Happy New Year to all Bundesliga Fans! Before we get too far into 2018, here’s a look back on the 2017\18 Hinrunde.
We’ll start with a best XI with a twist: borrowing from our good friends at the NBA, this year the Fanatic is introducing all-Bundesliga teams. Just like in basketball, we’re going with first, second and third team with honorable mentions.
A couple of rules:
-minimum of 900 minutes played, or almost 60% of the 17 matches (1530 minutes), so guys like Jerome Boateng, Lukasz Piszczek, Arjen Robben, Maxi Philipp, Thiago, Thomas Müller, James Rodriguez, Shinji Kagawa, Davie Selke, Leon Goretzka or Nils Petersen all miss out despite being worthy in terms of performance. (note: the minutes might be off by 10-15 total, because Instat counts extra time sometimes).
-while I care about kicker, Whoscored and other rankings, thanks to our partners InStat, I was able to watch and rewatch video of every matchday, play, mistake or great play. So, when in doubt I went back to the tape. This is to avoid ridiculous notions like Sokratis or Toprak (or any other BVB defender, if you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention this year) being included in best XIs, sorry OptaFranz!
-I still weighted stats, particularly advanced metrics, both individual (XG, XA and XG chain) quite heavily, with an eye towards open play creation and efficiency (sorry Andre Hahn and Karim Bellarabi)
-Preseason expectations, context and contributions to team value were also taken into consideration.
– Last but not least: football is not fantasy: it’s very easy to count goals, assists, etc, but much harder to evaluate the other side of the ball. Defense is notoriously a nebulous are to evaluate statistically in football, because of poor metrics, no positional tracking, systems, etc. Take the example of style: Mats Hummels will never really average 4 interceptions a game due to Bayern more or less always having the ball and keeping opponents far away from their goal via counterpressing, winning the ball via Thiago (Bundesliga best 125 INTs last season) or Arturo Vidal, so it’s quite likely that he will not have to get involved. Conversely, Simon Falette averaging 3.6 INTs or Stefan Bell getting to 3.1 per game doesn’t mean they are anywhere near Hummels’ level, as Frankfurt plays a combative style of pressing that aims to disrupt opponents and their three central defenders all have to work hard at intercepting balls. The same thing goes for blocks and\or tackles – Kyriakos Papadopoulos has a massive 25 blocks already (Andreas Christensen lead the league with 26 last season!!!), but while the Greek defender has had a nice season full of highlight plays, it’s also an indictment on HSV’s porous central midfield allowing penetration that Papa will have to plug the gaps for. Also, his team has conceded the third most XG with 25.5, and the sixth most actual goals with 25, so it’s hard go give him a ton of credit defensively, when he’s part of the problem.
Without further ado, let’s unveil the ALL-BUNDESLIGA THIRD TEAM members:
Goalkeeper – Sven Ulreich
Bundesliga fans will have been familiar with the former Stuttgart keeper who after numerous successful years at VfB accepted a backup role in 2015, much to the chagrin of neutral fans’, for Bayern of course already had Manuel Neuer. In his first Bayern season, Ulreich played just 39 in minutes in 15\16 in the Bundesliga with two starts in the cup and the UCL respectively. Last season looked like another one to forget for Sven, until the combination of a Manuel Neuer injury and Bayern having a commanding lead on the Bundesliga in March gave him the chance in five Bundesliga outings. In those matches he kept two clean sheets in 6-0 beatdowns of Augsburg and Wolfsburg, but Neuer “recovered” (or played with a broken metatarsal) in time for the bitter UCL losses to Real. The season ended on a bittersweet not in the DFB Pokal semis, where Javi Martinez’s backpass, Philipp Lahm’s losing of the ball and the magic of Reus\Dembele left Ulreich powerless in the 2-3 loss to BVB. Due to Neuer’s injury which required surgery, Ulreich would get plenty of opportunities to potentially shine in the 17\18 season. The conventional narrative seems to be that “after initial struggles and an epic “Patzer” vs Wolfsburg, Sven picked it up and ran off 4 clean sheets in the first 5 Heynckes matches to turn the ship around. I’d like to push back on that narrative a bit: you can see the important saves he made in the very first match vs. Leverkusen (so before the Wolfsburg howler) at crucial points of the game, as well as at least one massive save to deny Amine Harit (to say nothing of his save at 2-0 in the second half vs Guido Burgstaller) in the 3-0 win over Schalke just before the 2-2 vs Wolfsburg.
It’s also easy to forget that Manuel Neuer actually came back for matches 2-4, the 2-0 late win over Bremen, the 2-0 loss where he perhaps could’ve done better for Mark Uth’s opener and the 4-0 beating of Mainz, before reinjuring his foot again and undergoing surgery. Then came the Wolfsburg howler….and out went Carlo. The “able deputy” as my colleague Mat Burt referred to him, continued to make impressive key saves early on in more or less every Bayern game. Let’s go to the tape:
I’m gonna omit the 2-3 point blank stops on Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in the 3-1 revenge win over PSG.
Then to top it all off: two penalties, the first against Hannover and the walk-off against his old club Stuttgart!
(he also got his fingers on Thorgan Hazard’s absolute bullet and was maybe 3 inches from saving his FIFTH penalty in all competitions)
He is of course never going to have the massive total saves or saves per 90 numbers that others in the league rack up, but that’s like the Mats Hummels/Papadopoulos argument I laid out above: simply put, Ulreich is never gonna face a lot of shots, because Bayern allow the fewest in the league at 8.8 per match and only 3 of those make it on target. The tradeoff is of course that Bayern the average distance that Bayern concede from is 5.5 yards – three yards closer than the 8.5 league average – but due to an elite defense, great counterpressing (under Heynckes) it happens so infrequently with 11 total goals shipped that it’s more than worth it. So for Ulreich to make 2.4 saves per game – ranking 14\17 amongst GKs who played at least 9 games this year – is excellent, especially considering that of his 29 total saves, a large number of them are monster saves as pictured above, and only 12 have come on shots taken outside the box.
And as you can see from the pics above, Ulreich’s best skills are his quick reflexes and ability to make himself look huge and take away parts of the goal, thus presenting opposing shooters with all kinds of problems once you are inside the box. Given the aforementioned data of Bayern conceding from 5.5 yards on average, it would make sense that the 9 goals that Sven Ulreich has conceded where more or less situations where he was powerless due to the extreme closeness and or direction of the shots. Given that Ulreich has conceded just nine goals it’s not difficult to test this hypothesis.
First, let’s remove the penalty of Thorgan Hazard that he actually almost saved, leaving us with eight goals.
1.The exception was Admir Mehmedi’s’ “plasmarocket” (RIP Challengerspodcast) that nearly took Ulreich’s head off as it landed in the top corner on MD1:
2.We’ve covered the huge error that Ulreich made on Maxi Arnold’s free kick already, but that’s another for the exceptions list.
3.The transition one is Daniel Didavi’s extremely well-placed running header to tie the Wolfsburg game at 2-2. It’s somewhere between a 5-8% chance according to various XG models.
That was (in my estimation) the case in the cases of
- the Yarmolenko header for BVB
- the Benschop looping header vs Hannover
- the Ginter tap-in on an empty net for the 2nd Gladbach goal
- the time Genki Haraguchi went Neymar on Bayern under Willy Sagnol and Ondrej Duda had a 3-yard tap-in
- finally, Salomon Kalou’s 50% chance (.5XG) that fell to him on the 7 yard line with the entire goal to shoot at, and Ulreich 3-4 yards away in no-man’s land.
So, basically headers and surprise shots from close range to the far post and\or tap-ins, everything else, Sven’s got you.
And the Bundesliga breathed a sigh of relief when Neuer went out…
Defenders coming next!