November 21, 2017

MD 31 Preview – Degrees of Certainty- Part 1 – Schalke vs Leverkusen!

Only four matchdays left in the Bundesliga and since I’ve found some time to write, here is a preview of MD 31, discussing the matches in order. We’ll be using some familiar XG charts and shot models (Challengerspod, Paul Riley and Alex Rathke) and a few new predictions from Goalimpact, 538’s match predictions and Euroclubindex as well.

After 30 games there are a lot of things that we know about the Bundesliga, but almost nothing with 100% certainty. We know that barring the unimaginable, Bayern and Darmstadt will finish 1st and 18th respectively. The Bavarians have an eight point lead with four to play and are something like 99.8% percent to take home their fifth title in a row.  It will most likely be with a projected point total of 80, which is closer to their 2014\15 season in which they won the league ten points ahead of Wolfsburg with 79, and a ways off the 90 point plateau of 2013\14 and last season’s 88. The superficial reason of getting seven draws – in neither of the previous four title runs have they topped more than FOUR ties! – shall suffice, and displays like the one against Mainz, or the goalless one in Leverkusen a few weeks ago will have contributed heavily to not getting more points and having “just” 21 wins so far.

On the other end of the table, the poor Lilies have already lost 21 times, that’s despite two heroic wins in the last two weeks leaving them eleven points shy of 16th place and the playoff spot. 

Despite those two wins, it’s perhaps not an exaggeration to say that since they fired Dirk Schuster and appointed Norbert Meier in the offseason things went about as well as Ja Rule’s Fyre Festival for Sv 98.

To recap: Darmstadt have had an eight game losing streak followed by a draw, after which they lost five of six until recently winning three of the last eight! Per Goalimpact they are expected to finish with 26 points and go down easily and knowing their situation it would surprise a lot of people if they made it back up anytime soon.

We also have a pretty good idea (83%) that Leipzig should finish second as they hold a six point lead over Dortmund, who despite just a one point advantage over TSG (whom they just overtook thanks to a win in Gladbach) have a 68% chance of the third spot. Of course their matchup in Dortmund next weekend will be a wonderful match, if the Hinrunde and this season is any indication. After that they both have Werder and Augsburg, as die Kreichgauer travel north to Bremen on MD 33, Borussia going south to die Fuggerstadt. It all ends with TSG hosting FCA on the final weekend with BVB entertaining Werder.

Bremen (42 pts) has emerged as the second leading Europa League candidate behind Hertha (46 pts), who despite a spring snoozer that has seen BSC grab 16 points from 14 matches is still hanging on to the fifth spot and has 70% of keeping it per GI. Freiburg (despite being two points ahead of Werder at 44 pts ) and Cologne (41) both have between 17 and 19% to grab the seventh seed which would guarantee at least some European play. Eintracht are on 41 points also, despite being the worst Rückrunde team with just 12 points in 14 matches, but a win over Augsburg and a thrilling penalty shootout that carried them to the DFB Pokal Final against Dortmund (to played in Berlin May 27th) could suddenly have them “flying like an Eagle” .

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The rest of the table is ridiculously tight, as astonishingly given their disastrous campaigns Gladbach, Schalke and Leverkusen all have 12 to 20% chance of qualifying to Europe, though at least neither of them can get relegated despite Bayer (36 pts) being just four points off the 16th spot. That’s because FCA would still need to climb above Mainz, Wolfsburg and HSV, though even Hamburg has only a 4.3% shot at outright relegation by potentially finishing 17th. FCA themselves are at just 42% to go down and their home game vs Hamburg this weekend will probably decide many things and help see the Bundesliga’s relegation mess a little more clearly. Ingolstadt have an 84% chance at finishing 17th and like Robert Baratheon with the boar “missed their thrust” last week by losing at home to Werder. Evidently gifting goals to the Bundesliga’s hottest team and making Max Kruse’s personal highlight tape takes you to the 2. Liga.

So that’s the quick summary so far, but in order to give ourselves a little more time we’ll cover the Nullvierderby between Leverkusen and Schalke in this post and then move on to the rest of the matches in another one.

  1. Schalke travel to Leverkusen in the all-disappointment bowl with a dreadful away record of just two wins and ten points from 14 matches this season. Bayer surprisingly are not very good at home (just 5\5\5 with 20 points and +2 goal difference) and are just 1-3-2 in their last six matches at the BayArena. Euroclubindex still gives them a 46% shot at winning this one on Friday night, with a S04 win and a draw at 27% each. 538 is even more optimistic with 48\26\26 splits. To me that seems pretty high, even if Leverkusen are relatively healthy (Kai Havertz misses the game due to exams!!! with Lars Bender and Hakan Calhanoglu as long-time absentees) and Schalke will miss Choupo Moting and Thilo Kehrer (red card suspension) alongside long-time injured players such as Matija Nastasic, Abdul Rahman Baba, Naldo and Breel Embolo. If we are to believe Daniel Busch at Whoscored (and why not, he is a splendid fellow!) both teams are to line up in a 4-2-3-1 with two big target men in Burgstaller and Kießling leading the line. The home side’s attacking threesome of the rejuvenated Kevin Volland (see, someone can play well under Tayfun Korkut) the oft-injured Karim Bellarabi and Julian”free me” Brandt looks a little more promising than Schalke’s also excellent Leon Goretzka, Alessandro Schöpf and Daniel Caligiuri. The double pivot of Kampl and Baumgartlinger looks great on paper, until you actually watch them play: the Slovenian is a wonderful player, but gets caught forward too often and the Austrian has been a disaster all year. Schalke should have the edge with the Spurs reject pivot of the hard-working Stambouli and Nabil Bentaleb even if the Algerian had not scored since the 4-2 loss to Gladbach in early March. The defensive edge would also go to Schalke – Coke has looked good since his return, Sead Kolasinac might be the best left back in the league and the Höwedes, Nastasic CB duo is (in theory) very good by Bundesliga standards. Leverkusen has gotten plenty of flack for its defense, with the returning Jonathan Tah (was leading the Bundesliga at Squawka with six major errors leading to goal) and the departing Ömer Toprak (committed yet another positional error in falling asleep and not tracking Nils Petersen for his wondergoal last week) at CB, while Benjamin Henrichs has apparently fallen out of favor under Korkut (though set to start ahead of Wendell at LB on Friday), leaving the veteran Roberto Hilbert (who has played quite well lately) as the most reliable Leverkusen defender. That is a backhanded compliment if I ever gave one.

I just don’t see Leverkusen winning here, and since it’s more fun (and apparently equally likely) to pick an away win I’m going with Schalke winning 2:1.

Part 2 coming soon!

 

 

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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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