most sprints made! (He had 34, the same as Serge Gnabry, while Nico Müller led all players with 42)

Honorable mentions

Emil Forsberg, Max Kruse, Christian Pulisic + Marco Reus combined for five shots, seven dribbles, four key passes, a goal and an assist. We feel bad for leaving out Aubameyang and Raphael Guerreiro. Levin Öztunali had three key passes and a great assist, winning the ball from Ricardo Rodriguez and dribbling 45 yards to lay it on a silver platter for Jhon Cordoba, Mo Dahoud – seven tackles, three INTs – was one of SEVEN Gladbach players with two key passes! Aaron Hunt – four key passes and Albin Ekdal – goal plus six INTs were considered as well. Kerem Demirbay – two assists, four dribbles, three key passes and Juan Bernat – 102 touches, three key passes, a goal, and an assist on 94.5% passing just miss out. Lukas Kübler – four tackles, seven INTs and six clearances had a great game for Freiburg, while Raffael hit the seven mark in shots!

Ok so maybe it didn’t really save time….

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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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