April 24, 2017

The Worst XI of the Bundesliga’s Rückrunde-Part 2: Defenders

In what perhaps is not the most difficult of the four parts in this series, we arrive at our selection of the Bundesliga’s worst defenders in the spring season, or Rückrunde, and we have plenty of options. Ten teams in the league surrendered 49 or more goals and Stuttgart have even managed to concede an incredible 75, thanks  to some impressive defensive meltdowns down the stretch that saw die Schwaben get relegated after 41 years!!! Let’s look at the comparison between the two halves of the season for the league:

Hinrunde goals against
Hinrunde goals against
Rückrunde goals conceded
Rückrunde goals conceded

Among the top teams Bayern were consistently excellent all season, while in the spring Leverkusen had that crazy clean sheet streak by Bernd Leno that propelled them into third place. Dortmund started out like gangbusters and ended up giving up half as many goals, compared to the Hinrunde, while the other Borussia team, Gladbach, conceded 33% fewer. Two Europa League teams, Mainz and Schalke were fairly consistent, while Hertha saw a +8 goal difference turn into a – 8 as they flipped the 24 and 16 into a 16 and 24 thanks to some injuries and Rune Jarstein coming back down to Earth.

Wolfsburg’s defense also couldn’t overcome the Naldo injury, who didn’t look great in his return, and turning the keys over to Dante was never a good idea. Cologne had a dreadful start to the spring, but Timo Horn and their depth really propelled the Billy Goats to another solid finish, ending up almost a carbon copy of their Hinrunde goal difference in the end, much like HSV, who needed three keepers (and you could make the argument that all three were above average) to accomplish the feat.

A goalkeeping controversy, and the league did finally figuring out a solution to Hasenhüttl’s mad pressing scheme, hurt Ingolstadt, but despite conceding six more goals in the Rückrunde, die Schänzer proved the old adage that the best defense is a good offense, as they doubled their goals tally from an atrocious eleven to a respectable 22 in the second half of the season. I know that Augsburg didn’t just simulate the second half of the season, because I watched at least 7 of their games live, and picked Ragnar Klavan for Matchday 30’s team of the week, but 21 and 26 is exactly the same as in the fall and good for 12th place.

Bremen getting 13th in the last-minute is like a drunk fratboy passing a class with a D+ and getting his diploma in the end, but while the defense was equally bad – save the last two or three games – the offense   Claudio Pizarro’s twelve in 13 games accounted for the + 15 goal discrepancy. Similarly, Sandro Wagner’s ten goals and Aytac Sulu’s heroic headers often saved Darmstadt, while Hoffenheim under their Lord and Savior, Julian Nagelsmann, actually conceded four more goals, but picked up 24 points compared to 13 to remain in the league. Eintracht’s goal differential improved by four goals, but sadly Alex Meier’s injury in February meant that the goals also dried up and despite a ferocious winning streak to close out the season (including a shutout over Dortmund), die Adler were forced to play a relegation playoff against Nürnberg.

Hannover earned the titled of the illusionists, as their 19-23 goal difference was somehow less impressive than their 13 and 33 in the spring, where they often looked like a decent team that probably could have stayed in the league had management pulled the trigger on Daniel Stendel earlier. Stuttgart were consistently awful, somehow allowing 38 goals, with this nine game stretch to finish the season and end up in the Zweite Liga.

the real house of cards
the real house of cards

Having rounded up the team defenses, let’s proceed to the individual awards of the four worst defenders in the Rückrunde. The Hinrunde selections, Emiliano Insua, Timo Baumgartl, both of Stuttgart, Darmstadt’s Fabian Holland and Hannover’s Hiroki Sakai will not repeat: Insua was probably the best defender for VfB, which is basically akin to being the best shipmate on the Titanic. Baumgartl was mostly out of the starting lineup, and also missed time due to an appendectomy, which sadly meant more opportunities for his replacements (more on them later) to outdo him. Holland only started in six games in the spring, as Junior Diaz deputized three times for him and while he was far from excellent, the Darmstadt left back didn’t do anything egregious to merit a spot on our team. Hiroki Sakai is still the worst rated defender on Squawka, but actually had a few decent games towards the end of the season, including being named the man of the match against Ingolstadt, so he is excused.

So who does that leave us with?  Well, here are the nominees for worst defender of the Rückrunde, minimum 10 appearances or 500 minutes, as per Squawka’s list.

squawkaworstdefs

squawkaworstdef2

Mitchell Weiser’s inclusion is an absolute joke, as the Bayern loanee was actually very good for Hertha, and he even made DW journalist Stefan Bienkowski’s team of the season. While that’s probably a bit too much, he is closer to being one of the five best right backs than his ranking here. My guess is that his 71% pass completion is dragging him down, but still this ranking is fairly ridiculous.

1.Georg Niedermeier  – Stuttgart is number one with a bullet. The 30-year-old hulking center back epitomizes the VfB season: ignored by Zorniger, who preferred Timo Baumgartl (we know how that turned out) he made his season debut on Nov 29th and became a fixture under Kramny. His three goals in February and early March (one against Frankfurt and two against Hoffenheim in what would be the last win of the season for die Schwaben) were a nice bonus, but since then his team produced one of the worst runs the Bundesliga has ever seen.

the real house of cards

niedermeier
the last green rectangle is the Hoffenheim match, and the first red is April 2nd – the game in which Die got hurt after gifting Sandro Wagner a goal

Never the quickest or the most technical on the field, and with only just ten tackles won in the spring,  the former Bayern Munich youth product was exposed, particularly after Serey Die went down for the season against Darmstadt. He drew the ire of VfB fans in particular after the Augsburg match, when he pulled off this beauty.

image defenders

 

While the three goals against Ingolstadt were not his fault, two absolute rockets from Hartmann and Lezcano and a Leckie point-blank header (hi Daniel Didavi) caused him to be subbed off after 53 minutes, which is never a great sign from your manager.

Did I mention that he managed to score two spectacular own goals on the season, one against Dortmund and one against Bayern?

Squawka rated him a +25 for the Bremen game, when here is what he did

  1. his lack of speed caused him to be unable to match Bartels’ run for the first goal, his poor clearance confused Barba (who to be fair just scored an own goal earlier and should take most of the blame for that goal as well), and he failed to tackle the CAM who threaded the needle for Pizarro for Werder’s fourth and looked like he was a zombie for the fifth goal (walking towards his own goal in a daze), and while the backpass was horrendous he made no effort to track Ujah, who had plenty of time to score the sixth.

Perhaps the contract extension for Niedermeier and his partner in crime, Daniel Schwaab, was just another nail in the coffin for Robin Dutt, who was predictably fired along with Jürgen Kramny.

Jos Luhukay to Pilot Stuttgart Next Season, Sporting Director Dutt Fired

2.Kevin Großkreutz, – VfB Stuttgart – is our right back for the Rückrunde, as he was able to make the minimum ten appearances but caused enough damage in that short time of 900 minutes.  He was noticeably absent from the defenders’ list, as for some reason, Squawka listed him under midfielders. As Dortmund fans will remember fondly, Kevin is a passionate player, and while the 27-year-old gave his heart and soul to VfB, after signing during the winter break, his limitations were very evident from early on. Bundesliga fans will recall how his move to Galatasaray was basically a disaster from the get-go: the Turkish club somehow failed to get the paperwork done in early September, which basically meant that KG was ineligible to play for them. Unsurprisingly, the marriage lasted just three months, as they parted ways in December. At the time of his transfer to VfB, many applauded the move:

Kevin Großkreutz

Well, the best I could say about his semester in Stuttgart was that at least the paperwork got done and he was able to play, when he was healthy….

According to Whoscored.com he was rated the seventh worst right back in the league for the whole season among players who made at least 10 appearances at the position. worstRBs

However, if we take a closer look at that list, we find that the others ahead of him barely played in the Rückrunde – Olkowski played about 200 mins, as Cologne opted for Marcel Risse or a three man back line, Julian Korb hasn’t started a game since January, as 20-year-old Nico Elvedi took his job, Sascha Riether made four starts and was mostly a backup to Junior Caicara at Schalke, Garics, who started every game at RB for Darmstadt in the Hinrunde, appeared just four times as the Lilies went with Florian Jungwirth instead and he promptly led all right backs with 4.2 interceptions per 90 minutes.. Makoto Hasebe, much like Eintracht’s defense down the stretch, was much improved and his key goal and assist helped to take six points against Dortmund and Darmstadt for die Adler.

hasebe

At the risk of beating a dead horse, Stuttgart’s defense was so atrocious, that Großkreutz’s toughest competition for this award was from his own teammate Florian Klein, who missed out only due to not having made enough appearances. These two were leading the league in the dribbled past category – per 90 minutes:

dribbledpastper90

Christian Träsch is probably the runner-up here, as the 28-year-old, much like the rest of Wolfsburg, seemed to particularly struggle against quality competition like Bayern, Dortmund and Leverkusen. While he is probably a worse tackler than Großkreutz, he at least offers something going forward and is a significantly more accurate passer at 79% to 71%. In fact, after running these two through the Squawka player comparison matrix, there is no statistical category in which the VfB man has an edge over the VfL player.

If you are still not convinced by the stats, let’s go to some footage:

In early spring, Hannover beat the then high-flying Stuttgart 2-1 in a big upset. Timo Werner scored a nice goal, but also coming up with the miss of the season is just a sidenote, as two Kiyotake direct kicks gave Hannover the win. Let’s look at the two goals, closely: Our hero in number 15, Kevin G is supposed to mark Hannover center back Christian Schulz, who scored his only two goals of the season in the game. Instead, Großkreutz just lets him slip behind him for goal number one and just completely gives up on goal number two as his teammates are pointing at him furiously….Who was he marking???

This is the type of stuff that would’ve gotten a pink slip from an NFL coach the next Monday.

Or take the game against Gladbach for example:

kgrvgladbach

The video also shows him playing a terrible game –

While he probably isn’t directly at fault for the first three goals – his positioning and effort on goals two and three could be a lot better, his own goal is one of the ages.

Sure, he became a fan favorite for his fiery comments in defense of Stuttgart, as the club slipped deeper into the relegation battle, but that only wins him sympathy points with the fans:

View post on imgur.com

“work one’s ass off – fighting – winning – no more excuses…I will give everything and try to get out of this SHIT…If it’s not enough i would never leave a club in this situation, instead i would make it right again. I’m on fire”

But ultimately a thigh injury forced him to miss seven games between March and May, and he was unable to do much in the last game versus Mainz.

In the end, the verdict is that his interviews were great – but sadly for Stuttgart fans they were much superior to his on – field performance so Kevin Großkreutz deservedly takes the second place on our worst defenders of the Rückrunde list.

3. Martin Hinteregger is the third choice, despite having barely played 640 minutes in ten appearances for Gladbach, after a winter loan move from RB Salzburg for 2.5 million Euros! The 23-year-old Austria international was brought in to shore up a shaky backline that, as Anas Ali Molla at Bundesligafanatic pointed out, had tried a plethora of combinations in the center.

Gladbach's defense could have used a defender, but it wasn't Hinteregger

Two spectacular own goals – the first against Schalke

the second against HSV

and some hilarious mistakes for 2.5 million in 640 miserable minutes and the Austrian’s contract was understandably not picked up. Squawka gave him a performance score of -43, which was the second worst on his own team, after Julian Korb, who basically barely played in the spring. After a miserable start to the Hinrunde that ultimate saw BMG concede 30 goals in 17 matches, Gladbach’s defense actually improved to letting in just 20 in 17 games. rrdefense

That had basically nothing to do with Hinteregger as his fixture list shows.

hinteregger

15 goals in those 10 matches, (really more like ten in eight because he came in for the last ten minutes vs BVB down 3-0 and after Augsburg had scored their two) with two own goals by Martin is not terrible, but when you consider the fact that Andre Schubert went with 19-year-olds Andreas Christensen (which worked out for the most part) and Nico Elvedi (played as a center back!!! against Dortmund) or Havard Nordtveit (who is more of a CDM) over their newly signed 22-year-old then the picture starts to look bleaker. A quick cursory glance at that above picture also shows that the Foals lost six of the ten games in which Hinteregger played, and only beat the three bottom teams in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Werder. Given that they had seven total losses in the Rückrunde alongside eight wins and two draws, you can conclude that they had gone 3-6-1 with him and 5-1-1 without him. You don’t need to be a math major to figure out the difference….

Honorable mentions go out to the one and only Lord Dante of Wolfsburg, while Bosnian Sead Kolasinac and his love of fouling and Croatian sensation Tin Jedvaj, who managed to get two red cards in three days in two different competitions and somehow failed to impress despite Leverkusen trying approximately 95 different fullbacks. Eintracht’s defense has also probably gotten off easily, despite Marco Russ’s late season heroics and David Abraham, Constant “Lord of this World” Djakpa, the immortal Zambrano or the law firm of Oczipka and Hasebe can all mail their thank you payments to my office.

As always let us know if you agree/disagree by dropping us a line in the comments section or on twitter at either @BundesPL or @VanbastenESL

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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