21 Talking Points about Bundesliga’s MD 21 – Part 1 – Leverkusen, Gladbach, Frankfurt

  1. Prior to the 21st matchday of the Bundesliga there was a general consensus about Bayern’s waltz to the title as concerns were growing about Leipzig’s durability (both on and off the pitch), Dortmund’s ability to finish (not to mention the dumb Tuchel rumors) and Hoffenheim’s aura of invincibility (losing two of three after and 18 game unbeaten streak!). There were further questions for the challengers to the European spots: Boosted by the return of David Abraham, would Eintracht  be able to keep up in what looked to be a good bet for three points at home vs a pesky Ingolstadt team? What chances could Hertha possibly have versus a Bayern team that ruined Arsenal in the UCL? Is the Leverkusen comeback and Chicharito revival for real? Could Anthony Modeste continue to carry Cologne? Which of the Freiburg\Gladbach\Schalke trio would rise from mid-table to compete for the last European spot? Did Valerien Ismael find something against Hoffenheim that could propel VfL out of the relegation zone? Would the great escape in Hamburg continue? Was this going to be the end for Alexander Nouri and Werder Bremen?

Well, I found some answers to those questions and then some! Let’s break them down into 21 points

2. Betting is HARD!

The odds before the matches and the winners in green!

Two relatively easy wins for BVB and TSG, but the rest were pretty ridiculous. Gambling is hard, kids!

3. Tony Modeste has tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the league lead with 17 goals and is now being offered 40 million Euros from China, again. I figured this is as good a time as any  for a little head to head comparison, using numbers and stats from Whoscored.com, Squawka and Alex Rathke’s research (lagging a game behind), which you will be able to read in a separate piece. As a teaser I can just tell you that there are more similarities between the speedy Gabonese and the hulking Frenchman than you would imagine and I’m not talking about their times spent in Ligue 1 either.

4.  Gladbach’s return to crossing and losing!

The good news is that the Foals won the XG battle, but lost the war\match versus RBL.

The bad news is that some of the uglier traits that were prevalent under Schubert also reared their ugly heads in this one. I found some interesting stylistic differences that are worth pointing out under Hecking:

  • The switch to 4-4-2, which the former VfL coach has employed in every match was effective until Sunday, as the Foals got four wins and just one draw up until they ran into the Leipzig press.
  • The center backs passing to each other and sometimes involving the CMs (where have you read this before?) happened again. 
  • Those passing combos between the defensive-minded players are notable, because apart from the Darmstadt victory, in which the Foals enjoyed 66% possession, dominated by Vestergaard and Christensen, Hecking’s Foals actually failed to reach double-digits among similar combos in the wins against Bremen, Freiburg and Leverkusen! I’ve dug deeper into the five match sample under the former Wolfsburg coach and came up with a nice table. 
  • To sum it up: Aside from this latest match where Hecking resorted to what he knows best (crossing), Gladbach have been effective despite conceding possession and utilizing a conservative 4-4-2 formation mostly because of short key passing (often in transition) thanks to creative attacking players like Raffael/Thorgan Hazard and a few nice Lars Stindl moments. It’ll be interesting to see which trend continues in the upcoming matches.

5. Non-Robben Bayern players failures at shooting. 

Arjen getting off shots from good locations, his teammates not so much. The Dutchman got two of his four shots on goal, with one missing the target and one getting blocked.

6. We’d also be remiss not to give Hertha a lot of credit for going Dikembe Mutombo on a lot of these attempts:

By my calculation that’s seven blocked shots on twelve attempts by guys not named Robben (removing the four from the total of 16), or a 58% block rate! Stan van Dárdai indeed!

7. Leverkusen and Chicharito embrace adversity again with a little help from “the new Hotness” Kai Havertz. Plus it’s nice to have Bellarabi back!

So this happened in Augsburg on Friday:

Holy XG BATMAN! It’s worth digging into how Bayer have done it:

Hakan Calhanoglu, who might have been Bayer’s best player on the season, has of course been suspended and the abysmal form of Julian Baumgartlinger, Charles Aranguiz, and the artist formerly known as Kevin Volland have seriously impeded Roger Schmidt’s team. Luckily, three developments seemed to have turned things around: 1. Chicharito finding his scoring boots and looking like a different player than the one in the Hinrunde. It’s not that the 28-year-old has five goals in his last three matches, but rather his effort level has increased: in the last two matches he has taken ELEVEN shots, while prior to that he took 28 in 16 matches. That’s four a game in the last three versus 1.75 per match before and they’ve come from excellent locations!

As no great striker exists in a vacuum, the Mexican international has benefitted from two great contributors, neither of whom were available for much of the fall. Karim Bellarabi has long been a favorite of Bundesliga aficionados and Thomas Tuchel (who reportedly wanted him in the summer) and it’s not just because of the combined 18 goals and 20 assists in the last two seasons. His injury in the early moments on the second matchday and the 19 matches that he subsequently missed are an underrated component of the terrible Leverkusen campaign.  With ten key passes, three assists and a goal in the five matches he has played since he has been fit again, Bellarabi has once again proved himself to be an invaluable contributor to die Werkself’s success. His speed, dribbling and understanding with Chicharito and Havertz continue to create massive matchup problems for most Bundesliga defenders, just ask poor Paul Verhaegh who looked like me if I were to try to win a footrace versus Usain Bolt.

8.Let’s look at some fun pics of the famous 50000th Bundesliga goal scored by Bellarabi:

  1. Bellarabi (bottom of the screen at the edge of the center circle) is a good 10-15 yards behind as Julian Brandt wins the ball at 22:44 
  2. Two seconds later at 22:46, Verhaegh is now like 4-5 yards ahead. 
  3. at 22:46, Kimo begins to shift into overdrive, as Kai Havertz is played in on the right-wing by Chicharito’s great through ball.
  4. at 22:49, it’s game over, as Verhaegh has been dusted and he scores just a second later.
  5. So, if I counted it right Bellarabi has gone from five yards past the halfway line to the six in about five seconds. If Transfermarkt correctly measure the length of WWK Arena’s pitch at 105 x 68m, the Leverkusen winger covered about 45 meters is 5 seconds (halving the pitch gets us 52.5 and we deducted about 7 combined in the end), resulting in a converted 100 meter speed of 11.11 per this site!

9.Kai Havertz is the latest star to burst out of the Leverkusen youth system (technically he started at Alemannia Aachen, but has been with die Werkself since 2010), and has already contributed three assists this season in just 624 Bundesliga minutes. For a wacky comparison, Dortmund’s prodigal son, Mario Götze has one goal and an assist in 763 minutes. Not bad from a guy whose yearly goals include graduating from high school. 

You can see how excellent he has been, since the Calhanoglu ban, above and in particular his performance versus Augsburg here: 

Two things stand out: 1. the pass completion rate and 2. that he played just TWO passes in the defensive third!

Some bonus aerial skills!

The kid is 186 cms (or 6ft 2) and is winning 3.4 of 5.4 aerial duels on the season enough to rank him 20th among all Bundesliga player but number one on his own team! Both the attempts and the 63% success rate deserve a lot of praise, especially in the context of a player like Stefan Kießling, who has made a career out of being a monster in the air. 


Poor Stefan might not ever see another minute on the pitch if Roger Schmidt sees this.

You probably don’t need stats to be convinced that Havertz is the better player on the ground, but just in case, Havertz has the edge in number of passes per game, pass completion rate, while key passes are about even.

As always, uncle Ted is right!

10.  Eintracht’s David Abraham is reanointed “Sir Lord of the Vale” for what might have been his worst game for die Adler. The veteran Argentine who has been the defensive leader was coming back from suspension and was also carrying an injury, but neither should excuse whatever that was from him in the 33 minutes that he spent on the pitch.

I get, that everyone hates Dario Lezcano 

as he leads the Bundesliga in getting fouled but perhaps there are subtler ways of expression than kicking him in the chest. The thigh injury that forced Jesus Vallejo out at halftime, as well as the suspensions (Omar Mascarell picked up his TENTH yellow to lead the league, plus Abraham who will miss at least two matches) could send Niko Kovac’s team into a further spiral, as they continue to lead the Bundesliga in injuries. Ironically they will face Hertha next, who know a thing or two about falling off in the spring after a great Hinrunde….

Stay tuned for Part 2 with points 11-21.

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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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