At the start of this series, the Bundesliga season was just six weeks old and we were mired in the slump of the International Break. Now we are at the eight game mark, and despite what some pundits might dismiss as “only eight games” the Bundesliga has completed 23.5% of its season already. While past history is not a clear indicator of future performance and the sample size is just 6-8 games, 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 – Hertha BSC, RB Leipzig, 1.FC Köln and FSV Mainz covered in Part One
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 – Part Five – Ingolstadt and Darmstadt
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 – Bayern, Dortmund, Augsburg and Eintracht covered in Part Two
B. Prescriptions only – quick fix – two teams – Werder and Freiburg – Part Four
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 – Part Three Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Hoffenheim
D. SURGERY REQUIRED IMMEDIATELY – two teams – Part Six Schalke and HSV
For the sake of brevity we are combining the remaining four teams under the label Pre and Postoperative Care. While Schalke appear to be in recovery, it is our professional medical opinion that Darmstadt – still pulling off upsets – and Ingolstadt are probably beyond saving, and HSV might just be joining them if the symptoms don’t improve.
Schalke were analyzed in depth after the disastrous first five games and the conclusion was that “Schalke are actually looking quite decent by most advanced metrics: the total shots ratio charts courtesy of the ChallengersPodcast further shows that with just normal luck based on their metrics, Schalke would be a team with 6-7 goals.Regarding the future, if they can fix the defense by eliminating individual errors and thereby allowing high quality chances, they could make a run at a mid-table finish when they progress to their statistical mean.” Since then they have played three games, earned seven points with a goal difference of 8 to 1, plus two more wins in the German cup and the Europa League. They only conceded a stunning Daniel Baier strike in those three games, whilst holding opponents to 11.3 shots per game, a smidge better than the 12 conceded on average in the first five. Shots on targets allowed has crept up to 4.3 from the earlier 3, but Ralf Fährmann has made four saves in each of the three games to keep the goals out. It’s also supported by the following images, which show that the majority of those shots came when Schalke were leading by multiple goals. (see the bottom of the pics) The other huge reason for winning games is more obvious: The attack has come alive! The raw numbers are still at 12 shots per game, but S04 have produced 5.3 shots on target and the team is now at a 57.6% shots on target ratio – good for sixth in the Bundesliga. They are also progressing to the mean nicely, outperforming their XG sum of 4.3 to 2.2.Conversion rates for Schalke have tripled from 3% to 9.3%, while it’s gone down for opponents from 16.9% to 11.8%. Thus, the negative 13.6% difference is now – 2.5% which is now tied for the sixth worst net rating with Freiburg. The credit should go to Nabil Bentaleb, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and Breel Embolo. That trio has scored six goals and provided two assists, and as Embolo and Moting both missed the Mainz game, Franco di Santo picked up the slack with two helpers. Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer and Sead Kolanisac (quietly developing great chemistry on the left with Bentaleb) all deserve mentions for improved performances. The awful news of course is that Breel Embolo was lost for the season following a collision with Augsburg’s Stafylidis, and that will result in a heavy dose of Franco di Santo and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, which is at least coaching malpractice. Getting a result in the Revierderby versus a Dortmund side struggling with injuries and consistency could be a huge boost, though.
HSV already had their first emergency medical procedure, removing head coach Bruno Labbadia ironically after their best game of the season against Bayern. Sadly, der Dino whom I picked to finish sixth on the back of an eventful transfer window (was I on crazy pills?) have not looked any better under Markus Gisdol. Rather than regurgitate all the points we have already made in several forms (text and audio) here are some points on why HSV are the worst team in the Bundesliga:
- What kind of an attack has 8.8 shots per game and 1.1 shots on target or NINE TOTAL (Darmstadt have 19!!!) ? How is the leading assist man your goalkeeper Rene Adler with a 65 yard boot up the pitch vs Ingolstadt?
- 21% of HSV’s total shots come from headers, arguably an ineffective way to score, even if HSV are supposed to have great wingers and two target men in Pierre Michel Lasogga and Bobby Wood (already ranking eighth in the Bundesliga with 17 losses of possession despite not starting every game), who both average over three aerials won per game, with Lasogga leading the league with 6.7 this year.
- The team leads the league in unsuccessful dribbles with 106, with Filip Kostic and Nicolai Müller ranking FIRST and FIFTH in the league with sub 37% success rates. Dribbling is one way to lose the ball, but taking bad touches is another thing that HSV excel at: Kostic, Müller and Wood all average over 1.6 unsuccessful touches per game, ranking among the league worst. While that list is tricky, because it features players in great form like Sandro Wagner or Anthony Modeste, Franck Ribery or Serge Gnabry, each of those players has at least contributed a ton of goals and/or assists/key passes, while the HSV trio have combined for 2 total goals, zero assists and 2.5 key passes per game so far.The results are painfully obvious: it’s hard to deliver accurate crosses when you lose the ball all the time, and your target men cannot score without service.
- Müller in particular has drawn a lot of criticism, rating among the worst Bundesliga players after a career-high nine goal season last year. Squawka and Kicker both have him in the bottom five:his 62.7% pass completion rate is a career worst and 8 points below his average, and he is averaging just under 19 passes per match! Kostic is even worse at 16.5 per game, which ranks both of them alongside notoriously ball-averse winger such as Marcel Heller and Roman Bezjak of Darmstadt (Franck Ribery leads all players with 52 passes per game, but most good wingers are 35+) I hate to beat a dead horse, but when your goalkeeper has nearly the same amount of accurate short passes as your best winger (Adler 70 to Kostic’s 70), you are definitely doing something wrong.
- Alen Halilovic has 41 of those accurate short passes, despite playing just 139 minutes in six appearances. His only start lasted 45 minutes against Frankfurt, losing 6 of 7 duels, completing just 22 passes and zero dribbles, while committing several bad turnovers, one of which led to a great Frankfurt 2 v 1 counter. While many HSV fans and the author of his post were calling for the Barcelona loanee to play a larger role in the offense, having to get a personal trainer two months into the season is never a good sign. How does a 20-year-old who played over 2300 minutes in La Liga last year need to get in shape and get left out of the squad TWICE?
- Coaches need to be accountable, and poor Bruno has already somewhat unfairly paid the price, but as the cliché goes, it’s always easier to fire one guy. Both he and Markus Gisdol deserve the blame for the following tactical blunders: a failure to find an attacking mid (no, Aaron Hunt or Michael AIR Gregoritsch, please!), the inability to use Kostic and Müller, and the striker problem.My podcast guest Troels Dall suggested two ideas: 1. both managers are misusing Nico Müller, who should perhaps play a second striker role, pushing Halilovic to RW. 2. Lasogga is not used properly, as he needs to be in the box, where he can be somewhat effective. 3. they need to find a reliable CDM, as the Holtby/Ekdal pairing has not been good this year.
- Holtby and Ekdal are two of the worst CMs per Whoscored.com and Kicker ranks the Swede as the worst Bundesliga player this season. The two veteran midfielders in their prime years are both posting career low numbers across the board. At least Holtby tries: his metrics are closer to his usual numbers and he is always among the leaders in distance covered, but a couple of bad decisions – the back pass that led to Cleber getting sent off, the bad touch that led to a Frankfurt counter resulting in his own goal – stand out visibly. Ekdal, who has had to play emergency CB, looks like a shell of himself after so many injuries and is averaging just 1.5 tackles per game after never going below THREE in his career in Italy and Germany. Gotuku Sakai remains an option, as is Gideon Jung, but neither of them are too exciting.
- The defense has not actually looked terrible, which is a weird statement for a team that has conceded 15 goals. But, on a closer look, the cause appears to have mostly been a lack of concentration: Cleber’s dumb errors led to the Ingolstadt equalizer and the slightly harsh red vs Gladbach, while Holtby’s mistakes were mentioned above. Adler famously spilled a long-range Grifo shot for the only goal in the Freiburg game, while Leverkusen and Leipzig scored seven combined goals after the 60th minute! The team also got pretty unlucky against Hertha – a deflected shot off Lasogga went through everyone and found Ibisevic in front of goal and a questionable Ekdal tackle on Stocker resulted in the second BSC goal, while Bayern needed some Kimmich magic to overcome them in their best game of the year. To be fair, the two missed penalties against Gladbach and Adler’s heroics did earn them a point that they probably didn’t fully deserve.
- Douglas Santos has been quite good at LB, with a lot of activity and eagerness (3.8 tackles and 2.7 INTs) that backfired for another questionable PK against Gladbach. The center back position looks questionable, as Emir Spahic at 36 has been the best of the bunch, with Cleber inconsistent and Djourou always injured. Signing someone over the winter break would be much advised.
- At least they did finally score some goals against Hallescher in the DFB Pokal, as Bobby Wood continue to terrorize the lower leagues. The next three matches – hosting BVB sandwiched between trips to Cologne and Hoffenheim are indications that -incredibly- things might get worse before they get better. The last 6 or 7 games should be considerably easier, with Bremen, Darmstadt, Augsburg, Mainz and a home game vs Schalke before finishing up the Hinrunde against an equally disheveled and offensively-challenged Wolfsburg.
To paraphrase the immortal Silky Johnson: “What can I say about Darmstadt that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan? They look bombed out and depleted!”
Seriously, though the Lilies somehow have two wins on the year – a 90th minute fluke cross by defender Sandro Sirigu, who also banged home a one man-counter after pouncing on a Wolfsburg turnover in their other win of the season last weekend, anointing himself top scorer in the process. They are dreadful to watch – they managed to have 28% possession in a game where they were a man up for almost 70 minutes, as Will from the ChallengersPodcast pointed out. Their season numbers are dreadful : 37 possession and 63% pass success, yet the latter is an 8 point improvement over last year’s 55%.This season they are producing just 9.1 shots, including 3.5 from outside the box and just 2.4 on target, worse than the previous campaign’s numbers of 10.2 shots, 3.6 from outside the box and 3.4 on target. Much of those are headers from set pieces, though the 3.9 per match is down from last year’s 4.7. Still, when set piece shots and open play shots are almost dead even, that’s gonna be rough on the eyes. The attack has been mostly miserable, as the losses of Sandro Wagner (14 goals and 2.7 shots) and Koka Rausch (5 assists and 1.1 Key Passes)have hurt the finishing and the creating respectively. Their replacements have had moments: Crotia U23 international Antonio Mirko Colak, who leads the team with 12 shots converted a penalty and finished another chance to earn a point vs Bremen, but missed another spot-kick badly, costing his team a point vs Mainz. Despite being 188 cm and 83 kgs, he has somehow lost 37 headers out of 57. Sven Schipplock is in midseason form, by which I mean that he hasn’t scored, won a ton of headers (5.6 per game if you must know) and got injured already. Bremen loanee László Kleinheisler finally broke though vs Wolfsburg, earning a red card after winning the ball against Jeffrey Bruma and then scoring his first goal. Before we pop champagne bottles, Lilies fans, you should remember that he has 11 fouls against 9 shots and 3 key passes for the season, and loses the ball 2.5 times a game. Of course it does not help matters that Norbert Meier’s “strategy” is to pump long balls to him, and at 173 cms he has unsurprisingly lost 13 of 17 aerial duels. Jerome Gondorf is the other notable creative player, with 17 total key passes, but seven of them have come from free kicks and three from corners. Still, shots per goals scored are at a respectable 9.1, nearly three times better than the struggling duo of Wolfsburg and HSV who need on average nearly 30 shots for one goal. So, definitely not terrible on that end.
Defensively, Darmstadt have not been great, but the six goals against Dortmund grossly inflate their goals conceded total to 15. The counter argument would be that despite that shellacking, SV98 sport a league average 11% conversion rate, suggesting that it’s down to performance. Further evidence suggests, as per Footballintheclouds, that they are firmly among the worst defensive teams by just about every metric. Shots per goals allowed has them at 8.5, one below the league average, but ahead of eight other teams including Dortmund, Leverkusen and Gladbach. In addition, Goalkeeper Michael Esser has made 28 saves already and is rated in the top 5 among all players by Kicker, despite the Lilies sporting a league average 70% save percentage.
So overall, we have a weird conundrum, as Norbert Meier works with the least talent in the Bundesliga – getting eliminated by fourth tier Astoria Walldorf didn’t seem like that big of an upset in the DFB Pokal, as they lost the shots battle 18 to 17! Btw, congrats to the Regionalliga, or should I say: “you may enter (the next round)”
They will need to get results against fellow relegation dwellers HSV and Ingolstadt, as three of their other next five games are against RB Leipzig, Leverkusen and Schalke with games against Hertha, Gladbach and Bayern still to come. If either HSV or Ingolstadt win their games against SV98, they are still my pick to get relegated.
Speaking of Ingolstadt, they arguably hold the best claim for the Bundesliga’s unluckiest team so far: despite an atrocious offense, they already have seven goals, after last Hinrunde’s eleven. Ironically, those seven goals have netted them two points, while the near dozen goals last fall were good enough for TWENTY points! To make matters worse, scoring three goals against Dortmund over the weekend, and improving their miserable conversion rate to 5.3% (hey it was under 3!), they still failed to get their first win. All the advanced metrics have them as a mediocre team with net zero shot numbers, with BVB skewing the shots on target against metric in the last game. Opponents are still converting 16.3% of all shots and 20.3% of shots in the box against, with the league averages being 10.6 and 15.3 respectively. Yes, they struggle to create offensively from open play, as evidenced by the massive number of Pascal Groß key passes – 25 – 16 of which have come from set pieces! They also have dismal strikers, with both Dario Lezcano and Lukas Hinterseer taking just 1.6 shots per match. The Paraguayan has finally scored a brace against BVB over the weekend, and had a nice finish vs Bayern, so maybe he just can’t be bothered to show up vs smaller teams? Hinterseer is better in the air and probably also a superior finisher, but Lezcano’s ability to press and win fouls (leads the league with 31 earned) is also key to this team. His pass completion is up to 79% which remains interesting, as it’s 14 points higher than last year’s number and 13 points better than Hinterseer.
Faith no more (in pressing)?
Losing Ralph Hasenhüttl to the RB machine has resulted in some changes for FCI: at first, the new head coach Markus Kauczinski attempted to continue the manic pressing style that made die Schänzer so successful last year. Yet, he quickly reversed course as Stefan Buczko noted in his piece before the Dortmund match:
“What was last year doesn’t work anymore,” Kauczinski said after the home defeat to Hoffenheim two weeks ago, alluding to Ingolstadt’s aggressive pressing style in a 4-3-3 system that, last season, saw them finish far above the relegation ranks. “I have to make changes, which will be painful for some players,” Kauczinski added”
In terms of tactics, that meant a 4-4-2 with both Hinterseer and Lezcano getting starts, while RW Moritz Hartmann took over the RM role, with usual RM in the 4-3-3 Pascal Groß shifting to LM, which left the pesky Matthew Leckie out of the squad. The paper Donau Kurier praised FCI for their “transformation from a pressing based team to a controlled defense with two rows of four players deployed in front of the penalty area”. While that wasn’t quite always the case, but the locations of players and the ball recoveries vs Dortmund show a marked difference.
Compare that to the previous couple games:
In all honesty, the shifting away from pressing and playing more conservatively started in the Cologne match, as Tobias Escher noted in his excellent SV piece.
That didn’t work so well, as the shape left Köln with all kinds of time on the ball en route to an unusual 61% possession, a 15 to 9 shots and a 3 to 1 shots on target edge: all marks of a comfortable victory (Hinterseer converted a 92m PK to make it 2-1) that should have been more comprehensive if Anthony Modeste finished his other two huge chances. See the XG map:
I’m tempted to throw the Dortmund match out the window, as FCI got two set piece goals, but also created some really good chances that were denied by Roman Weidefeller on several occasions. In the long run, it remains to be seen whether Kauczinski’s gamble will pay off, but Tobias’ analysis of “it’s as if FCI, by becoming more compact and not pressing the ball properly, became even more toothless in the attack” as their GegenPressing was their huge weapon last year. Perhaps putting Matthew Leckie up top next to Lezcano would create a sort of hybrid, which still gives enough pressing ability, while a midfield of Roger, Almog Cohen and Groß with Hartmann would provide enough defensive cover and stability.
The silver lining is perhaps that they’ve had a brutal schedule. Other than HSV they have played six matches against the top seven (RBL is the exception) and Gladbach. Their next five games are all against teams 12th or worse, so it’s going to make or break their season….