It’s now the winter break for the Bundesliga, albeit the shortest ever one for German football. Having gotten over the holidays, it’s time to come out with the end of the year rankings before delving into a longer breakdown of the league to ring in the new year. So, cheer up mascots, we’re sorta back:
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!
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) December 23, 2017
-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, etc, but much harder to evaluate the other side of the ball. Defense is notoriously a nebulous area 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.
So having prefaced all of that let’s take a quick look at all the guys who just missed out on being part of the All-Bundesliga 1-3rd teams:
Timo Horn – Cologne – a league high 32 goals conceded and 50 saves made by the German GK is a curious omen for his involvement on a best of list, but Effzeh are at 36.7XG against, with a whopping 30.6 non penalty XG against. Cologne have also shipped eight penalties, by far the most in the league, which isn’t much Horn could’ve done about. It’s also hard to blame him for the five on corners and two from free kicks. And it’s not like you can beat Horn from long-range, all 32 of the goals he conceded came from inside the box. His defenders weren’t exactly helping him out: from open play Köln have allowed 206 shots and 17 goals vs an expectation of 24.5 goals at the halfway point of the season. For comparison, last year’s numbers for 34 games were: 305 open play shots against, 28 goals against vs 27.54 XGA. The average expected goal value of a shot against Cologne from open play is now 12% from 9% a season ago. I mean look at these defenders: Dominique Heintz, noted long-distance baller, might have been “the least worst” defender and he’s committed nine mistakes directly costing a goal (I checked the video). Freddie Sörensen, a Whoscored favorite last year for racking up defensive counting stats was benched in like the third game of the season for the talented Jorge Mere, who only seems to have the vallejo from compatriot and U21 Spanish CB partner Jesus Vallejo’s game so far.
Kocka Rausch has had more successful Instagram profile pics than crosses (he was at 1 for 32 around week 15), while poor Lukas Klünter was somehow the better one of the two with a success rate of 18 % (9 for 51) and was forced to play center forward in the last two games, because he might be the team’s fastest player. All together, Cologne used 29(!!!) players and perhaps really should’ve considered Hennes in defense…..
So, in short, it’s been the year from hell for Timo Horn and Cologne, but it’s very difficult to blame him.
P.S. Colin Trainor’s been kind enough to share his GK data on Timo Horn, which confirms a lot of what I’ve written: he’s still a wonderful keeper, who’s more or less getting hung out to dry by an awful defense.
Very impressive numbers over 3.5 seasons for a young GK. pic.twitter.com/T0KJG6BxzR
— Colin Trainor (@colintrainor) December 30, 2017
Lukas Hradecky – Eintracht Frankfurt – kicker gave him a 2.68 rating and Frankfurt have shipped only 18 goals, the second best behind Bayern’s 11, with a matching 18.43 XGA. He’s made 29 saves on the year and has had to work with not exactly a murderer’s row of defenders – David Abraham has worked a lot to be quite solid on most days, but no one’s really afraid of Simon Falette and the combination of the makeshift third CB trio of Makoto Hasebe, Carlos Salcedo and Marco Russ. Not to mention the injury to Timmy Chandler and Jetro Willems propensity to bomb forward, it’s quite a testament to Hradecky and an even bigger one to the front office for cobbling together an effective defense on a limited budget.
Koen Casteels – VfL Wolfsburg – amidst what looks like a lost season for Wolfsburg, the Belgian has been one of the few bright spots (aside from the 2 games a year where Yunus Malli and Daniel Didavi look like world-beaters). His 70 saves, were quite often huge stops (like against Schalke) and no keeper has made more saves against shots from the penalty area than Casteels’ 44!
Oliver Baumann – TSG Hoffenheim last year’s total saves leader (114) is now only 10th with 54 stops, but has had a very solid season, despite a shaky back line and a thin squad having to play in multiple competitions.
Philipp Tschauner – Hannover has done surprisingly well for an interesting Hannover side, and despite allowing 26 goals is making 4.1 saves per match.
Marvin Plattenhardt has been overtaken by Philipp Max and his 9 or 10 (depending on which stats you use) assists in the left footed cross-set piece specialist rankings, but the Hertha LB has had a wonderful Hinrunde. There are two arguments that favor Max over Plattenhardt and while it’s hard to argue against the sheer number of assists, I would like to push back against the idea that Max was significantly better than Plattenhardt in the fall. There’s a strong whiff of outcome bias (9-10 assists for Max vs the 3 for Platte), but the biggest difference is VOLUME:
Per match, Augsburg are pumping in 39 passes into the box, vs Hertha’s 23, and doubling them up in crosses per match 16 to 8.
That’s a massive stylistic difference, as FCA rely on these crosses and box passes from Max (38% of their attacks happen on the left flank – 5th most in the Bundesliga) to generate most of their offense. The rest is counters and long balls (they play the fewest short passes in the league) via Caiuby\Gregoritsch\Finnbogason, while Hertha who take just 9.2 total shots per game, prefer a slower buildup that often (41% of the time per Whoscored) takes place through Mitchell Weiser on the right side, as opposed to Plattenhardt’s left side which is involved just 34% of the time – the 14th most in the league.
As far as passes into the box, you can see the domination of Max over the rest of the league, but as I explained above it’s a stylistic choice that FCA employ. The percentages between Max and Plattenhardt are quite similar in box passes, but in terms of crosses Max’s lead over the league isn’t as large, and he’s beating Plattenhardt in terms of accuracy 39% to 26%. In terms of dead-ball situations, where both of these players get half their numbers from, they are quite similar, though Max again has a massive volume edge.
Defensively, Philipp Max’s eminently beatable because of his positioning (he’s also a converted youth striker turned LW turned LB), and Plattenhardt’s a much better passer at 84% to Max’s 73%. Again, I’m not suggesting that Plattenhardt’s had a better season than Max, but merely questioning whether the Augsburg LB’s numbers are inflated by style\volume and some randomness (finishing).
Daniel Opare is another player that is enjoying a sneaky good season under Manuel Baum’s remarkable turnaround. The 27-year-old Ghanaian was once a Real Madrid Castilla player and has enjoyed a rocky road, with stops in Belgium, Portugal, Turkey and France, to even becoming a Bundesliga starter. Much like his counterpart Philipp Max, who was behind the immortal Konstantin Stafylidis in the rotation, Opare was actually the third choice RB, until late August, when Paul Verhaegh left to Wolfsburg shortly before the start of the season and the talented youngster Raphael Framberger injured his knee. Opare’s athleticism and determination to go forward was never a problem, but credit must be given to the player and Manuel Baum for finding the defensive discipline and put in a great Hinrunde for FCA. His kicker grade of 3.42 is not spectacular, but the German Football Bible bases its rating after 50% of games played, so it has a lot of the guys we dismissed in the preface (Boateng, Süle, Orban, Hasebe) plus some dubious picks like Julian Korb, Dennis Diekmeier (who has been quietly OK for HSV) to say nothing of Sokratis and Stefan Bell.
Matthias Ginter and Jannik Vestergaard aka my Gladbach whipping boys. So both have scored three goals each, have played EVERY SINGLE MINUTE so FAR – one of only 8 Bundesliga outfield players to do this (Benjamin Pavard, Christian Günter, Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, Marvin Plattenhardt, , Naldo and Thomas Delaney were the others) and are useful Bundesliga players on their better days: Vestergaard might be the second-third best CB on a corner (behind Naldo, Salif Sané and Mats Hummels) and is a giant human being that looks like a very solid central defender. Matze Ginter’s evolution into an occasional #6 who can also play RB, CB quite well and is capable of outstanding games (vs Bayern for example) has been positive. Based on that, they would warrant at least honorable mention for a Gladbach team that had a chance to be second had they beaten Wolfsburg on MD 14!
That’s the good, here comes the bad:
The Foals have conceded 28 goals, the third most behind Freiburg (who beat them while outshooting them 24 to 5 on week 16) and Cologne who are having their worst ever Bundesliga season. What’s worse is that despite losing 5-1 to B04 and 6-1 to BVB, their underlying numbers, 24.5 XGA and an even more troubling 23.81 Non Penalty XG against – third worst behind Hannover and Cologne – suggest that there are major problems in defense. Needless to say, when two of your CBs are among the 8 outfield players to have played all 1530 Hinrunde minutes they are a significant part of the problem. As InStat’s ranking (based on video evidence – I checked) points out Ginter and Vestergaard rank first and second in mistakes leading to goals:
I rest my case.
A couple more shoutouts to guys who’ve had good seasons: Benjamin Pavard’s versatility (played RWB, RCB) and passing (91%) has earned him a call up to the French National Team and interest from teams like Borussia Dortmund. Holger Badstuber has bounced back nicely and is finally healthy. Kyriakos Papadopoulous is blocking almost (25) as many shots as his compatriot Giannis in the NBA (42).
Midfielders and Attackers next!