March 22, 2017

The Bundesliga Doctor Part 2 – Routine Checkups

Since we are still on a rather pointless and lengthy international break, Bundesliga fans are forced to wait around, with only the occasional NationalMannschaft beatdown of the Czech Republic to keep them entertained. The break for the World Cup Qualifier, as the panel on the excellent Yellow Wall Podcast suggested, can be seen as the end of the starting phase of the Bundesliga season and thus is a nice time to look back on what trends have emerged so far. While past history is not a clear indicator of future performance and the sample size is just 6 games, the idea is that certain conclusions can be drawn from all that we have witnessed so far in the Bundesliga. To make things a bit more fun, we will try a new gimmick: the Bundesliga Doctor – evaluating teams, diagnosing “illnesses” and finally prescribing some treatment. Just like proper hospitals and medical staff, we will loosely follow the triage concept, and divide the victims into several categories:

  • I.Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive, and/or are completely healthy – they shall take a seat in the lobby – Four teams
  • II.Those who are unlikely to live, regardless of what care they receive – we will treat them, but they might be beyond saving – Two teams
  • III. Those for whom immediate care might make a (positive) difference in outcome – this group will have several subheadings depending on the severity of the situation, such as:

A. Quick check-up and some suggestions – four teams

B. Prescriptions only – quick fix – two teams

C. We need to run more tests, but in the meantime here is a temporary fix that might not solve things in the long run – four teams

D. SURGERY REQUIRED IMMEDIATELY – two teams

Some teams were given a clean bill of health, since they are either outperforming (low) expectations, have no significant problems, or are not “medically” interesting.  In this group we had Hertha Berlin, RB Leipzig, Mainz and Cologne. In today’s post, we’ll briefly examine FOUR teams – Bayern, Dortmund, Eintracht and Augsburg that just need their yearly check-ups, but aside from a couple suggestions should do fine/are doing okay in the Bundesliga according to the Doctor.

See Part 1 here

1. We’ll start with the champs Bayern, who are somehow underrated despite owning the league for most of the decade. This year, they not only lead the Bundesliga by three points, ahead of Hertha whom they demolished a couple weeks ago, but are actually first or second in most advanced stats per Footballintheclouds. Just some nuggets: FCB have taken 74 more shots than they conceded, while the next best team is RB Leipzig at + 31. They have an 80-60 lead in the shots in the box for, a 76% ratio in shots in the box, a shots in the box ratio of 74% and a total shot ratio of also 74%. From those net ratios it follows that the Bavarian giants are also perhaps the best defensive side, allowing the fewest shots against with 40 and the second fewest to hit Manuel Neuer’s target at 14 – one behind Leipzig. They do give up the occasional big chance: Simon Zoller in the Cologne match missed a breakaway, Matthew Leckie had a couple of opportunities for himself and to add to the goal that his partner Dario Lezcano already picked up in the Ingolstadt match, and Schalke caused a few problems in the first half as well. On the other hand, 11 combined total shots, with just five on target shows just how powerless HSV, Hertha and Werder were versus Bayern.

The offense has somehow been criticized despite leading the league in every category, including goals with 16. Granted, stripping away the 27 shot six goal outburst of the opener versus Werder – where Robert Lewandowski had 12 shots by himself – the same amount that Chicharito has for the season – there might be some concerns: FCB struggled to create big chances for much of the games against

  • Schalke: a late mistake by Naldo let Lewandowski through for the opener and Kimmich finished off a counter,
  • Ingolstadt: two long-range bombs from Rafinha and Xabi Alonso
  • HSV another game where Kimmich came up with the winner. In fact, SIX of their EIGHT shots on target came in the second half, with four them after the 70th minute.bayernsot

this “flipping the switch” mentality came to haunt them against Cologne, as Bayern managed to get just three of their 26 shots on target

Yet, it would be foolish to disparage Bayern, as it seem to have become fashionable in these days. The adjustment to Ancelotti’s system at the cost of FCB playing a beautiful possession-based style of football have been overstated: Possession and shots numbers – 65.8% and 19 per game this year to 66% and 18.4 last year are practically identical. The one notable downgrade has been shots on target, which is down under the Italian coach from 7.5 to 6.5 per Footcharts. Much of this can be explained by one single factor:

Injuries: Only two FCB outfield players have played the full 90 minutes in all six games, and while Robert Lewandowski is still trucking along, Javi Martinez has once again gone down injured. The next highest number of the list is Xabi Alonso at 395, but there are 13 guys between 2-400 minutes which shows how much Ancelotti had to keep his squad fresh. For a 34 game season of 3060 minutes, the prorated minutes are 2200 on the high end for guys like Alonso, Thiago and Müller, 2000 for Hummels, Lahm, Alaba and Vidal, 1800 in the middle if guys like Joshua Kimmich were to keep up this pace, and 1100 for backups like Rafinha or Juan Bernat. A quick look at last season’s minutes totals shows four players – Lewandowski, Müller, Alaba and Lahm collecting over 2200 minutes, with guys like Vidal, Douglas Costa and Alonso earning 2000 minutes, as Thiago, Kimmich and Coman finished in the 1400-1700 range due to a combo of injuries and inexperience. The conclusion is that Ancelotti is not doing anything radically dissimilar to what Pep has done in terms of squad rotation.

Morever, as you can see most of that rotation has come by necessity, as Jerome Boateng, Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben have combined to play under 250 minutes as a trio! Just a reminder that Franck Ribery played less than 700 minutes last year, but led the league in Key Passes per 90 with 3.6, while Douglas Costa was the Hinrunde leader, and Arjen Robben came off a 14/15 season where he was 2nd in shots + key passes. The absence of three world-class players like that would surely doom every other Bundesliga team. Kingsley Coman and Renato Sanches have combined to give 450 mostly awful minutes, as the two youngsters are struggling to adapt to life under Carlo. #worldclassteamproblems

In fact, my guess is that Bayern optimists would point out that aside from the Werder match and a couple of flashes here and there Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller (three helpers vs Bremen) have been below their best. Mats Hummels and Xabi Alonso struggle with their speed, Philipp Lahm has lost a step on defense, and David Alaba both delivers some bad crosses and gets caught out of position at times. Aside from the brilliance of Franck Ribery, Joshua Kimmich and Thiago and perhaps Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez’s solid play, Bayern have not looked great, which is a worrying sign for the rest of the Bundesliga.

2. Borussia Dortmund are coming off their most eventful summer in club history. On the back of a wildly successful 15/16 campaign under new manager Thomas Tuchel, the club has reinvented its identity from heavy metal football under Jürgen Klopp to a younger and dare I say more exciting version of Guardiola’s Bayern. With the contracts of Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan about to expire in July 2017 the board has decided to wisely cash in their chips to the tune of over 100 million Euros. While those moves were arguably unpopular, especially given the destinations of Munich and Manchester further playing into Dortmund’s inferiority complex, Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc sure fetched an excellent return on the transactions. It quickly became clear that BVB were not gonna stand pat and take a step back, as they reinvested that money into eight players – spending a combined 52 million on two proven German stars in André Schürrle and Mario Götze. Sebastian Rode (12m) and Marc Bartra (8m) were sensible gambles on two talented players who could not get enough playing time at Bayern and Barcelona respectively.  Portugal’s Euro-winning left back Raphael Guerreiro was also signed for 12 million from Ligue 1. 20-year-old CDM Mikel Merino was already signed in February, but Dortmund went even younger in getting two wunderkids in Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembéle for a combined 22 million.

How have those moves worked out so far in 2016/17?

Well, the boring answer is that it’s too early to tell: Mikel Merino has not played a single minute and was left off the Champions League roster, and BVB expert Stefan Buczko has already floated the idea of a loan back to Osasuna. Schürrle has only played 180 minutes, but was vital to winning the opener with a 7 shot 6 key pass performance, and his equalizer versus Real Madrid in the Champions League – while hobbled!! – was the stuff of childhood dreams. Mario Götze has been underwhelming in 211 Bundesliga minutes – 0.3 shots, and 1 dribble per match are all well-below his career averages of 1.6 and 2 respectively. The key pass numbers are consistent at 1.7, and he was able to pick up apart a very weak Legia Warsaw team. Götze still looks like a 60 minute player, that can play his way out of trouble and pick an intelligent pass or two, but lacks the force and dynamism to create chances for himself and finish those. Marc Bartra has started brightly in the preseason and in the Wolfsburg game – his laser to a streaking Guerreiro gave BVB the lead – but left that game with an adductor injury just minutes later and has not been back. Emre Mor has had 135 minutes – a goal in 26 minutes in the rout vs Darmstadt, 64 in a 3-1 win against Freiburg and the second half versus Leverkusen. Given that he has played 13 games in the Danish league in his pro career prior to the season, Mor has made massive strides tactically, as BVB football writer Lars Pollmann pointed out. His ability to beat defenders off the dribble and force them to react to his close control “push the ball with the left foot to find an opening at warp speed” has rightfully drawn some young Leo Messi comparisons, but for the time being Mor remains in the impact sub category, much like Christian Pulisic. Ousmane Dembéle has gotten a lot of playing time, 433 Bundesliga minutes to be exact, and has terrorized some overmatched opponents with his speed and agility. He leads the Bundesliga by miles with 44 attempted dribbles – Matthew Leckie is in second place with 33 – but he has had just 23 successful ones to 21 unsuccessful ones. He ranks in the top 5 among wingers in unsuccessful touches and getting dispossessed, but at times, the 19-year-old looks unplayable:

Despite those ridiculous moves and a couple of assists, a 67% pass completion rate and poor decision-making in the final third reveal a fun but frustrating player. Then again, he is NINETEEN!!!

Sebastian Rode was a preseason and Super Cup starter, but his lack of creativity and risk taking (his average passes travel 2.5 yards BACKWARDS) in those games and the first two matches have landed him out of the rotation for the most part. He got another chance to prove himself thanks to Tuchel rotating his squad after a tough UCL fixture vs Real Madrid, but was a disappointment in Leverkusen. Rode will struggle to get regular minutes as Gonzalo Castro’s excellent start to the season has combined with Weigl and Guerreiro becoming fixtures in the middle.

The best Dortmund development has been Guerreiro turning into a revelation and clearly the steal of the summer, as Stefan Buczko noted in his excellent piece this week on this subject on ESPNFC. Ironically, there are several reports from Dortmund confirming that Thomas Tuchel was unaware of the 22-year-old’s versatility, but has been so convinced by his early season performances that he went on to say that he is too good to play just LB. It’s not just the three goals and three assists that jump off the page, Guerreiro brings a bit of everything: 1.3 shots, 1.2 key passes, 1 dribble,  0.7 fouls drawn, 1.3 tackles and 1.2 interceptions are reminiscent of the stat stuffing that a certain 25-year-old Manchester City player used to bring to the BVB faithful. Yes, we are talking about Ilkay, aka the elephant in the room.

His absence means that Dortmund have lost a crucial player who can pass or carry the ball out of the back and link up with the attacking midfielders/forwards in a variety of ways. Currently, Dortmund do not possess anyone with these qualities, with Weigl lacking the dribbling/strength and Rode lacking the risk-taking, creativity, speed and vision. Guerreiro is the closest to potentially reproducing Gündogan’s numbers, but the Portuguese sensation is roughly 60% of the way there statistically:

1.85 shots per game, 1.1 key passes 2 dribbles, 1.5 fouls drawn, 1.6 tackles, 2 interceptions are the averages of Ilkay’s last two Dortmund seasons. (see Guerreiro’s above). Guerreiro is probably a better finisher, and is exceeding expectations, but it’s safe to say BVB really miss Gündogan against the better teams.

So in short, while Dortmund have been endlessly entertaining their six Bundesliga games can be broken down into two key categories:

A. Games in which they struggle with the build-up because the other team presses them as soon as they attempt to access the midfield. Leverkusen and Leipzig were the two best examples, but Mainz proved to be a tough nut to crack as well. As many other tactics writers noted, the smarter teams allow Dortmund’s back line to possess the ball, focusing instead of eliminating Julian Weigl – the yellow dot encircled by five RBL players – from directing the play. Leipzig's pressing structure.

Leverkusen forwards drop and press Weigl and Guerreiro before they can receive the ball.

That leads to center backs having lots of possession – just look at how often Bartra and Sokratis touch the ball.

What they did with it was less than encouraging – and I’m guessing Thomas Tuchel probably doesn’t want two of his central defenders to lead the league in average passes per match, but alas Ginter and Sokrates do.bvb-passcombos

That isn’t necessarily bad in of itself, but aside from Ginter occasionally finding a streaking Aubameyang in the Freiburg match, Bartra is the only Dortmund player that approaches Mats Hummels’ ability to break enemy lines with incisive forward passes. Bartra only playing 192 minutes after that injury in the Wolfsburg match is particularly worrisome, though he didn’t help much against Leipzig when he played, so it’s safe to assume that Dortmund will continue to struggle versus smart pressing teams, especially given their lack of a solution to the Gündogan conundrum detailed above. That leads us to the second type of match Dortmund have played:

B. Having enough individual skill to beat overmatched opponents, who either lack the ability (Darmstadt) the tactics (yes, looking at you Dieter “what in the world is this pressing thing” Hecking) or the composure (if only Vincenzo Grifo finishes his fifth minute breakaway for Freiburg) to punish Dortmund. This part isn’t as exciting to write about, though it’s considerably more fun to watch with players like Dembéle, Mor, Pulisic, Gonzalo Castro, Aubameyang.

3. Augsburg, interceptions and injuries – Poor Augsburg always seem to be on the verge of becoming an interesting team to talk about. After a brilliant fifth place in 14/15 earned them some Europe League fun, 15/16 saw FCA take on the likes of Liverpool in European competition, which predictably took its toll on a thin and somewhat old squad. Perhaps the best move of their summer was signing Dirk Schuster from Darmstadt, after the German coach of the year soured on the Lilies. The summer also saw them lose a couple of their veterans in Ragnar Klavan and Tobias Werner who have combined to make 350 appearances for die Fuggerstädter in their careers. Selling two 26-year-olds in Jeong-Ho Hong and Alexander Esswein – to China and Hertha, respectively – seemed curious business for the club, especially when they were already without central defenders. They finally realized the error of their ways and brought in Martin Hinteregger on August 31st, after Christoph Janker, a 31-year-old with 3000 career Bundesliga minutes was forced to start against Wolfsburg in the opener. You know things are bad when you’re counting on Hinteregger, the own goal master, to improve your defense.

All kidding aside, Hinteregger has actually been solid – 79% pass completion, 3 interceptions, 4.4 clearances, 1.4 tackles per match – save for the Werder game that they won anyway. Konstantinos Stafylidis has arguably been much more than solid, he has a case for being the most in form left back in the Bundesliga after six games. It’s not so much that he leads the team with two goals, or that he possesses a cannon of a left foot that can explode from distance quite often. The 22-year-old is active on defense with 4.8 clearances, 4.7 interceptions and 2.3 tackles. His tackling is exceptional, with a success rate of 14 of 18! He was already chosen as man of the match on three occasions and has made our team of the week a couple times.

db

Daniel Baier has long been an underrated Bundesliga veteran, a fact that didn’t escape the expert eyes of Ted Knutson of Statsbomb who campaigned on his behalf for a spot on the 2014 German World Cup Team. The 32-year-old, is somehow playing even better this season, with his interceptions going from 3.6 in 2013/14 to 5.7 so far this year! (He was at 2.4 the last two years!!) He and Stafylidis lead the league with 34 and 28 in terms of interception totals.

It turns out taking away passes via interceptions is a good way to play defense! With such level of activity and success, FCA are always gonna have a solid defense, and the advanced stats confirm this – they have similar numbers in the seventh best range with Dortmund, and perhaps it’s only in part due to a 5% edge in save percentage that BVB have conceded two fewer goals than FCA. The other reason is that 42% of the shots on target against Augsburg end up in goals – the fifth highest mark in the league, which is pretty surprising given Marwin Hitz’s reputation.

Sadly, Augsburg have a massive problem on offense, as they continued their disturbing trend of long-range shooting from last year. After taking the most shots from distance in the past season – 5.7 of their total of 13, FCA are down to just 12 shots but are taking 7.3 from outside the box! 

Stats confirm this: it takes FCA 14.64 shots to get a goal on average per the ChallengersPodcast, the fourth worst mark in the league, yet they are averaging just over 12 a game. The offense has suffered two major blows early in the season already: Caiuby and Dominik Kohr out until the winter, after suffering serious injuries. The Brazilian has led the league in aerials won, and while he is the biggest culprit in terms of ineffective shooting, his absence and career-best three shots per match will be sorely missed. Kohr has been a bright spot alongside Baier in the center of the pitch until the 22-year-old was scythed down by a nasty challenge that saw Mainz’s Jose Rodriguez suspended til late October. While Kohr led the team in getting dribbled past and was second in fouls to Caiuby, he also was their leading tackler with 3.3 per match. Getting just two games out of the Brazilian and almost three from Kohr will no doubt hurt FCA even more, as they face a rough stretch next that includes Schalke, Freiburg and Bayern twice – once in the cup.

Overall, the concerning part for FCA fans is that Schuster has been left with a super thin squad that relies on guys close to 30 – Kacar and Marwin Hitz are 29, or on the wrong side of it – Verhaegh, Baier and Altintop. Their offense is the worst at getting quality shots – a league low 29 shots from inside the box and converting them – only Hamburg are worse at 4.8% to FCA’s 5.6. “Second worst behind Hamburg’s offense” – perhaps the worst five words this season in German soccer. Moreover, only Darmstadt create fewer open play shots in the box with feet (14) to Augsburg’s 18, while 3.67 Shots on Target per match is the Bundesliga’s third worst rate.

Some consistency out of streaky forwards like Raul Bobadilla, Alfred Finnbogason and Ja-Cheol Koo would be quite the panacea, but the doctor also prescribes some new attacking players in the winter transfer market.

4. Speaking of the transfer market, it’s where Eintracht Frankfurt have done a stellar job this summer. To be more specific and emphatic: Frankfurt have absolutely crushed the “young guys from big teams on loans” concept.  Eintracht have somehow assembled a quality defense out of Bundesliga journeymen and loan players, -2.83 shots on target against is the third lowest after RBL and Bayern, and with a total of 17, they are the fourth best side in terms of Shots in the  Box allowed. That kind of defensive prowess – a full one point better than Ingolstadt’s third best number last year (Bayern – BVB were tops) shows how difficult it has been to score vs die Adler, and could foreshadow a midtable finish a’la FCI of last year. But, let’s stick with their transfers for just a minute.

The funniest part about their moves is that their most expensive player – Taleb Tawatha at 1.2 million – has played ELEVEN minutes so far. Their second biggest signing was Omar Mascarell, a 23-year-old from the Real Madrid system, who has played at Sporting Gijon and Derby County and just NINE minutes for Los Blanco’s first team. Here is how my colleague and Eintracht fan Anas Ali Molla described him:

Composed, he gets the midfield moving with his distribution and  short passes. He is someone Eintracht was missing in midfield last season. 79% pass accuracy, but trust me, his overall gameplay has been way better. And another thing, that sticks out in his qualities is his willingness to defend, he isn’t shy of going into headers (21) and tackles,(3 attempted per game). Mascarell has six average defensive actions per game with an exact three interceptions per game, leading the team with 18 total.”

He has also been crucial to the buildup as we can see from 11tegen11′s passing map.

frankfurt

Jesus Vallejo, a 19-year-old also from Real Madrid has turned quite a few heads with his mature play. 2.5 interceptions and 90.5% pass completion rate on a team high 55 attempts per match are awfully impressive and one can see why Real paid 5 million Euros for him to Zaragoza last year. (Breaking into the first team was always gonna be super difficult with Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Raphael Varane, so the loan to Frankfurt made a lot of sense.) Guillermo Varela also deserves some praise: the MU player on loan was leading Frankfurt with three interceptions per game before an unfortunate injury. The other beneficiary all of this stability has been David Abraham, who went from one of the more average defenders last year, to one of its better ones – the errant pass against Freiburg that led to Grifo’s game-winner notwithstanding. He is frequently the last line of defense, and his excellent understanding of the game allows him to make crucial interceptions (2.7 per game) and successful tackles (73% rate).  Tackling is sort of a last resort for die Adler, as they very often don’t need to: with ELEVEN players averaging over 1.7 interceptions per match, Franfkurt are sandwiched between Bayern and Dortmund at just 14.5 tackles per game for the lowest numbers in the league. Szabolcs Huszti, Mijat Gacinovic and Makoto Hasebe, two central mids and one winger are their three top thieves. So, lot’s of positives about Eintracht, but where are their problems?

Frankfurt’s problems are still on the offensive end, and at least one of their one goal losses – to  to Freiburg can be attributed to poor attacks.

Even in a comfortable-looking 2-0 win against Ingolstadt, die Adler struggled to create much

They had three excellent games versus Darmstadt, Leverkusen and Schalke, and while they were extremely unlucky to lose two points to a fluke goal by Sandro Sirigu, Chicharito missing a late penalty probably netted them back those two points.

The advanced stats reveal a middling attack – Eintracht rank anywhere from 8th to 13th in the shooting stats and show a lot of numerical similarity to Gladbach’s offense after six matches, which is pretty decent for SGE, but not so flattering for BMG. To be fair, Gladbach do have the massive advantage of needing just 5.5 shots to get a goal to Eintracht’s 9.5, both well above the league average of 12.1. For the most part, Frankfurt still rely massively on Alex Meier dropping deep to receive passes – you can see

fabian

that the big center forward is often only the third highest man up the pitch by average positioning – and to finish those chances. Meier has scored three, but is always just a pulled hamstring away from going down for a long time, and it’s quite astonishing that Fredi Bobic and co haven’t adequately replaced him. (Haris Seferovic is mostly still a mess, and Branimir Hrgota still looks cursed in front of goal, at least in the Bundesliga). The major positive of Eintracht has been their Mexican savior, Marco Fabian. His two goals and two assists probably underrate how great the 27-year-old has been in his second season at the club. He failed to make an impact last year since making the switch in the winter break, as he put up 1.7 shots, 1.8 key passes on 1.4 dribbles while earning 1.9 fouls – still decent numbers. This season, he has been on a tear with 4 shots, 2.8 key passes, 3 fouls draw and 1.5 dribbles. Two things jump out: 1. he takes 2.5 shots per game inside the penalty area – the same as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and only behind Thomas Müller at 3 and Robert Lewandowski at 4 per game. Not too shabby! 2. He averages the same amount of passes (35ish) and has the same efficiency at 78%, but Fabian has been massively effective drifting wide and doubling the number of his crosses to 2.3 per game, which increased his key passes. Sure, some of that is inflated by the Mexican getting 6 of his 11 key passes from corners (aka the Pascal Groß and Vincenzo Grifo tax) but Fabian – who looks to be in much better shape this season – remains a tricky player that is very hard to dispossess and thus draws a ton of fouls/corners. If he can keep this up over an entire season, Frankfurt’s attack should be in decent shape. The additions of some speed on the wing, with the likes of Danny Blum and Ante Rebic (sadly both injured at the moment) would also be encouraged, with Seferovic and Hrgota preferably taking a back seat.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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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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