29 observations from MD 29 and beyond – Part 1 – Bayern, Leipzig, Freiburg, Leverkusen

  1. – There were 29 goals on Matchday 29 in the Bundesliga, and shockingly Bayern and (to a lesser extent) Leverkusen played the only goalless fixture of the round. 29 is a great number, though still a ways off the excellent 36 total of MD 23, with the all-time record of 53(!!!) coming in Round 32 of the 83/84 season that may or may not have been played without goalkeepers. Seriously a 4-1 home win for Braunschweig was good enough for the fifth-biggest victory??? 
  2. Speaking of Bayern: the Bavarians held the ball for an otherworldly 44 minutes – four more than their season average and 13 minutes longer than second place BVB –  put up a ridiculous amount of shots and created numerous great chances, but “just got soccered” in terms of actual goals.

    But alas, another game in which Bayern failed to score in Leverkusen, meaning that Toni Kroos remains the last Bayern player to have scored against die Werkself in the BayArena back in 2013!

  3. Robert “Bob” Lewandowski missed the game due to a yellow card suspension and the Bavarians were held scoreless for the first time since the Hinrunde match against Dortmund, so it’s safe to say: NOT GREAT (without) BOB!
  4.  If you thought that Leverkusen played a great game in keeping the prolific Bayern attack scoreless I have some news for you: https://www.clippituser.tv/c/pnymz. That looks like desperation, not excellence.
  5. A little more statistical evidence to back up the “Leverkusen were incredibly lucky, because Bayern’s strikers were unable to put the ball in the back of the net argument”: FCB got six shots on target, the same as their season average, and Bayer also blocked just 4, also the norm for the Munich team. There was a slight uptick in shots in the box for FCB, from the season average of eleven to 13. However, accuracy was the biggest culprit, as Bayern who average 7.4 shots off target managed to miss ELEVEN times (Vidal, Kimmich and Robben with two each)! Now that’s not even the crazy part: Thanks to the excellent work of Clarke at Footyintheclouds, we know that Bayern unsurprisingly lead the Bundesliga in open play shots with 308 in 25 games (the data is current until March 27th) for an average of 12.32 per game. They took 17 such shots against Bayer! We also know that Bayern convert 15.9% which leads Dortmund and the league by a fraction. Against Leverkusen, that mark was obviously zero percent. Remarkably, 13 of those 17 open play shots resulting in no goals came from inside the box, where Bayern were the third best Bundesliga team with a 17.8% conversion rate until late March. Moreover, when we parse the open play shots down into those taken with FEET (we discover that Die Roten took eight such shots (Open play with feet) and converted none, bringing their stunning  24.2% conversion rate down! So, the lesson as always is to use poker parlance “run better” and try not to have little guys like Thiago and Robben score on headers! Finally, all of this madness was in addition to Bernd Leno making several huge saves and Wendell and Toprak clearing the ball off the line – as seen in the above video! Last, here are some gruesome shot location pics for the visual crowd! (Bayern are blue in the one on the left)
All up in yo box!

6. Poulsen, Forsberg, Demme, Werner and Keita power Leipzig past Freiburg. It was one of the more bizarre 4-0 beatings we’ve seen, as both expected goals models (11tegen11 and Michael Caley’s) had it at 1.3 to 0.6-0.7.  Shots – (13 to 11), attacking third passes (118-114) and possession (55-45) were fairly close, yet RB Leipzig scored three goals in 16 minutes of gameplay (36th, 42nd and 51st minute) which meant that Naby Keita could get some rest after just 57 minutes. To be fair, he kind of deserved it after a goal like this:

Emil Forsberg provided this usual assist, giving him FIFTEEN on the season, and Diego Demme (one of the league’s super underrated players ) got his first career Bundesliga goal! Demme, a 25-year-old who came from Paderborn in January of 2014, is leading the Bundesliga in tackles attempted per match at 5.6 per game and has similar success to Christoph Kramer of Gladbach, who, as we are incessantly reminded, is a World Cup winner.

They both average around 64-68 passes per match, have three assists, with Kramer having a slight edge (84-78%) in pass completion and Demme edging the Germany international in interceptions 3.1 to 2.5.  Per FussballGeld we know that Kramer earns three million Euros per year at Gladbach, while Demme is below one million. Bargain!

7.Timo Werner (the same guy who routinely bottled more chances last year than just about anyone) continues his excellent season, and his goal against Freiburg was a testament to his development.

This goal is not going to win any awards, but it’s such a brilliant play: Poulsen plays an OK throughball that actually almost hits Werner in the back of the foot, but he keeps his balance, uses his body and takes a superb short touch into space at full speed to give poor Söyüncü exactly zero chance of catching up to him before slotting it past Schwolow. Given that his Transfermarkt value being just 16 million, I half expected Arsene Wenger to put in a bid of 16 million and one cent if he were still alive….

8. Poulsen is such a fantastically interesting Bundesliga player, vitally important to its team in several ways.

  • his aerial ability makes him a perfect target man: goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi regularly looks for him and Poulsen wins the seventh most challenges among attacking players.

But perhaps more important than total wins is the percentages, where Poulsen’s 47% is just behind Dong-Wong Ji of Augsburg for the league lead. It also shows the vast stylistic difference between Leipzig and the other members of the top four, as this list is filled with relegation candidate teams and one man attacking shows like Hertha and Cologne.

His slam dunk over poor Caglar Söyüncü is a nice example of what he can do in the air.

  • In addition, he is brilliant at laying the ball off and is surprisingly creative despite his physique. Alex Rathke’s research (updated till MD 26) provides the evidence: https://public.tableau.com/shared/WG4XYGDMW?:display_count=yes
  • He is arguably one of the premier pressing and counterpressing attacking players in the Bundesliga, who is tactically aware of when to drop back and pressure the buildup (ask Julian Weigl) and when to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting defender. For more on the subject, check out the Hinrunde analysis at Spielverlagerung.

The knock on him has been finishing: just three goals (two from acute angles and one from a desperation slide\tap-in to win it vs Leverkusen) despite taking a whopping 34 of his 38 shots from inside the box! It’s not as if he is a set-piece fluke either, as he has just nine such shots. Two of those three goals came in the last two games, as the Dane went on a huge scoreless run from the end of September until early April! Let us drill into why that could be via the help of shot location maps provided by the great Paul Riley and Alex Rathke:

-The 38 total shots could also be better, as guys like Nils Petersen and Alex Meier who don’t play regularly are right around the same mark. (I understand that Poulsen is perhaps the 4th option on Leipzig, but still).

-Of his eight blocked shots (not a significant amount) most are outside the box or on the edge of the box with only two decent chances among them.

-The other immediate takeaway is that despite getting into great positions, he tends to struggle with hitting the target: there are 14 shots on here from inside the box and at least half of them from primo scoring locations, yet he has missed the target with all of them! Alex Rathke’s shot chart shows these to be mostly mediocre chances, quite often with his head!

-In contrast he has gotten just 15 shots on target, which ranks him 43rd in the Bundesliga between Salomon Kalou and Douglas Costa. For ridiculousness, André Schürrle and Antonio Mirko Colak are right behind him and I’m reasonably certain that those guys are having awful seasons and have combined to play 1800 minutes to Poulsen’s 1600!

– Moreoever, while he has gotten stoned on a couple attempts  – Fahrmann and Hradecky in the Schalke and Frankfurt games come to mind – the shots that he has saved are primarily from what Michael Caley calls Zone 3 . 

-If we apply Caley’s numbers (borrowed from the EPL) and use his value of 38% chance of a goal from a shot hitting the target from Zone 3  to Poulsen we get the following result: 3 goals from 15 shots on target – eleven of those from Zone 3, two from Zone 1 (Hradecky\Fahrmann saves) – plus two more (the post that he hit vs Schalke and the goal vs Leverkusen) from Zone 2. Of those eleven Zone 3 shots he actually has two goals (the first one vs Augsburg and the header this weekend) for an 18% (2\11) conversion rate which is about half of what Caley’s numbers (38%) suggest. His Zone 2 conversion rate is 50% (1 for 2) which is above the 45%, but of course Zone 1 is where he comes up empty, despite the math saying 75% on shots hitting the target from such close range.

-No wonder he has a conversion rate of just 7.8%, below average for a forward (11 percent is average), but of course one must keep in mind the caveat that it’s an extremely small sample size for an individual player (and thus potentially meaningless :))

-Finally, Paul Riley has him as 14th on his Bundesliga open play XG list, with 6.4 open play XG.

So the extremely tldr version is that it’s entirely possible that if Poulsen (who has started to fight back against lady luck lately) had just scored a couple of those monster chances against Frankfurt and Schalke, we’d be talking about him being a solid if unspectacular finisher instead of an unlucky\poor one.

9. It’s easy to forget in light of the stupendous RB Leipzig season, but Freiburg were the more dominant 2. Bundesliga side finishing ahead of die Roten Bullen by five points. Die Breisgauer continued their “long strange trip” of a season: they are still in the sixth spot despite a 12-5-12 record and a – 15 goal difference that is the fifth worst margin in the league! Advanced stats are unkind to Freiburg in that they confirm that they are not running under expectations: – 10.7 XG difference vs – 11 actual Goal difference prior to MD 29 per the Challengers Podcast. Alex Rathke also has them as the fourth worst team in terms of XG difference! A third analyst – @NVasyukhin – also confirms this with his data:


  • a negative 20 Big Chance difference (28 for and 48 against) is damning and the 28 is only ahead of Darmstadt. I’m guessing the league high seven penalties and wacky Grifo\Petersen goals are skewing this a lot!

Of course, that’s gonna happen when you lose nine games by at least two goals! On the flip side they have won 10 games by one goal, including five games with a 1:0 score! Christian Streich has it all figured out:


back with Part 2 a little later!


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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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