Last but not least, we’ve arrived at the best XI players of the Hinrunde. For the sake of everbody’s sanity, I’ll try to keep these descriptions as short as possible, without sacrificing any of the quality. Some of the choices are blatantly obvious, so I’ll stick to discussing the more controversial picks.
The case for him: He’s been easily among the best 2-3 goalkeepers after being plucked out of obscurity from Slavia Prague for 3 million Euros in the summer. He’s made 75 saves, the most in the Bundesliga per Whoscored. While I’ve explained that typical saves leaders are always more likely to be from bottom-half teams in the Sven Ulreich piece they very rarely combine high saves with low goals against. Typically, goalies with monster saves totals are Ron-Robert Zieler at Hannover, or Timo Horn, second behind Pavlenka with 73 saves, over at Cologne. That makes a lot of senses, relegation threatened teams concede heaps of shots – Cologne have allowed 17.12 per match, a mark that’s threatening the 17.5 that the 13\14 Nürnberg teams gave up – and there’s a strong correlation between conceding a massive amounts of those shots on target. FCN allowed 6.5 shots per match but even Zieler’s 15\16 Hannover were shipping 6.2 per contest, the same as Timo Horn’s Effzeh this year, providing numerous chances to up those save stats. Those teams however, despite above average save percentages from Horn and Zieler shipped 32 and 29 goals respectively. Pavlenka’s 20 goals conceded for in 17 matches for a team that was for 10 games bordering on historically atrocious. The one comparison that I found is Roman Bürki’s 14\15 Freiburg Hinrunde, where he shipped 25 goals in 17 matches for a 1.47 GA average on his way to his best season in terms of shot stopping per Colin Trainor:
Impressive save numbers in 14/15, and been about on par since then pic.twitter.com/n9qiS7Xie0
— Colin Trainor (@colintrainor) December 31, 2017
He has stopped 80% of shots on goal, (75 saves on 95 shots on target), and the 1.17 GA per game average is stunning, but it’s the timing\importance of his saves that’s been crucial. Ironically one could almost make the argument that Pavlenka’s stunning first 10 games – 43 saves on 81.4% saves percentage – under which Werder went winless contributed to hanging onto Alexander Nouri for a few games too long, thus hurting Werder’s chances overall. While some of that is probably a combo of hindsight bias + the context of Nouri -fresh off the new contract and more power than ever, plus being among the hottest Bundesliga coaches in the summer after an epic spring – it’s an interesting thought experiment. Suffice to say that the majority of the 5 points gathered by Werder in the first 11 matches were down to Pavlenka, who single-handedly earned a point in the matches vs Hamburg, Cologne, Freiburg. Prior FCA put the final nail in Nouri’s coffin by scoring 3 goals in the Weser Stadion, Pavlenka had conceded 11 goals in 10 matches. Until that fatal game, Bremen under Nouri were a team that defended with all its might and aside from Thomas Delaney’s long-range and set piece headers had no ideas on offense in light of the absences\ineffectiveness of the Kruse\Bartels duo. They very much relied on Pavlenka too keep them in games, and he’s more than held up his end of the bargain. It’s certainly not his fault that his team scored just goals. Looking at advanced numbers: their expected goals under Nouri had a total of 10.17 XG for vs 14.3 XGA or 0.92 per game XG for vs 1.3 XGA. Under Kohlfeldt, they scored 9 goals and conceded six, but XG shows a very very different story: 6.8 XG for vs 8.45XGA, or on a per game basis 1.13 XG vs 1.4 XGA, suggesting that the offense has come alive\finally started finishing. Although, he’s perhaps been slightly not as brilliant in the 6 matches as in the first 11, Pavlenka is yet to really have a bad game and remains Werder’s rock. Kohfeldt should get the credit for resuscitating the offense, while making sure that Pavlenka does not have to make as many saves (3.66 under Kohfeldt) as before. Consistent excellency should be rewarded, and Jiri Pavlenka has gone from
At right and left back we have two of the easiest choices ever: Joshua Kimmich and Philipp Max were head and shoulders. above the competition. It’s probably a disservice to call these guys defenders and I definitely agree with Spielverlagerung’s assessment of Kimmich, whose versatility makes him “the player of the future”.
The son of former the Bundesliga striker Martin Max, ex- Schalke academy product Philipp Max even scored 15 goals in the 2011\12 season for S04’s U19 team. He would go on to make just 2 appearances, totalling 5 minutes for the Royal Blues, before moving to Karlsruhe where in the second half of the 14\15 season he became a regular under Markus Kauczinski, earning a 3.8m Euro move to Augsburg.
You’ve probably read enough about the great season they’ve had, so let’s jump right into some of the numbers. Kimmich and Max crush the competition in all “delivery” stats:
They’re the two best players at delivering an extreme volume into the box, while maintaining close to 50% accuracy on box passes, 35% on crosses and collecting NINE assists just on crosses. In particular, you can see Philipp Max’s dominance on crosses in this data visualization by Daniel Gubala:
while Kimmich has attempted the most passes in the Bundesliga! With a a Bundesliga best XG Buildup of 8.76 (also top 10 in XG Chain), and the incredible involvement in passing, I think it’s time we started calling him Joshua Tree Kimmich.
In addition, Max (49) and Kimmich (41) are “sandwiching” Bastian Oczipka (44) in total key passes per Whoscored. So, it’s not that much of a surprise to see them combine for 16 assists (6 for Kimmich plus 10 for Max) and a whopping 23 goals involved in (10 for the Bayern RB + 13 for the FCA LB), per Instat. Those numbers and their performances are quite jarring, when you think that neither was really a regular starter last year. While it’s one thing to pull the Aaron Rodgers\Brett Favre on Joshua Kimmich and Philipp Lahm, it’s something entirely different for Philipp Max to sit behind Kostas Stafylidis. Giving Kimmich playing time was easy (Lahm retired, and he was the natural heir, much like Aaron Rodgers), but it took Manuel Baum’s vision to give Max the opportunity. I guess it helps when your coach used to be your teacher….
Though we saw it already with the likes of David Alaba and Philipp Lahm at Bayern, Max and Kimmich might have taken the term offensive fullback to its limit and it’s at the point where might even have to consider thinking about a new position for the duo. Suggestions are welcome!
Mats Hummels was a slam dunk pick for this spot: he once again leads the Instat rankings for CBs and is second behind a certain player to be talked about later over at kicker with a 2.79 grade (better than his 2.84 last season), but first in terms of the magazine’s Winter rankings.
Hummels wins 74% of his duels (including 75% in the air) and 76% of his defensive challenges, while his positioning and anticipation is second to none. In short, he’s been more or less flawless defensively (perhaps the 2-2 draw vs Wolfsburg was his weakest game) and he’s easily the best buildup\offensive CB in the league. Hummels averages 0.6 XG buildup and the same on XGChain per 90 and he’s SECOND in the Bundesliga in total XG buildup ( total XG of all possessions involved without shots and key passes) behind Kimmich.
Naldo is definitely a surprise for me, though not based on his Hinrunde performance. Let’s flashback to the fall of 2016: it was of course the time when Schalke started by losing their first five games. Naldo, the new signing from Wolfsburg was struggling mightily in Weinzierl’s system, giving away needless changes and goals against Hertha with poor clearances, getting sent off vs Leverkusen and so on. However, given the cases of Max Meyer, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Benjamin Stambouli all struggling under Weinzierl, it’s now more likely that Naldo was just enjoying a bad run of form early on under a coach who didn’t have the right ideas. His spring was cut short by an injury and few could’ve predicted that at age 34, he would anchor the defense under Tedesco, at the expense of former captain Benedikt Höwedes. But, that’s exactly what happened and Naldo, now aged 35, is putting up wonderful numbers and scoring key goals (Eintracht, BVB, Stuttgart can attest to this) for a Schalke side that’s one of the stories of the season. While he has similar numbers to last year in terms of interceptions, free balls picked up and tackles, he’s increased his duels percentage from 69% to 75% on an identical number of attempts per match (13) and is winning 78% of his aerial duels (6 of 7 per match) vs 68% (4.7 per 7) last season. He’s second behind Salif Sane on aerial duels percentage, but the above mentioned 78% is better than every single Bundesliga defender that’s played enough minutes. He’s even upped his passing % from 89 to 90 despite attempting 52 passes vs 44 last year. Some other fun stats: Naldo has attempted the 11th most passes in the league and is fifth in total interceptions and third in ball recoveries.
At 35, he remains a terror on set pieces, and is someone you’re always scared of whenever there’s a corner or free kick in the dying moments of the game.
Javi Martinez is arguably the player who should get the most credit for Bayern’s remarkable turnaround under Jupp Heynckes, who went to the 2012\13 recipe of putting the Spaniard in front of the defense to stop the rare opposition attack. The fact that Bayern’s season was basically turned around with such a simple and “backwards” move and what it says about the “development” of the Bundesliga is an interesting discussion for another day. Under Ancelotti, Martinez was almost always deployed as a central defender (25 times in the league last year and twice – vs TSG and S04 this year), but even under Pep Guardiola he played just 11 Bundesliga matches as a defensive midfielder. In 41 games as an Ancelotti CB, Bayern were averaging 2.41 points per game, but even limited forwards like Jhon Cordoba were sometimes causing Martinez all kinds of problems with their speed\strength. His Guardiola CB numbers are a very similar 2.38 points per match in 37 outings. At the CDM position under Pep, Bayern were winning 2.74 ppg in 23 games, including 11 of 11 in the Bundesliga. Under Heynckes who put him in as a “Sechser” 27 times in the 12\13 just in the league, Martinez’s overall numbers are 2.68 PPG in 53 matches. Here’s the quick chart:
He’s barely qualified minutes-wise and all of his individual numbers are down (which makes sense, as he’s more involved as a CDM), but Martinez is a no-brainer selection here, as the key reason why along with Heynckes Bayern went from chaos to running away with the title in a span of a couple months.
Continuing the impressive Bayern midfielder theme, Arturo Vidal is quietly enjoying what might be his best Bayern season. Certainly in terms of scoring, the Chilean who has netted 5 times has already bested his previous high mark of 4, and goals against Hannover or Frankfurt were arguably responsible for winning those 2 games outright. He’s also taking 3.31 shots per 90, the most since the 11\12 Juve season where he took 2.6. A big reason is getting into the box and shooting from inside the box, his 19 attempts are already his best season total in a Bayern jersey. Let’s go to Understat’s shot charts:
What’s interesting is that despite Vidal trying the same amount of headers, 10 of 34 with his head (29%) so far in 17\18 vs 11 of 39 (28%) all of last year, his XG\shot on those shots has jumped from 7 to 10%, meaning he’s getting much better looks!
And when he’s not taking shots and scoring goals, Vidal is influential in creating them, racking up 0.94 XGchain per 90 and 0.6 XG Buildup per 90, and is in the top 10 in both of those categories in volume as well! He’s doubled his XG+XG per 90 from 0.23 to 0.43 this year just from open play and his regular XG+Assist\90 of 0.55 is also better than his previous best of 0.44 at Juventus!
But, with Vidal, defense is massive part of the equation and he’s actually increased his output in tackles (7 per game attempted vs 6 last year) while maintaining the same efficiency. He’s definitely been the beneficiary of Martinez’s inclusion at CDM, as Vidal now is attempting 73 passes per game vs 90 last season, of course upping his accuracy from 90 to 92%. So what has he done with all that energy freed up? Of course, Vidal’s gone ahead and collected\tackled anything that moved: per Instat, he’s gone from 4.5 interceptions and 1.6 in the opponent half in 2016\17 to 6 and 1.7 this year. There’s a similar story with loose balls, where he’s collecting 9 per game and 4.7 in the opposition half, versus 7\3.4 last season. So, hide your kids, watch out for your ankles, as Heynckes’ pressing monster has once again been unleashed! He’s also benefitted from being rotated (and missing 2 games with injury) and is on track to play his usual 2000 minutes for Bayern.
We discussed Javi Martinez as one of the big winners from the Bayern coaching change, but Kingsley Coman has a good shot at the 2nd place on that imaginary podium. After a difficult 16\17 campaign that saw start the season injured, put in average performances in the fall then tear his knee and be more or less a sub in the spring, Tthe still only 21-year-old openly admitted to thinking about leaving in the summer. He ended up making his loan deal from Juve a permanent one, and it’s worked out fantastically:4 goals and 7 assists across all competitions and constant terror whenever he’s got the ball at his feet. His XG chain total of 10.67 is the sixth highest in the league, but the three guys ahead of him (Hazard, Stindl and Finnbogason are at 11.06-11.28) have logged 4-500 minutes more than Coman’s 957. Just like last year, he’s averaging 10 dribble attempts per game, and succeeds around 6 times per game, both the highest marks in the league, per Instat. He’s second to Christian Pulisic in volume, but the American is only 19 total attempts ahead of him despite logging 330 more minutes. Whoscored, who has a much stricter definition has Pulisic at a 44% success rate on 112 attempts, and Coman’s 59% on 75 attempts shows his superior dribbling skills. One thing the stats have a hard time capturing is that Coman’s been a massive difference maker in terms of creating offense. In a Hinrunde where Robben\Ribery and Thiago have logged under 2000 Bundesliga minutes combined, Coman (and to a lesser extent because of minutes, but not because of importance, James Rodriguez) has been instrumental to Bayern. It’s also quite hard to quantify the fear factor that he brings to the table. Coman on the break leads to opposition defenders scrambling and ridiculous red cards like Gideon Jung for HSV. 16 fouls suffered doesn’t seem like a ton, but it’s probably down to his speed that sometimes defenders aren’t even able to foul him. While he’s far from a flawless player – I mean he’s at 16% crossing accuracy for the season so far, way below the 24% of the mighty Filip Kostic – and had a domestic abuse incident in September – Coman’s been one of the key figures for the Bavarians. In light of what’s been a tumultuous season in Munich, it’s astonishing how well things have turned out for Coman and Bayern.
After all the turmoil and injuries, FCB are at 35.44 XG, just a goal and a half behind the halfway “requirement” of last year’s 73.91 XG. In terms of points, with 41 collected, Bayern are exactly on track to get the same 82 as last season. So, after all the Ancelotti crisis, Bayern are 9 points clear and on track to run away with the Bundesliga and the Frenchman has been a huge part of that.
The best winger of the Hinrunde was a guy who didn’t play his first full Bundesliga 90 until September 24th and hadn’t played more than 45 minutes in a game despite joining Leverkusen during the last winter break. That’s right, Leon Bailey has in a year’s time gone from transfer hopeful to playing just 133 Bundesliga minutes, a spell in Tayfun Korkut’s doghouse (worst horror movie title ever, btw) to arguably one of the players of the Hinrunde.
But then again, overcoming the odds is something Bailey is quite used to: in a matter of a few years, he’s gone from one of the most difficult areas of Jamaica on several journeys around the world, bouncing from Dutch, Austrian and Slovakian (shoutout to Trencin!) clubs, through numerous legal hassles before finally catching on at Genk – a club that has developed the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Koen Casteels or Divock Origi. 15 goals and 21 assists in 77 games and some key performances landed Bailey in Leverkusen in exchange for 12.5 million, but his most memorable moment was perhaps off the pitch: his altercation with a pro boxer after a social media video.
With the new season however came a new trainer and under Heiko Herrlich, Bailey has been reborn: six Bundesliga goals and 4 assists, despite just 970 minutes. He was subbed out after just 45 minutes vs Bayern and it took an additional 3 games (2 of which he wasn’t even subbed in for!) for Herrlich to figure out that Karim Bellarabi shooting everytime from 30 yards isn’t the greatest idea. After breaking out with 2 assists vs Hamburg, Herrlich still started Bellarabi. But, as so many times in the season, the Leverkusen manager corrected his mistake by bringing on the Jamaican at halftime. As a result, Bailey scored his first ever Bundesliga goal in the 1-1 draw against Schalke and would not look back, starting every game since then (missed the Frankfurt match with an infection) until pulling off the rescue act off the substitute bench once again in the 4-4 draw vs Hannover on MD 17.
Bailey’s stats are phenomenal: he is completing 60% of his 6 attempted dribbles per game and is already a monster at getting the ball into the box. On crosses and free kicks Bailey succeeds 60% of the time with the 8th highest volume and that’s after dropping from the low 80s in terms of accuracy halfway through the Hinrunde. He’s 9th in total box passes and 8th in total shots attempted\ shots on target, and of course has been involved in 12 goals already.
His advanced metrics jump off the page: a 0.67 XG + XG per 90 is the fifth best mark in the league (behind Thomas Müller, Finnbogason, Lewandowski and Aubameyang) and his 0.41 non penalty XG is the sixth highest in the Bundesliga, despite being a winger. Those are Arjen Robben numbers and funnily enough, their advanced metric radars are very similar:
While there are numerous factors that have turned around the fortunes of Leverkusen – Herrlich’s tactical flexibility and the massive upgrade from Korkut, the health of the central defenders like Jonathan Tah and Manni Bender, bounce back years from Bender\Aranguiz, the continued development of Havertz and Brandt into stars, the Kevin Volland comeback tour are some of these – Bailey’s arguably the single biggest reason why Bayer are knocking on the doors of the Champions League.
This is the easiest choice ever and while it’s sexy\hip to argue for some of the guys on the second team (I’m pretty sure I’ve been driving the Uth\Finnbogason bandwagon since early 2016 at least), this is a no brainer:
Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are in a class of their own. The Polish striker has the edge in goals 15 to 13, but the Gabonese forward has 3 assists to give him the more scoring points. Lewy is winning the non-penalty goals battle 11 to 10, while they are tied atop the Bundesliga chart with 19 goals involved in.
They are also the only 2 players to have attempted over 50 shots and gotten at least 25 on target. In terms of open play shots, they tower over the Bundesliga again: Lewandowski has 53, Auba is at 42, the next closest player is at 33 (Robben). In terms of advanced metrics, Auba has the edge with a stunning 16.8 XGchain to Lewy’s 15.64, with Finnbogason coming in third at 11.28. The current Dortmund striker also has the edge on Non Pen XG with 13.55 to the former’s 12.4, but both of them come in with over one XG per game, with Auba winning the “battle” 1.12 to 1.01. It’s interesting that despite having such similar numbers, the way they accumulate them is pretty different: Lewandowski seems to always get around 1 XG – he’s only had one game so far below 0.5 XG – 0.34 against Gladbach, while Auba is often feast or famine. Much to the chagrin of BVB fans, the Gabonese has already had FIVE matches of 0.5 XG or fewer (and two under 0.10), but also FIVE outings of 1.5 XG or more, including a ludicrous 3.93 against Gladbach. There’s a nice data visualization by Daniel Gubala that shows just how far ahead of the pack they’ve once again been here.
Okay, they rule the Bundesliga, but how do they stack up in terms of the other European leagues?
Per the excellent work of Scott Willis, we find that Aubameyang is second only to Lionel Messi with 13.1 non penalty XG, while Lewandowski’s 12 is FOURTH behind third-placed Luiz Suarez. Disclaimer: some of the numbers will be slightly different, due to XG models not being the same and I also used Scott’s 17 game sample size to account for schedule differences.
It’s a pretty similar story in terms of chance quality, where Aubameyang’s 0.24 or 24% once again leads every player in the big 5 leagues who has attempted at least 30 shots. His 22 big chances are the fourth most behind the Salah\Cavani\Suarez trio, while Lewandowski’s 20 is good for the sixth spot behind Harry Kane and Alvaro Morata. And it’s not really fueled by absurd conversion rates like Mark Uth or Kevin Volland who are top of the big 5 leagues with 31 and 29% respectively, as Auba’s 18.8% is good enough to just barely be in the top 25.
So there you have it, the best two strikers in the Bundesliga round off the first team All-Bundesliga in the Hinrunde. As always, feedback and shares are appreciated. Let’s enjoy the last days of the winter break, because the Rückrunde is thankfully almost upon us!
P.S. Not even close to 5000 words, so everyone wins!
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