The Big Bundesliga Review, Part 2: Coaches and Players
If you missed part one, where I generally talked about teams as a whole: read it here. I violated that rule several times in that piece, and will in this piece as well because really how can you separate coaches and players from teams? So while it may have been a slightly silly way to separate the piece, we're already in it. Part Two focuses more on the individuals. We start with a bald man in a bright green hoodie.
Brother Schubert’s Rolls
With Gladbach once again blowing away their expected goals total and qualifying for the Champions League, it seems like all is well and Andre Schubert has taken over for a faltering Lucien Favre to keep the Foals on their upward climb. Not so fast. While Schubert certainly deserves credit for waking up Gladbach after their horrendous start of 5 losses in 5 games, there were some warning signs that crept in over the balance of the season. Favre set Gladbach up defensively to basically concede 90% of the field so they could defend their own box with ferocity, which they did effectively. Schubert has changed that and pushed Gladbach out to go and press the opposition, which they did at times to a pleasing effect.
However, the broad push out has left the box exposed without the manpower to protect it of years past.
They now hold opponents to basically a league average completion % in their own half as opposed to last year when only Koln's press bothered opponents less. Strangely, with that increased pressing number, Gladbach opponents average pass in their own half still traveled backwards. The only two teams to do that in the past two seasons are Gladbach in 2015 and Gladbach in 2016 (Bayern and Hertha only teams to do it on the offensive side). So under Schubert, Gladbach were kind of caught between the Favre system and the more expansive pressing game Schubert apparently wants to play. They pressed some, but just enough to intercept an average amount of passes, and teams were still able to casually build up a lot of the time. The downside to the pressing was once opponents got close to goal, it was much easier for them to move the ball around to get a good shot.
In previous years the defense got more and more impenetrable around goal, this season the trend was the opposite.
Gladbach ended the year even on deep completions for and against and even on shots for and against. Basically it looks like under Schubert, they will have a league average defense leaving it to the offense to continue to be incredibly efficient with their chances to push Gladbach above a 6th-8th place performer. They were this year, but as Raffael and his wonderful passing ages I suspect it will be tougher for Gladbach to turn league average fundamentals into Champions League finishes.
The Young Gun
Julian Nagelsmann is getting lots of love for the great escape he engineered, earning 23 points from his 14 games in charge to pull Hoffenheim to safety. Plenty of Bundesliga observers see a bright future for the 28-year old, with even a few Dortmund fans are already whispering about him being the next guy after Tuchel. While that might be overly optimistic, Hoffenheim's improvements after he took over are enough to mark him as a man to watch going forward:
-territory ratio nudged up from dead last pre-JN (Julian Nagelsmann) to a solid 13th-ish with him
-TSR jumped from dead last to 14th under Nagelsmann
-SOTR from dead last to 13th or so.
The attack contributed all of this improvement as shots allowed actually went up under the youngster. Shot quality improved markedly, both ends of the pitch saw about a 1 yard improvement on average. He got his team closer to play shorter passes when attacking and forced opponents a little wider, but we need to reserve our judgement on if he can get a team to play well without the ball. The season-long numbers still wound up just plain horrific and there was no significant improvement on that side under Nagelsmann. If he has that cleaned up and Hoffenheim don't flirt with relegation in the upcoming season, we can start cranking the hype machine up toward elf.
Coach of the Year
Ralph Häsenhuttl of Ingolstadt. No team allowed a lower opposition completion % in their own half, and only Leverkusen and Bayern were harder to pass against across the whole field and that margin was very fine:
This whole field pressure did not leave huge cracks at the back, Ingolstadt made opponents complete 27 passes per shot (higher than league average), opponents were significantly less efficient than average around passing around goal and were forced into slightly longer approach passes than league average. The only crack you can find defensively is they allowed a rather high proportion of their shots from inside 10 yards. This all adds up to a team who allowed opponents the 4th fewest completions around goal and 4th fewest shots in total, and 3rd fewest shots on target. All this for a promoted team without any heavy spending. That reflects very well on the manager so I am awarding him my Manager of the Year award.
Offensively, they seemed to not have the talent to really build any sort of sustained possession so Hasenhüttl wasn’t too proud and basically played isolation ball and field position. Pascal Groß drifting out right was their clear plan to where you can see big separation between Ingolstadt and the rest of the league when you look at the average midfield pass.
The long balls they played had a defensive purpose too, they forced the opposition to start their attacks from further back than anyone else except Bayern. Each yard you have to cover, especially against Ingolstadt, makes a shot a less likely result.
Shaping his attack around his one qualified player led to some ugly play and a low SOT% but Ingolstadt ended the season with a +56 shot difference and were comfortably in the mid-table. Now Hasenhüttl will get a chance with another promoted team, this one with a little different budget and perception. He's accepted the RB Leipzig job and so will have more resources to work with. From an outside perspective, it's great to see another team with tons of money come into the league, though I understand why locals might root against Leipzig next year. No matter what your feelings about them, it will be a huge story to follow, Leipzig are already 4th favorite to win the title at some sites ahead of Gladbach, Schalke, and Wolfsburg.
Honorable Mention: Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel
***BONUS CONTENT: PULLING BACK, BACK, BACK***
The pass assisted by the largest pullback of the season came from Christian Trasch, who was fed by a pass that took the ball 20 yards further from goal. Some model somewhere has downgraded Draxler (?) for moving the ball into such a lower xG area.
All-Bundesliga First Team
GK: Marwin Hitz (Augsburg)
CB: Joel Matïp (Schalke)
CB: Dominique Heintz (Koln)
FB: Wendell (Bayer Leverkusen)
FB: David Alaba (Bayern)
MF: Arturo Vidal (Bayern)
MF: Pascal Groß (Ingolstadt)
MF: Ilkay Gündogan (Dortmund)
MF: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Dortmund)
F: Raffael (Gladbach)
F: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern)
This is my opinion obviously, not what “the stats say”. My opinion is heavily influenced by your basic per 90s, a passing metric which attempts to weight their passes for start and end point, how well the team played through and defended the area of the pitch they played on, how they did relative to their teammates, and then a pinch of the good old fashioned eye test. And before someone gets mad there are two left backs, this is not designed to build the best team using Bundesliga players to use on the field but more of selecting the best at vaguely correct positions.
Player of the Season
Raffael. When Max Kruse left and Gladbach didn’t really replace him (Drmic didn’t count and Stindl was sort of repurposed into a forward) there were reasons to wonder if the Foals could keep up their hyper-efficient attack. Raffael made sure they did. His 13 goals and 10 assists only trailed Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Lewandowski, and Müller for scoring contribution. His ball retention and passing skills have proven to be absolutely crucial for the Foals and there’s a strong case that he’s the most important individual player in any attack in the league, so this award is somewhat influenced by the vagaries of the word "valuable". That Brazil hasn’t started him for 10 straight games to see how he works with Neymar is total negligence.
Others Considered: Mkhitaryan, Vidal, Gündogan
-Wendell and Alaba both contributed a lot to the attack, but both also made their left sides much tougher for opponents to advance down than their right-sided teammates. How much of that credit should go to themselves is obviously up in the air, but as we are always starved defensive data I am handing out a bit of credit to the two left backs.
-Heintz was part of a Koln team which couldn't slow down anyone all season everywhere except their own box.
and wound up with a strong defense and a league-leading block%.
-Marwin Hitz (Augsburg) distributed excellently and was the top shot-stopper according to fellow StatsBomber Thom Lawrence's number-churning. There is a whole argument on whether that’s sustainable or should even be recognized as a good performance, but we won’t have that here. It will continue to slowly rage on on Twitter, bubbling up every few weeks.
All-Bundesliga Second Team
GK: Oliver Baumann (Hoffenheim)
CB: Naldo (Wolfsburg)
CB: Mats Hummels (Dortmund)
FB: Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg)
FB: Jonas Hector (Koln)
MF: Zlatko Junuzovic (Werder Bremen)
MF: Julian Weigl (Dortmund)
MF: Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover)
MF: Marco Reus (Dortmund)
F: Thomas Müller (Bayern)
F: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Dortmund)
Over the past two seasons no Hannover attacking player has topped 72% completion percentage, except for Hiroshi Kiyotake who has put up 79 and 80%. He’s coupling by far the best percentage with what are probably the most aggressive passes of any Hannover attacker, so this isn’t a product of just playing the ball backwards. Looking at key passes, it’s the same story:
-Kiyotake is one of the better players in the Bundesliga and has been stuck on terrible teams for most of his career. Teams all over the world looking for a sweet-passing, playmaking midfielder should be lighting up the Hannover offices right now, Kiyotake should not be playing in any 2nd league.
-Verhaegh has been a kind of under-the-radar gem at Augsburg, his more hyped fellow fullback from last year left for Chelsea in Baba Rahman but he kept on rolling at age 32.
-Baumann is on here simply to acknowledge the fact that no team with Hoffenheim's defensive numbers has any business avoiding relegation.
Widest goal of the season (naturally coming from one of Koln's talented fullbacks)
and the longest goal of the season, coming from my player of the year Raffael.
Others to Mention
-Salomon Kalou, fantastic work with 14 goals and seemed to up his passing game with Ibisevic alongside.
-Alexandru Maxim, more on him in the Stuttgart section in part one but deserved more minutes.
-Nadiem Amiri, he was one of the relevations of the 2nd half of the season. If Nagelsmann didn’t completely overhaul Hoffenheim in his short time, at least he gave Amiri a good chunk of playing time (944 of his 1461 minutes came in the final 14 games of the season). Amiri led Hoffenheim in shots/90, key passes/90, had the best completion % and passer rating of any attacking player and made more passes/90 than any other attacking player. When Amiri played, Hoffenheim's attack generally looked better. At 19-years old he is one to watch.
-Anthony Modeste does one thing and he does it well: shoot. He did it well this season, only Lewandowski and Aubemayang took more shots from inside the box than the Koln man did and the 4th place shooter was 25 back.
That’s an impressive year even accounting for the fact he gets a lot of headers. He’s in a nice spot alongside Koln’s fullbacks and should continue to rack up strong shot numbers as he’s done for each of the past 6 seasons.
-Kevin Kampl was everywhere doing everything this season. He fit perfectly into Roger Schmidt’s midfield after a basically lost year wandering around on the wing in Dortmund. If not for injury would have put him on one of the first two teams.
-Jerome Boateng/Josh Kimmich/Thiago/Xabi Alonso: You can’t write about every Bayern star. These guys were good.
-Schalke’s wide men Max Meyer and Leroy Sane. Schalke were much more effective playing with the ball through Meyer’s left side but Sane’s defensive activity (3.3 INT + Tackle) might have played a part in making Meyer’s side easier for opponents to advance against. I like Meyer more as a player, but I admit I am partial to guys who keep the ball. If you want someone to win it back and rack up a bit more volume shooting (2.9 to Meyer’s 1.9, though only 56% in-box to Max’s 79%), Leroy might be your guy.
-Julian Draxler: Kind of got lost a bit with Wolfsburg’s disappointing results but it was a very impressive season for the 22-year old. It wasn’t quite Kevin de Bruyne volume production but it really wasn’t a huge step back from the 14/15 Player of the Year and Draxler’s ball retention is a step above KdB (being a more conservative player certainly helps). A focused Max Kruse without any Nutella stains on his jersey would have seemed a perfect match for Draxler and Wolfsburg to move their game forward but sometimes the best laid plans are waylaid by that sweet Nutella goodness.
-Franck Ribéry/Arjen Robben. These two are getting up there in age and only combined for ~1800 minutes in the league but were still enormous forces when they were on the pitch. Bayern went from simply overwhelming you with the quality of their game with these two healthy to giving the slightest of openings to the cranky Pep-haters without Robbery. Robben took 4.3 shots/90 with 2.9 coming inside the box as a winger and chipped in 2.2 key passes/90. The only other player in the league with >6 KP+shots combined was Hakan Calhanoglu, who was taking a ton of long pot-shots and more reliant on corners than Robben. Ribéry? Led the league in key passes for those with >500 minutes. At various points this season it looked like we might have seen the last of a healthy, thriving Ribéry, then maybe he was only going to be an impact sub, and then at the end of the season he was playing 344 minutes in 19 days. Fantastic to see a great player fight through serious injuries no matter how you feel about his Cup final antics.
-Pierre-Emile Højbjerg-A strange loan really as he only got 1274 minutes at Schalke. The guy can pass the ball no matter what team he’s played for and was 2nd in the league among midfielders for interceptions, for whatever that is worth. His potential is great, though it reflects poorly on someone that he couldn’t play more in a Schalke midfield that had pretty big weaknesses, whether that someone is Højbjerg or Breitenreiter is TBD. If the price drops to 5 million as has been rumored, he seems absolutely worth the buy.
-Kamaran led Hannover in shots with 44. That was good for 49th best for an individual player.
-Ragnar Klavan, Sebastian Langkamp, and Benedikt Howedes deserve notice but maybe not multiple full sentences.
-Mahmoud Dahoud: I enjoyed watching him this year but the hype has probably outrun the current production here. I don’t think he’s ready to plug and play and immediately fix your teams midfield problems. He moves all around the pitch but doesn’t really rack up great numbers at any one thing it looked like to me like he left Xhaka alone to defend too often. His stamina and strength aren't quite there yet, maybe when he adds those two things he can develop into a full-blown star but right now he’s still more in the very promising category.
-Leroy Sane: Similar to Dahoud in that I think he’s a currently good player that is being done a disservice by sometimes being talked about as if he’s already a complete star.
-Mehdi Benatia: Stands out (along with Sebastian Rode) as a player just below Bayern’s ridiculous standards.
The American Section
-Christian Pulisic: The best part of the 2018 World Cup was probably when the 19-year old Pulisic lifted the champions trophy in Putin's direction, gave an impassioned speech to win over the Russian fans whose team had just lost in the final to the Stars and Stripes and then led the 80,000 spectators in a USA! USA! USA! chant as a bald eagle emerged to land on his flag-draped shoulders.
As for this year, while he didn't light the world on fire during his 440 minutes in the league, the kid is 17! 17 years old! He just recently was judged able to watch Old School without an adult accompanying him and he's playing for one of the best clubs in the world. In his limited time on the pitch we can gather he likes to get forward, his average pass started from closer to goal than Reus and Mkhitaryan and maybe he doesn't like the long-range shot as all of his 8 shots came from inside the box. We also know he's 17 and making 9 appearances for Dortmund. Youngest player in the league.
Fabian Johnson made a lot of highlight plays but the highlights might have oversold it a little bit. He had a competent, acceptable season for Gladbach not playing fullback.
John Brooks impressed at Hertha in a team focused on building from the back...Timmy Chandler battled injuries and didn't get many total minutes at Frankfurt...Aron Johannsson's hip injury sadly sounds like one that could put his career at risk, a real shame for one of my favorite USMNT players...Alfredo Morales played midfield for Ingolstadt but basically was asked to play defense-only and wound up with basically no offensive contributions.
Names of the Year
Winner: Noah Joel Saranren-Bazee. I listened to his debut on the radio and it took me hearing his name 4 or 5 times to realize that yes, that was one player they were talking about and he just has two of the best last names of all time.
Josuha Guilavogui (misspelled his first name about 20 times before realizing the correct spelling.)
Jeffrey Gouweleeuw (if you speak English-only and have zero knowledge of the beauty of Dutch it looks somewhat strange but just try to pronounce it, I will wait. Ok, now go check. I'm going to assume you got it very, very wrong)
Sonny Kittel (most likely to have previously lived a life as the 4th most important character in a John Wayne Western)
And we have come to the end. It's been a blast watching, analyzing, and writing about the league this season and I really appreciate anyone who reads me and hopefully you can find one or two new things to add to your enjoyment of the league. Pep was fantastic to watch for three years and it would have been great to see a Pep-Tuchel title battle but with Dortmund's summer so far that looked unlikely next season. So now I'm excited Bayern might have to transition a bit, the possibilities seem much more open for next year and we get the baddies of Red Bull up as well. I can't wait until the Bundesliga is back and hopefully you will come back and enjoy another season with me here!