The All Bundesliga Teams – Part 1- Honorable Mentions – Midfielders and Attackers

This is part 2 of The All Bundesliga Teams, the Honorable Mentions, you can find part 1 here.

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!

-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, assists, etc, but much harder to evaluate the other side of the ball. Defense is notoriously a nebulous are 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. Also, his team has conceded the third most XG with 25.5,  and the sixth most actual goals with 25, so it’s hard go give him a ton of credit defensively, when he’s part of the problem.

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, this time further up the pitch:

Midfielders

The field gets significantly smaller due to the aforementioned weird minutes distribution for Bayern and BVB stars, while several of the challengers (Schalke, RBL, BMG, TSG) will have their better guys on the first/second/third teams. That leaves us with in-betweeners like Hoffenheim’s Nadiem Amiri who has continued his development under Julian Nagelsmann. His kicker rating of 3.00 in 984 minutes and his haul of 2 goals 2 assists isn’t spectacular, and his advanced metrics are about the same as last season, but Amiri is on pace to get to 2000 minutes which would be a career high (1935 last season) and TSG have needed his contributions in light of Kerem Demirbay and Andrej Kramaric falling back to Earth after career years and the loss of Süle-Rudy to Bayern. By putting up per 90 numbers of 2.2 shots and 1.5 key passes with .15 xgoals, .20 goals and .19 assists, .15Xassists, Amiri’s the perfect cut-off for not quite being good to be one of the 3-6 best attacking mids in the Bundesliga, but continues to develop into the league’s more exciting young players.

Marius Wolf has played 300 combined minutes in the Bundesliga prior to this season and looked out of the picture at promoted Hannover in the 2. Liga and after a detour in 1860 Munich, he got 168 minutes last season as a break glass in case of emergency option for Niko Kovac. This season, the 22-year-old has played over 1000 minutes and scored 3 goals while assisting twice, but it was his pressing ability, playing on the counterattack (cue to BVB fans crying) and versatility (lined up at RWB vs Bayern, played as a no.8 in some games and as a 10 vs Dortmund) that opened the eyes of savvy Bundesliga fans. Another gem uncovered by Bruno Hübner and Fredi Bobic.

Pirmin Schwegler and Charles Aranguiz both had nice bounce back seasons after injuries have marred their previous couple years. The Chilean doesn’t show up in a lot of statistical categories, but it’s down to him and Lars Bender (spoiler alert) that last season’s sieve like midfield has become a much harder unit to get through.  Meanwhile, the Swiss CM joined H96 on a make good contract after being let go from TSG, and has become the anchor of Andre Breitenreiter’s midfield that caught the league by surprise in the first 10 games, before injuries to key players (Harnik, Jonathas, Anton on the U21 trip, Bebou and others) resulted in the Reds grabbing just 5 points in their last 6 games. Thanks to a combative style Schwegler ranks in the top 10 in tackles and interceptions among all players. That’s not so surprising if you are familiar with his game, but I for one have been very impressed with his offensive output: per Instat, he ranks 16th among all played in passes into the box with 85 attempts, but succeeds at a 56% clip which is the third best margin behind two renowned set piece passers in Aaron Hunt (63%) and Jetro Willems (61%). However, it’s worth mentioning that like the Willems\Hunt duo, Schwegler is also getting the vast majority of his box passes (67 of 85) from dead ball situations. Finally, he’s also 13th in free balls picked up per Instat,

which leads us to our next honorable mention, though using that word and Daniel Baier in the same sentence is perhaps not the best idea after his gesture in the Leipzig match. It’s too bad, because Baier’s once again been one of the unsung heroes on an Augsburg team that’s surprised everyone. As you can see, he leads the league in free balls picked up, but what is stunning is that he’s picking up NEARLY 45% of those balls in opponent territory while doing 30% more than his peers: see the comparison to similar high volume ball-winning dynamos like Danny Latza (43%) Schwegler (39%), Ascacibar (38%) or Diego Demme (45%). The ultimate irony for Baier is that he’s so underrated that even in his team’s career year there are at least five guys (Max, Opare, Finnbogason, Gregoritsch, Caiuby) that are talked about before him. Some guys just can’t win….

Forwards

There’s a pretty huge dropoff after the top 5 (you’ll have to read the next few parts to find out who they are, though I’m sure you can guess), but here are the guys who have had nice seasons.

Let’s start with two where Abel eats some crow!

Guido Burgstaller is someone who I’ve slagged in the past as a 2. Liga striker, but he’s built on his last half season quite nicely. After a nine goal Rückrunde on the back of a very solid 7.44 non pen XG, the veteran Austrian has found the back of the net seven times on 5.82 NPXG. .46 NPXG per 90 is the fourth best mark after Auba\Lewy\Finnbo this season, the eighth best last year and the year before. It’s basically the equivalent of Marco Reus’ output…

Michael Gregoritsch –  the young Austrian took a fair bit of abuse from HSV fans last year and even managed to make me turn against him for his approach to football that mixes the long-range shooting of Andros Townsend with Marouane Fellaini’s aerial prowess. However, he’s had his breakout season (8 goals) and his underlying numbers are all at a career best level.

15\16 season – lots of inefficient long shots and 2 tap-ins with .82 XG each
16\17 at HSV – 5 goals, 2 headers and four of the five are .45XG or higher plus the usual long-range nonsense
Look at all the penalty and six-yard box shots!!

The three year shot locations broken down in terms of outside the box – inside the penalty area – six yard box:

15\16 – 29 shots outside the box \17 inside the penalty area \5 inside the six yard box

16\17- 30 shots outside the box \19 inside the penalty area\3 inside the six yard box

17\18 – 17 shots outside the box\31 inside the penalty area\1 inside the six yard box

Kudos to the training staff and or Michael for correcting this massive leak and becoming a solid contributor to an excellent Augsburg team.

Christian Pulisic has had the dortmundiest season. The good: wonderful game winners vs Hoffenheim, epic games vs Bayern, leading the league in dribbles and second in ground challenges while playing the second most outfield minutes behind Aubameyang.

However, his advanced numbers are mostly the same as last year on per game basis and it’s a very interesting question whether his dribbling is always useful for Dortmund. I also tend to agree with the majority of knowledgeable Dortmund fans that criticize the American for essentially playing 3-4 excellent games early on then disappearing until MD 17 vs Hoffenheim, much like his team.

Still, we must not forget that this is a 19-year-old who has had a turbulent year with club and country to put it mildly (I’m sure he’s sick of the word crisis after the World Cup\Bosz debacles), and it’s his first full season as a bona fide starter. That’s a tough burden to carry and Pulisic is at this point a high floor\low ceiling player who on his best days can reach epic heights, but is also prone to being marked out of the game.

Lars Stindl is probably another victim of the surface stats bias that I tried to explain in the Max v. Plattenhardt debate above. He’s having a down year in terms of scoring (4 goals vs his usual season output of 8-11) and XG (3.12 vs his average of 8-10XG per season) and his shots per 90 is down to 2.07 from the usual 2.3-2.5 territory. I suspect some of that is down to him losing shots to Thorgan Hazard – shooting 2.9 times per 90 vs 2.3 last year. (His shot locations are almost identical, and he’s on pace to get the same 20-21 shots from outside the box with 40-42 inside the penalty area and 6-8 inside the six. In short, one lucky or unlucky bounce (like his .57XG chance vs Wolfsburg – his lone shot inside the six – missing) can more or less fix this. What’s much more interesting and why Stindl deserves to get mentioned is the stat known as XGchain, the metric developed by the guys at Statsbomb, explained here. In short, it measures those players who are creating the buildup and often making the pass before the assist and\or big chance. There is a version that includes shots and assists, and in this metric, per numbers from Understat, strikers more or less dominate: Aubameyang (16.8) and Lewandowski (15.64) are still way ahead, but just behind third place Alfred Finnbogason’s 11.28 we find Lars Stindl at 11.08!! For comparison, Stindl finished 13th in the same metric with a total of 17.72, so he’s 63% of the way there after 50% of the games! In another version of the XGchain that removes shots and assists – called preXGC by Ted Knutson and XG Buildup by Understat – defenders who play on elite volume\efficiency offenses like Mats Hummels, Rafinha, and Joshua Kimmich start showing up, but we once again find Lars Stindl FOURTH with 6.6 behind the Bayern buildup bros. For comparison, Stindl finished 30th in with a total of 8.22 so he’s 80% there halfway through the season! I’ll stop before I put him on the third team….

 

 

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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

3 Comments

  1. I’m a bit more sobered up on ol’ Comfort Eagle (Pulisic) — gotta think his flatness is a system problem, rather than an indicator that isn’t destined for imperial greatness. Gotta think this. Gotta think this. So says the Yank in me 😀

  2. Awesome analysis Abel, particularly appreciate your explanation of how you come to your conclusions which makes it really difficult to argue with them (not that I want to).I think you are completely right about Stindl in particular.

  3. Abel, wonderful analysis and I agreed with most sentiments. The bundesliga is such a great league and it’s even better with the coverage you guys give. Cheers.

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