Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is having a historic season for Borussia Dortmund this year. Despite failing to score last weekend in a thrilling last-minute win vs Wolfsburg, and missing a penalty in Sunday ‘s 4-1 demolition, (but bouncing right back and picking up another goal) the Gabonese international has 18 goals in 16 games for BVB, already surpassing his totals from last year (16) and in 2013/14 (13). While many football fans will be familiar with the French-born striker, it is worth taking a deeper look at him to account for his outstanding season.
So, just who is this comic book-loving
,$4000, Swarovski diamond cleats-wearing
social media mogul and goal scoring machine?
The son of former Gabonese international Pierre Aubameyang, Pierre Emerick was only 17 when he signed for Milan in January of 2007. His two brothers Willy and Catilina also started at AC Milan’s youth clubs, which isn’t that surprising considering that their father has been a Milan scout for over a decade now. Yet, perhaps due to his inexperience and immaturity, and due to AC Milan’s preference for older players coupled with their horrendous development/treatment of young strikers (their 3 most promising talents, El-Shaarawy, Pato, Paloschi all left the club before they turned 24) Auba never gelled at AC. He was facing the all too familiar path of many former top flight talents, such as his African contemporaries, the Cameroonian great Samul Eto’o and Ghanaian 2009 U-20 WC Golden Boot winner Dominic Adiyiah. Would he ever reach his potential like Eto’o, who was famously rejected by Real Madrid, only to torment them for years to come at Barcelona, where he became one of the best strikers of the past 15 years? Or would his career trajectory be that of Adiyiah’s, who 5-6 years ago was the hottest prospect in world football, and is now at 26 years of age toiling away in obscurity in the Thai league?
Well, we know how the story unfolded, but the road was a rocky one to say the least. After years of loan spells at Ligue 1 sides (Dijon, Lille and Monaco), he finally showed some of his class at Saint-Etienne along with a penchant for fast cars, as he famously painted his red Ferrari green to match the club’s colors.
After two seasons of 19 and 16 goals respectively, Dortmund, bought him for 13 million Euros in July of 2013 and according to Transfermarkt.de, could presently sell him for 35 million or more!
So, just how does a formerly middle tier, dare we say, journeyman striker produce such an astronomical breakout season at age 26, where he surpasses his total goals before December 1st?
I will use the help of this excellent compilation video
along with some statistics, (see the list at the end of the post) as well as my own observations to identify TWO key areas that can perhaps account for Auba’s success.
1. Team support
Aside from his wonder strike vs Qabala in the Europa League, Auba basically never scores outside of the penalty area, with all 18 of his Bundesliga goals coming from INSIDE the penalty area. (the picture is missing his lates tap-in vs Frankfurt, but rest assured it was inside the 6, assisted by Kagawa)
The video and the games are excellent proof that Auba has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from a number of his fellow BVB players, especially in the passing game. As seen in the video, those passes often lead to his goals.
Just briefly, here are some numbers to support:
- Dortmund are passing more under coach Thomas Tuchel, and their possession numbers are up to 59% from last year’s 53%.
- There are 3 Dortmund players in the top 5 of Most passes made in the Bundesliga this year per Squawka Ilkay Gündogan is 1st with 1166, while Mats Hummels and youngster Julian Weigl are 4th and 5th with over 1,000 passes.
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shinji Kagawa are 5th and 9th respectively in most key passes, per Squawka. The Japanese playmaker already has 6 assists this year. The aforementioned Armenian, a 5 time man of the match winner who just happens to be the highest rated player on whoscored.com, has 7 assists, though only 1 of those to Auba (who in turn has 2 of his 3 assists to the Armenian playmaker)
- Speaking of passing to Auba, Gonzalo Castro has all 4 of his assists to Aubameyang. It’s even more impressive, considering the former Leverkusen man has done it 559 minutes.
- It’s not just the midfielders, but the defenders, as Mattias Ginter, a revelation this year, and usually deployed at right back, has also 4 assists. Mats Hummels, who albeit capable of the odd defensive lapse this year, has been a ridiculously effective offensive player, as his 181 Goal Impact rating shows. (100 is considered average)
So, in conclusion, more possession, some new signings (Weigl, Ginter, Castro) and better passing create more chances for Auba’s lethal finishing.
2. Dortmund and Auba are just better this year
Sometimes, football can be remarkably difficult as BVB found out in the first half of last season. The long and the short of it was, that they were doing terribly, as Borussia simply could not buy a goal in the first 3-4 months of the season, due to a combination of these factors:
- some underperforming players (Mkhitaryan, Kagawa and the disappointing duo of Adrian Ramos and Ciro Immobile),
- bad luck (at the start of the year they were running EIGHT (!!!)goals below expectation)
- perhaps Klopp’s coaching falling on deaf ears
(for a more complete breakdown, read this excellent piece from Statsbomb. )
So, this year under the leadership of Tuchel, the team improved, or rather we should say regressed towards the mean. In a stark contrast to last year’s shooting woes, in the 2015/16 season Dortmund lead the Bundesliga with a 43% Shooting percentage, a towering lead over Bayern’s 36. This means that they are scoring on 43% of their shots! (via Footyintheclouds)
Another stat that supports the reemergence of BVB is shots on target. Dortmund, in last year’s disastrous campaign, were averaging 16.7 shots per game but only 5.6 were on target. This year, they average fewer shots per game at 15.9, but more accurately at 6.7 per game. So they are a much more accurate team when it comes to shooting.
following leading this trend, as he has the following numbers:
Total Shots (exc. blocked shots) 46 , 57 (incl)blocked Shots-
On Target 29, – so that is over 50% of his shots end up on target.
What about Aubameyang’s shots per game?
This year, the Gabonese striker is also averaging 3.8 shots per game (5 in the Europa League) while last year he was at 3.1 shots / gm. (stats are from Whoscored.com ) Whoscored.com also says that while he averaged 1 shot a game from outside the box, this year he has brought the ball closer to the box and that number down to 0.4.
He also has a conversion rate of 37%, and is scoring a goal at roughly every 77 minutes which are ridiculously high numbers.
For comparison, this article, which ranks the top 20 strikers in terms of conversion rate, had Lionel Messi ranked 6th at 29%, with Diego Costa (34.4%) & Alexandre Lacazette (34.6%) ranked 2nd and 1st, respectively. So, Auba this year is outperforming them!
So, the takeaway is that Dortmund have restored themselves to earlier dominance, through a combination of improved shooting, excellent passing and player upgrades. Aubameyang seems like a different player, he is full of confidence,look at this cheeky penalty, for instance!
There are a few reasons for his increased confidence. His hot goal scoring start and playing a larger part in Thomas Tuchel’s plans would be two of them. With apologies to the ever injured, but ever brilliant Marco Reus, Auba is the main attacking threat this year. If you recall last year, dark overlord/ supreme genius Jürgen Klopp had tried Adrian Ramos and Ciro Immobile as center forwards, and it is entirely possible, that Auba wasn’t 100% comfortable with that.
This season, though, he has emerged out of the shadows of Reus and the other strikers and transformed himself into a masterful and remarkably accurate finisher. With his confidence level sky-high, thanks in large parts to the excellent support system that coach Tuchel has put around him, there is no telling how high Auba and BVB can go. As they go into the last game before the winter break on Matchday 17 , Bayern are only 5 points clear despite an almost undefeated season and 5-1 thrashing of Borussia, who might just be playing the best football in the Bundesliga, with a striker who is on a historic goal-scoring run. Now, that should give the Bavarians something to think about this holiday season…