Imagine There’s No Bayern

As Bayern Munich mathematically clinched their 24th Bundesliga title last night with a 3-1 win against Hertha Berlin, other Bundesliga clubs might be wishing they could imagine a Bundesliga without Bayern. I know it’s probably impossible to think of German fußball for more than 10 seconds without at least one Bayern-related image popping in your mind. So we’ve got ourselves a tough task. To get you in the mood, listen to John Lennon describe a Bayern-free, err trouble-free, world.

Is there a more fitting anthem song for the 17 other Bundesliga clubs right now? Probably not.

But I jest.

Actually, I do have a serious point to make. When writing my weekly Bundesliga column for Bloomberg Sports, I work from fabulous Opta data sets provided by Jimmy Coverdale. As the season has worn on, I find myself chuckling in geeky fashion at the skewing effect that Bayern’s dominant performances have on the Opta data as I filter through it on Excel. In particular, I’ve learned not to trust league averages for many offensive-related statistical categories, like goals scored, shooting, final 3rd entries, key passes, passing/ball touches volume, passing completion rates, etc. Bayern’s dominance has an out-sized effect on these categories.

At this point, a dry statistical joke – “So Bill walks onto a bus” – comes to mind. Imagine you were calculating the mean (statistical average) income for 15 people sitting on a city bus, so you briefly survey everybody, crunch some numbers, then spit out the mean. Let’s imagine that these 15 people have an average income of $41,000, meaning that all together everyone’s incomes on the bus add up to $615,000. Got it? Alright, the bus stop and a new commuter hops on: Bill Gates. Now we have 16 passengers and it’s time to recalculate the average. I ask: “Bill, got a question for you. What’s your annual income?” (As if financial matters were this simple for Bill.) I’ll make up Bill’s reply, I dunno, let’s say 30 million dollars. Time to recalculate that average. Well, the average income on the bus is now 1.9 million dollars. Bill skewed us! That dirty lil outlier.

In a case like “Bill walks onto the bus,” the statistical mean isn’t going to help much, given the huge gap between Bill’s income and everyone else’s incomes. In such cases, it’s sometimes more useful to go with the statistical median, in which you simply rank the incomes of all 16 bus passengers from most to least, then select the salary sitting in the exact middle position of this list.  (In our example, you actually average the middle salaries, since we have an even number of bus passengers.) Or simply calculate the mean without Bill on the bus.

Although not nearly as extreme, Bayern is the Bundesliga’s Bill Gates on the bus. The Bavarian club’s dominance has a skewing effect on some league data. So let’s imagine there’s no Bayern and see what the Bundesliga looks like without this colossal gorilla hurling itself around the room.

Through 238 Bundesliga matches (including Tuesday’s 4 Englische Woche matches), 756 goals have been scored. Bayern is responsible for 79 or just over 10% (!) of these goals. Folks, that 10% eff-ing percent of all Bundesliga goals – in an 18 team league! Without Bayern, the Bundesliga has 677 goals scored with Dortmund (59 goals) and Hoffenheim (57 goals) coming in #1 and #2 in our Bayern-less league. Then, think about it this way:

  • Average goals per team per match with Bayern: 1.58
  • Average goals per team per match without Bayern: 1.47

Without Bayern, FC Augburg is right at the average number of goals scored with 38. Naturally, Bayern has a similar affect on assists numbers, whether open play or from set pieces, given the large tally of goals they’ve scored.  For fun, take a look at this table ranking “on target” shot assists attempts:

Club On Target Assist Attempts
FC Bayern München 254
Borussia Dortmund 217
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 169
Hamburger SV 164
VfL Wolfsburg 160
Borussia Mönchengladbach 158
FC Schalke 04 153
1899 Hoffenheim 151
Eintracht Frankfurt 148
FC Augsburg 139
Hannover 96 135
Hertha BSC 133
1. FSV Mainz 05 132
VfB Stuttgart 128
Eintracht Braunschweig 127
1. FC Nürnberg 120
Sport-Club Freiburg 116
SV Werder Bremen 104

If you missed the obvious, Bayern leads this category by a wide margin; notice the staggering disparity between Bayern’s assist-creating output verses Bremen’s and Freiburg’s fetid outputs. However, remove Bayern and Dortmund far out-distances the new 2nd club, Leverkusen, by 48 more assist attempts that led to on target shots. In other leagues, Dortmund’s assist attempts tally would be quite impressive.

Next, final 3rd entries, a metric used to gauge how effective a club is in creating danger for opponents (a sort of “threat” index ). With Bayern, teams average 1825 final 3rd entries, but only average 1794 final entries. So the 1825 average (or 70 entries per match) is a bit misleading. Try the median instead, which is 1762 entries (or 67.77 per entries per match), about what SC Freiburg and Mainz 05 average offensively. So think about these two sides as the league’s average for this category.

Now for the fun stuff: passing-related stats. We all know that under Pep (and even under Heynckes last season) Bayern plays a pretty extreme version of the ball-control, heavy volume passing offense. For example, Bayern  averages 71.5% of possession (!) in the Bundesliga. This extreme possession rate suppresses everyone else’s possession rates, so Gladbach’s 54.5% possession rate (the next highest) is probably more dominant once you control for Bayern.

Do you feel like your club doesn’t get enough touches on the ball? Well, blame Bayern. They absolutely dominant the Bundesliga in this category:

Club Total Ball Touches
FC Bayern München 24,136
Borussia Mönchengladbach 20,570
Borussia Dortmund 19,232
VfL Wolfsburg 17,291
FC Schalke 04 17,290
Eintracht Frankfurt 17,187
Hamburger SV 17,072
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 17,047
VfB Stuttgart 16,844
Sport-Club Freiburg 16,734
1899 Hoffenheim 16,619
Hertha BSC 16,399
1. FC Nürnberg 16,340
FC Augsburg 16,130
Hannover 96 16,006
1. FSV Mainz 05 15,921
SV Werder Bremen 15,054
Eintracht Braunschweig 14,728

Oh boy, 4,000 more touches (and more than 4,000 passes if you look at total passes!) separate Bayern from its next closest rival, Gladbach . Normally, Dortmund would take up this position, but Klopp has resorted to more defensive/counter-attacking/longball play in light of the injury epidemic Dortmund has faced this season. With Bayern on the list, the Bundesliga’s “average club” has touched the ball 17,256 times (or 663 times per match) this season. Remove Bayern and average drops to 16,851 times (or 641 times per match). Without Bayern skewing the mean, the median for this category tells us that VfB Stuttgart and SC Freiburg are the Bundesliga’s “average” passing clubs in terms of ball touches; however, because Bayern’s possession rate is so extreme, even the median is a bit misleading here, given the lost passing opportunities clubs confront in their matches versus Bayern during the season. (I don’t have the time to do this right now, but you’d best be served by removing the passing data from these two matches when calculaing a Bayern-free average.)

Bayern’s supersized passing game effects the mean for other passing-related categories, too, like the volume of final 3rd entries or even crosses into the box. After all, when you pass as much as Bayern does, chances are that crosses will happen.

In a Bayern-free Bundesliga, Dormtund and Schalke would lead the league in final 3rd passing volumes, while Gladbach would have the league’s highest completion percentage in this crucial part of the pitch. Furthermore, without Bayern, FC Augsburg would lead the league in the volume of “longball” passes attempted, while Gladbach (again!) would lead the league in passing completion % for longballs.

I have two reactions to Bayern’s out-sized effect on some of the league’s data. On one hand, the numbers demonstrate the transcendent dominance of this historic Bayern side. Bayern are breath-taking and deserve any and all hyperboles we can throw before their triumphant feet, as we bow down in tribute to our Bavarian conquers. All hail Bayern! On the hand, just as Bayern’s data has an out-sized statistical effect on league-wide data, I’d also ague that Bayern’s dominance has an out-sized effect in shaping our perception of the Bundesliga’s other clubs, who all might seem a bit tepid, lousy, or just plain weak this season.

Don’t be fooled!

Bayern’s triumph effects the performance and statistical numbers these other clubs are capable of producing under more “normal” circumstances, like, say, when a historically transcendent side is not demolishing your league. Of course, it would be absurd to argue that Bayern solely can be blamed for other clubs’ failures this season, e.g. Leverkusen and Schalke’s disastrous Champions League exits, or Dortmund injury woes. However, I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that Bayern skews our perception of the league’s other clubs, and what’s normal for them, performance-wise.

My hope is that you can simultaneously appreciate the magnificence of what Bayern has done this season, yet also remember that Bayern’s dominance has a sort of zero-sum game effect on the Bundesliga, somewhat skewing or suppressing numbers the other clubs might have produced. At the very least, I find it helpful to look at certain Bundesliga stats without Bayern on the list. Give it a try: imagine there’s no Bayern. You can do it if you try.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U8s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog,, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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