December 14, 2017

Bastian Oczipka: The Signing of the Season for FC Schalke

Given the quality and quantity of Bosmans plaguing FC Schalke in recent years, it has taken all hands on deck to stay afloat with relevant signings that don’t break the bank.

Domenico Tedesco walked into an off-season where his new club was facing the loss of their player of the season, Sead Kolašinac. The Bosnian was FC Schalke’s sole representative on the Bundesliga team of the season and for just cause.

He is one of those rare players that just can’t seem to be stopped. When Kolašinac gets into his stride, he won’t lose the ball and if that full stride is intent on taking the ball from someone else, you can almost be certain that they will lose the ball. The native of Karlsruhe was like a human wrecking ball, capable of winning the ball through his tackling or his ability to snuff out passing lanes, both of which he did tremendously well, averaging 3.39 interceptions and 2.22 tackles per 90 minutes played.

But defense alone didn’t make Kolašinac  special —  it was his ability to push forward that he really set him apart, as he was not just incredibly strong, but surprisingly fast as well as inventive. He created a chance per every 90 minutes played, which put him right up there alongside David Alaba’s (1.22), Ricardo Rodriguez’s (1.16), Marcel Schmelzer’s (0.86), and, well, Bastian Oczipka’s (1.13) as some of the mid-to-top creative fullbacks.

Kolašinac excelled on the defensive side of things and provided enough creativity to be counted as an all-around fullback-turned-wingback with so much to give.  But on June 6, 2017 he was, as expected, gone — after being a Royal Blue since 2011, the Bosnian signed with Arsenal on a free transfer.

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Replacing the qualities Kolašinac brought to the pitch is not easy, and for a team like Schalke that has depended on fullbacks in the past – and a hodge-podge of fullbacks at that – replacing Kolašinac was crucial if they wanted to move up in the table from their dreary ninth place finish.

Watching Kolašinac switch from fullback to wingback may have been the inspiration for Schalke’s signing of 28 year-old Bastian Oczipka, who’d spent the last five seasons at Eintracht Frankfurt. Both had very similar numbers in the 2016/17 season. It’s impossible to think that Kolašinac could have been replaced defensively, and his numbers in that arena overshadow Oczipka, with the latter averaging 2.72 interceptions and 1.37 tackles to Kolasinac’s 3.39 and 2.22.

Not far off. But transitioning Oczipka to the Kolasinac role has had a much different effect. Oczipka’s defensive numbers have fallen off a bit, with him averaging just 1.46 interceptions and 1.23 tackles. But that isn’t where Oczipka is making his monumental difference, although he is winning a higher percentage of his take-ons thus far into the season than Kolašinac did  last season.

Since taking over for Kolašinac, Oczipka has maximized on the one area where he had the upper hand on the Bosnian last year – creating chances.

The new Schalke man is creating a massive 2.8 chances per appearance, which, when stacked up against the rest of the Bundesliga, puts him second behind just James Rodriguez (2.9). This is two and a half times the number of chances Oczipka was creating for Entracht Frankfurt in his final year with them. It’s the most chances he has created since the 2012/13 season with Frankfurt (2.0), a year where he nabbed a massive eight assists.

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Oczipka is benefiting from the advanced positions that he’s been able to take up, given the solid Schalke defense, and he is able to better utilize his crossing abilities. Schalke acquired a player that has shown an ability to complete between 20-30% of his crosses. Last year, he took more crosses than ever before, averaging 7.8 crosses per game and completing a career high 2.0 crosses per game. At just 25% completion, there was room for improvement, but it was enough to show what he was capable of.

Schalke’s new young coach gave the veteran a fresh start in a primarily attacking role within an attack that is built on their wide players’ creative abilities and the results are paying dividends. He is fourth in the Bundesliga in crosses completed at 2.6 and he is completing 40% of his crosses attempted, his highest completion percentage ever by over 10%. Among Bundesliga players with at least 1000 minutes played and 1.0 crosses completed, Oczipka leads Germany’s top division with the highest cross completion percentage. (Thorgan Hazard ranks second with 38%).

The point is as clear as day. Tedesco upgraded an experienced defender with a proven track record into an attacking force. And the Royal Blues have benefitted greatly from that upgrade.

(Statistics via Squawka.com and WhoScored.com)

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Josh Sippie

Raised on a Midwest American diet of baseball and fake football, Josh was late to the football parade, but likes to consider himself the conductor of that parade now that he lives in New York City. While he initially fell for the Premier League, the Bundesliga claimed him with the help of FC Schalke and their amazingness. He can be still be found ranting about Arsenal at Pain in the Arsenal, on his own website We The Ultras and on Twitter @sippenator101.

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