You know the drill by know, using heaps of video and stats I’ve selected the three best teams of the Hinrunde in the 2017\18 Bundesliga. Sven Ulreich was the goalkeeper of the third team, here are his three defenders, coz we’re going hipster 3-3-3-1.
Just a few days before Sven Ulreich moved to Bayern, the promising young RB Mitchell Weiser moved to Hertha BSC on a permanent basis. He’s struggled with injuries – including missing most of last spring – but when he’s healthy, he’s been on one of the best right backs\right wingbacks in the league. He’s the quintessential Hertha player, in that he almost never shoots – 0.4 shots per 90 for a team that takes 9.2 shots per game – Weiser has several elite skills:
- his two key passes per 90 put him in the top 12
- expert dead ball deliveries, and crosses (17 of his 30 key passes were crosses)
- crucial to Hertha’s buildup, which is key because a low shots team like BSC which also leads the Bundesliga in spending time in the middle third (51% of the time) runs its attacks on his side 41% of the time, the fifth most in the league.
- excellent in progressing the ball, as proven by the XGbuildup metric (total XG of every possession involved without key passes and shots) which ranks him number on on Hertha with 3.40. By the way, he’s also first on the team with 5.19 XG chain, that is if we add the total XG of every possession he’s involved in.
- Weiser is in the top 5 in dribbles, despite 12 appearances at right back
- drawing fouls – he is sixth with 36 suffered
- challenges – Weiser is number one in the Bundesliga in ground attempts and wins a solid 48%, while ranking in the top 10 in overall duels.
Here are some pics to prove it:
about the only thing you wouldn’t want him doing is aerial duels, of which he wins just 36%. But as the above pics show, he knows his strengths and engages in ground challenges 80% of the time. So, what looks like an ordinary season with a goal and two assists, is actually a very impressive one and Weiser is directly responsible for Hertha’s strong finish which saw them grab 10 points from their last six matches. Let’s join the #hahohe fans in keeping our fingers crossed, so that Weiser (who has also featured in two cup matches and four Europa League affairs) stays healthy.
Abdou Diallo is not a name that even the more hardcore Bundesliga fans were familiar with up until this season. That stands to reason despite the fact that Diallo has risen up the youth teams and actually lately has captained the U21 France team that might’ve been the most loaded youth team I’ve seen. Just check out this random game against Macedonia for some of the names.
Despite breaking into the first team squad at Monaco in the 14\15 season, the now 21-year-old has played just a handful of games for AS and actually spent the 15\16 season at Zulte Waregem in Belgium, where he played 33 games and showed his skills at set pieces by scoring 3 goals. Ironically, the incredible 16\17 Monaco season wasn’t so great for Diallo, who logged just under 400 league minutes, but did feature in the 3-0 loss to Leverkusen in the Champions League.
With the transfers of Amine Harit, Benjamin Pavard, Dayotchelle Upamecano, or even the free signing of Dan-Axel Zagadou, Diallo’s 5 million move (helped by the advice of Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Gaetan Bussmann) to Mainz didn’t raise too many eyebrows. With his contract expiring and Diallo more often not even making the squad it made sense for Monaco to get something for a player they clearly didn’t plan with in the long-term. From the Bundesliga.com interview, it’s fairly obvious that the player was happy to leave and follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned French youngsters getting their feet wet in Germany. As for FSV, it’s been one of the signings of the season, as Diallo’s stock within the league has skyrocketed, thanks to a wonderful Hinrunde. Sven Mislintat, the famous ex-BVB, now Arsenal scout is now hot on his heels.
So let’s take a look his performance and understand why he’s risen so quickly.
This Hinrunde, Diallo’s played 15 games and has a kicker average of 3, which is puts him in the top 15 outfield players! He made the German magazine’s “Elf des Tages” aka the MD’s best XI four times! He’s scored two important goals for Mainz: a great near post run vs the early season Leverkusen team (unbeaten since this MD3 meeting) that loved to concede on set pieces. I broke it down for http://talkingfussball.com/ here:
and another where he beat Yann Sommer to give Mainz the lead against Gladbach. It’s his quick first step that results in Diallo losing his marker on numerous occasions, which coupled with a perfect delivery (occasionally by Alex Maxim) can yield nice results for a Mainz team that has the lowest XG in the Bundesliga. 6 (8 if you count penalties) of their 19 goals came on set pieces, and with the likes of Diallo and Stefan Bell Mainz can surprise even the top teams as B04 and BMG found out.
So, as you can see defensive challenges are something of a Mainz specialty, and while Danny Latza who also leads the Bundesliga in tackle attempts could do a bit better, Bell’s 69% on huge volume (which is the strong part of his game, and there are plenty of weaknesses) is more or less matched by Diallo!
So, he’s definitely a huge problem for the other team on set pieces, and tends to win 70% of his defensive challenges. That alone is at least an average Bundesliga starter. With all due respect to a lot of Bundesliga guys, the David Abrahams or Sokratis’ of the world, what sets Diallo apart is his abilities in buildup and passing. This video against Stuttgart is a nice example:
Abdou Diallo vs VfB Stuttgart(H)
Arsenal have made contact with FC Mainz to sign the 21-year-old French centre back. He was recommended by New head scout Sven Mislintat. pic.twitter.com/cR9NP5RwgX
— La Croqueta (@afchoncho) December 21, 2017
He’s even played a few times in the 3-man CB line as the LCB (so we’re naturally gonna put him there), and though Sandro Schwarz was motioning him to play faster vs. Hannover in his debut, Diallo has grown into a very good passer as the season went along. That Hannover game where FSV played with 3 in the back and had like 62% possession represented a promise that went largely unfulfilled by Schwarz’s Mainz. It’s conceivable that early losses to their relegation rivals Stuttgart and Hannover (in terms of perception) and losing 4 of the first 5 led Mainz to abandon their buildup ideas, and it wasn’t until the Leipzig\BVB matches late in the Hinrunde that Schwarz came back to the 3-5 defender system, though given the quality of the opposition not with the same ambitions in buildup as against Hannover. The typical Mainz buildup ran almost always through Diallo or Bell playing it wide to the useful Daniel Brosinski (Giulio Donati is a lot of things but a good passer) on the left side. It’s hard to blame him for the offensive ineffectiveness or the lack of a playmaking midfielder, or for the facts that Mainz took 52% of their shots from outside of the box and scored zero counterattack goals – both Bundesliga “bests”. The long and short of it is that should Diallo, who is of Senegalese descent, enjoy a solid spring and despite having a contract until 2022, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on a superior team next season.
Salif Sane is on other hand someone who’s infinitely familiar to Bundesliga fans. Hannover’s Senegalese CB was someone I and others advocated as a player that should’ve been signed from H96 when they got relegated, but he was very content in the north and\or scouts didn’t trust his 15\16 season on the back of two half seasons in the two previous years. Nevertheless, the under recognized hero of Breitenreiter’s Hannover gets the nod here, for improving from a massive aerial presence (winning 4 headers per game in his career on average) into a better all-around player. Did you know that he was in the top 12 among all players in attempted passes?
That’s a surprise, but him being atop the duel rankings is not:
He’s won 133 of 164 aerial duels for 81% and has 180 ball recoveries – the most in the Bundesliga – and just cleans up everything in sight:
I woulda put him higher, but making 6 mistakes leading to goal and Hannover falling off a cliff in the last six games with just 5 points makes this ranking just right.
Let’s move on to the midfield, where we have as many as six players:
Overall, this is a very solid group, which we’ll break into deeper\defensive players (3) and more attacking players and\or wingers. (3)
My inner contrarian wanted to leave Naby Keita off this list, because he’s definitely having a worse season than last year. He’s had more red cards than goals, and the crazy stories (license, red suits, etc) are more or less tied with his assists. RB Leipzig are also a worse team this year, by just about every metric. The toll of playing in three competitions with a revamped squad forced to integrate newcomers (Kampl, Laimer, Augustin, Bruma, Konate in – Selke, Burke, Khedira out) that got less out of Keita (who’s of course off to Liverpool, which “messed with his head” if you believe the armchair psychologists), a huge dip from Emil Forsberg and been awful without Marcel Sabitzer (more on this later) are all potential explanations why Ralph Hasenhüttl’s second season has been troublesome. There is a very easy argument that Péter Gulácsi has been the best Leipzig player.
Still, what’s been like a B season from Naby Keita is still so much better than your average Bundesliga player. Let’s take his advanced metrics per 90 and compare the GREEN (Keita) with the BLUE (avg player).
Or the fact that despite playing around 1000 of the 1530 minutes, he’s in the top 5 in VOLUME in Key Passes, Ground Challenges and Dribbles!
Two more tweets shall suffice: 1. this was earlier on, before the red cards\suspensions (rest vs Mainz) came in.
— Bundesliga Fanatic (@Bundesliga4u) September 19, 2017
2. When you are putting up stats that entire teams barely match, you belong on one of these teams:
— BundesPL (@BundesPL) November 26, 2017
Dennis Zakaria has gotten a lot of Keita lite comparisons and was picked as the breakout player, by Matt and I on the Talking Fussball Podcast in August.
While stats show that we should chill on the Keita comps – especially on offense- Zakaria has elite athleticism (shoutout to Jay Bilas) and attempts 2.2 dribbles per game, which is in the top 50. That’s about where he is in most other categories: 15th in ground challenges, 17th in tackles, but also 14th in fouls, with 5 yellow cards. At his best, he’s able to carry the ball forward with speed past defenders and get into the box, while also having the passing accuracy (90%, albeit on 40 attempts per match, almost exclusively short passes) and the defensive chops to chase guys down and make important tackles. He isn’t (yet) the type of player (nor does he have to be) to decide games and can be prone to lapses (vs. Dortmund) and Dieter Hecking does tend to yank him around the 60 minute a little too often, but to be an impact player in his first season shows why Max Eberl got himself a bargain for 12m.
Max Meyer looked to be the latest in the line of Schalke 04 prodigies whose career would fizzle out. Despite getting minutes in the 2012\13 season, Meyer is still just 22, but after a nice 15\16 Breitenreiter season, he was a lost puppy in the Weinzierl regime. Enter (Dominic) the German. Yeah, we mean Domenico Tedesco who after playing him 63 minutes in an attacking mid role in the first three games and for 78 minutes in a 2-0 loss to his buddy Nagelsmann came up with the move of the Hinrunde during the October international break: against Hertha, Meyer was lined up as a number 6 – the Julian Weigl style deep-lying playmaker. Bild ran the story of Meyer learning from watching Marco Verratti and the rest they say is history:
Schalke are undefeated in the ten games since and Meyer- whose individual numbers have dropped to 25% of his previous years – seemed reborn as the orchestrator behind the Goretzka\McKennie\Harit duo (depending on who’s healthy) in the #8 roles. Besides the 2.92 kicker rating, Meyer’s nowhere close to the top 20 in any statistical categories and has attempted just 5 shots all year, but I sincerely doubt he cares.
Ihlas Bebou is the Hannover player of choice here, because of the sheer impact he’s made. While Niclas Füllkrug has come on very strong in the last 3 weeks of the season, Bebou, who actually started his season by scoring two goals in 4 matches for Fortuna Düsseldorf in the 2. Bundesliga is the preferred selection due to the following reasons:
- scored 5 open play goals and was involved in 10 goals of H96 – tied for the team lead with set piece maestro Felix Klaus
- has completed 55% of his dribble attempts going 40\73 which is the 13th most in the league, despite logging just around 1029 minutes (992 at Whoscored)
- his pass % of 80% (Instat) or 76% (Whoscored) is surprisingly good for a winger who biggest asset is speed on the counterattacks
- It’s hard to quantify his effectiveness on the counters with the available data, but just ask any Dortmund defender (more specifically Sokratis\Bartra) on how that went.
- Bebou’s taken 17 of his 25 shots inside the penalty area and 19 of his 25 on open play, so he’s generating the majority of his shots from great locations and from the run of play.
- though primarily a right winger, he has versatility to play more or less any of the 4 attacking positions in a 4-2-3-1, can play either wide forward role in the 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 or as the wide midfielder in a 4-4-2.
His 2. Liga accolades are summed up nicely by this video – apologies for the music:
His advanced metrics look very promising, and when you consider that Hannover 96 paid 5m for him and he’s more or less put up the same offensive stats as Andriy Yarmolenko – who cost 25m and is a train wreck on defense – it’s one of the best buys of the summer.
— BundesPL (@BundesPL) January 2, 2018
Marcel Sabitzer has quietly been the most important outfield player for Leipzig:
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) December 20, 2017
Although, the Austrian has had 2-3 nagging injuries in this season already, things really fell off for RBL when he went out with a shoulder injury on November 20th. Leipzig were more or less on track with 23 points from 12 games, considering the difficulties of all their new arrivals, the second season adjustments by opponents and having to play in the UCL group rounds. But since then RBL have just five points: three from the late win vs Werder that they lost on XG, the 4-0 disaster in Hoffenheim, losing to Besiktas’ B team with the road to the UCL round of 16 in their hands at home, the 2-2 draw (1.25 to 1.27 on XG) at home to Mainz. Their final two games were two strange affairs in a wild “Englische Woche” – a dominant first half backfired spectacularly against Wolfsburg and they needed all the Divock Origi miss of the season + Gulácsi supersaves they could get to escape with a draw, before losing a thriller at home to Hertha 2-3, a game in which they were slightly head on XG for most of the game but needed a late Marcel Halstenberg goal just to make it 2-3.
That stretch has more or less seen their title aspirations (to the extent that they were ever realistic) evaporate and they have gone from being at the top of the “Bayernjager” pile to into a dogfight with all the teams 2-8 just to get back into Europe.
So we’ve established his importance to Leipzig, but it’s worth looking at a few of his numbers:
- his Instat score is 305 – the second best behind Arjen Robben (ineligible due to minutes) for right wingers
- 3 assists, 2 goals, 77% passing, 1.8 key passes, almost exclusively short passes, 1.2 completed dribbles, 5.33 XG Chain and 3.3 XG Buildup are all quite great
- his contributions on defense, in particular in counterpressing are world-class: 1.9 interceptions in the opponent half are arguably just as important for the style that RBL play
His one leak is the crazy outside shooting and the propensity of getting his shot blocked:
The purple shots are all blocked – 12 out of 34, which is a problem when he has 13 shots on target and half of the blocked shots aren’t necessarily the crazy long ones, but rather 7-10% chances from inside the box from open play. Getting 35% of your shots vs “just” 21 % last season is another worrying trend for Hasenhüttl and RBL, but overall Sabitzer has been plenty good enough to make the team, mostly because they have just been miserable without him.
Thorgan Hazard is another one who has had an intriguing Hinrunde, but has come on very strong in the end to grab a spot on the 3rd team. Prior to selection, my two biggest gripes were that he has just 2 non penalty goals despite taking a career most 2.9 shots per 90. Gladbach fans were probably right to be frustrated with Hazard, who seemed to get an inordinate amount of “decent” chances on counters in key games (BVB comes to mind, to say nothing of the .71 XG sitter that he somehow missed in the first half at 1-0 vs Leverkusen) where had he finished them, the Foals would’ve increased their chances of getting a point. But, as the season wore on, I started to realize that so much was running through Hazard and that he was creating so much for himself and thus I ended up including him here.
Having looked at his shot map we can at least ask the question, whether he hasn’t been getting super unlucky. Hazard has two goals on 40 open play shots this year vs an XG of 4.82, so he’s running nearly 3 goals under! For comparison, he managed just 39 open play shots in 1632 minutes vs the 1483 this year and is comfortably on pace to eclipse his minutes best (1647) while having already tied his best season scoring with 6.
I’ve removed his 4 penalties and his 2 goals against TSG (a 7%er) and vs HSV (a 42% chance)
Other than 3-5 long range bombs and 5-6 inefficient right sided – barely entering the box shots, this looks quite excellent and there’s at least seven shots that are .20 XG or better than 20% chance of scoring – but no cigar.
In addition, he ranks up there with the very best of the Hinrunde in the following categories:
5th in XGChain, 5th in key passes, 8th in passes in the box, 8th in non-penalty XG, 14th in total challenges attempted (though winning just 36%), 7th in ground challenges (but again only winning 36% – Harit is at 50%, Pulisic at 41%) 7th in dribbles (41% success is closer to a wasteful dribbler like Levin Öztunali than the elite volume and efficiency guys like Pulisic at 55% or Harit at 61%) and two penalties earned.
Still, I picked him over Christian Pulisic and I think this picture shows why that was a good choice:
Other than key passes, he’s even looking OK against his brother Eden Hazard:
Kevin Volland – This is once again the portion of the article, where I take my slice of humble pie. I’ve made fun of Kevin Volland’s physical attributes ands questioned his fit at Leverkusen and that was going okay until this year. Nine open play goals are a career high, even if he’s at “just” 5.49 Non Pen XG – the fifth most in the Bundesliga. One big reason is that he’s converted a whopping 29% of his 31 total shots for 9 goals. Per research at Understat we find this funny little stat: he has scored 9 goals and has had 9 shots saved!!!
But, let’s circle back to the conversion rate: thanks to the great work of Scott Willis we can put that into context. In the top 5 leagues, Volland has the 4th best conversion % amongst guys with a minimum of 25 shot attempts, trailing only Nabil Fekir, Mark Uth and the co-headliner of the 2017 Fall headline tour Simone Zaza!
However, portraying Volland as just a pure goalscorer would be selling him short, as he’s been a playmaker since his Hoffenheim days, and there are strong arguments that he’s better playing off a main striker (Lucas Alario this year) than being the lone guy up top. His career average of 1.5 key passes per 90 is down to 1 this year, but per Understat he’s still putting up 1.16 KP\90 in 856 minutes as a forward despite playing alongside Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt, Karim Bellarabi and Kai Havertz who are among the better KP artists in the league.
Another intriguing development for Volland has been the raising of his passing % from a career 60% to a nice 77% this year, and he has been instrumental in Leverkusen leading the Bundesliga with a stunning 10 counterattack goals.
Finally, he’s in the top 20 in volume in total challenges, ground challenges, fouls and fouls suffered – showing Bundesliga fans and doubters that he’s become a more well-rounded player.
Stay tuned for the ALL Bundesliga SECOND TEAM!