The Bundesliga's No-Name All-Stars
With the phenomenal emergence of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner, and with Robert Lewandowski cementing his status as the world’s best pure nine through ongoing machine-like efficiency, the Bundesliga's star power continues to grow.
But in football, we divide our attention unfairly. Sure, we’re always interested in mega-mega-stars, like the foursome mentioned above. But stars come in different shapes and sizes. And today, we’d like to take a look at those Bundesliga players who excel on a weekly basis but seem to escape our attention because they play for smaller clubs or in non-glamorous roles.
So without further ado, we’d like to present the StatsBomb No-Name All-Stars of the 2019-20 Bundesliga season.
Goalkeeper: Rafał Gikiewicz (Union Berlin)
We (heavily) praised Gikiewicz in this StatsBomb piece about the best keepers in this year’s Bundesliga. But the Polish late-bloomer — who, at age 32, is experiencing his first season as a starter in a top European league — is too solid to exclude from this team. Union Berlin's first season at the highest level of German football has been rather special. The East German side looks like they'll easily avoid relegation, playing solid, direct football. Gikiewicz's reflexes and ball distribution, alongside his goals saved above average of 2.17 (fifth in the Bundesliga) make him an integral part of the team's surprising success.
Right-back: William (VfL Wolfsburg)
Out of the 18 Bundesliga clubs, only Bayern München, FC Augsburg and SC Paderborn have not opted for at least one game in which they play with three centre backs. So it only seems right that one of the many energizer-bunny wing-backs in Germany’s top league gets some love here. And with Wolfsburg’s excellent right-flanker William picking up a nasty knee injury this weekend, it's a good time to point out that the Brazilian has been excellent for Die Wölfe this season. Back in 2017, Wolfsburg paid a 5 million euro transfer fee for William, who already had three years as a full-time starter under his belt at Internacional before he turned 22 years old.
William, like most good wing-backs, boasts impressive stamina and ball-playing ability. But what sets the Brazilian apart from the other decent right-backs in the second half of the Bundesliga table is the fact that he can actually defend, a skill some of these new-age flank defenders often do not have in spades.
Centre-back: Ozan Kabak (Schalke 04)
What's up with young Turkish central defenders nowadays? Caglar Söyüncü is downright great at Leicester City, Merih Demiral nearly beat out record signing Matthijs de Ligt for the starting spot next to Leonardo Bonucci at Juventus and this Kabak youngster at Schalke is pretty, pret-tay, good.
In January 2019, then-struggling VfB Stuttgart signed Kabak two months before his 19th birthday. Although Die Schwaben eventually lost their battle against relegation, Kabak had impressed enough that Schalke 04 was willing to pay 15 million euros for the teen defender, a 4 million euro increase from the fee that Stuttgart originally paid. The big loser in all of this? Kabak’s former club, Galatasaray, who took the quick money and now have to make peace with watching his development into an elite centre back from a distance.
Kabak doesn’t have the imposing physique of his fellow countryman Demiral, but he more than makes up for that with his athletic ability. Kabak is quick, strong for someone his size and a noticeably good leaper. His game compares more to that of Söyüncü — Kabak, like Leicester’s young defensive star, shows great confidence and skill when building up play from the back, and possesses great instincts when it comes to taking up the right marking positions.
Centre-back: Sebastian Schonlau (SC Paderborn)
Listen, bad defensive teams might include good individual defensive talents. Such is the case for Schonlau. As a starting centre back for lowly Paderborn, Schonlau has been, unsurprisingly, very busy with defensive duties this year.
Schonlau has been solid, defensively. But the 25-year-old homegrown defenceman looks downright outstanding in games where his team actually has some of the ball. If Paderborn gets relegated, Schonlau won't need to worry about his future as a starting defender in Germany’s top league.
Left-back: Alphonso Davies (Bayern München)
Okay, okay. Sure. This is cheating, technically. A Bayern sensation should not be making the No-Name All-Star Squad. But (A) Davies was originally an attacker when Bayern brought him in as the next wonder talent, and (B) just please take a look at his radar. It’s not normal to have such an impact, at such a big club, at such a young age.
Defensive mid: Omar Mascarell (Schalke 04)
Look, we’re taking this All-Star thing seriously. So no gimmicky formations with seven attackers. We want our midfield to have balance! Remember that anonymous Spanish ball-winner who was excellent at Niko Kovač's Eintracht Frankfurt two years ago? Well, that guy, Omar Mascarell, has bounced back at Schalke from a pretty disappointing first year in Gelsenkirchen. The former Real Madrid youth product has grown into the most trusted lieutenant of new Schalke manager David Wagner.
Attacking mid: Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Hot take: you’re being a bit of a Captain Hindsight if you say that one of Gladbach’s star performers cannot belong in a squad of ‘unknown’ All-Stars. Because nobody could have predicted such a marked improvement from Gladbach in his first year under Marco Rose and René Maric. This team is legitimately good, and seems to have long-term staying power (provided no one sneaks in to snap up Rose). Neuhaus is one of the most exciting players in this young squad. The 22-year-old’s game is similar to Leon Goretzka’s, as he's heavy-running ball-winner, ‘doesn’t do’ silly losses of possession, is a neat dribbler and has a sharp eye for the right shot selection.
Attacking mid: Cristopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
RB Leipzig truly know what they are doing, scouting-wise. Look at Nkunku’s production. Not too shabby for a PSG cast-off that only cost Die Roten Bullen around 13 million euros.
It's not only his output, but the fact that the man plays literally everywhere. Here the attacking midfielder/winger radar is used, but he's logged minutes from fullback to striker. Nkunkou is a truly unique blend of ability and versatility.
Winger: Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen)
While it's commendable that Werder are sticking with their young manager Florian Kohfeldt through a truly horrid spell of results, it feels strange to think that a club with Bremen's track record could slide down into the 2.Bundesliga, even if it's becoming more and more likely each week. If it happens, a (somewhat) wealthy club could make a wise move in the summer transfer window by taking a flier on Werder’s star player.
Admittedly, Rashica often cannot recognize a well-chosen time to shoot (or, more often, to not shoot), but the Kosovar winger does two things well enough to earn a serious look from bigger clubs. First, the former Vitesse attacker knows how to get his shots — which, yeah, kind of gets nullified by shoddy selection. But Rashica also is an elite dribbler. The 23-year-old is speedy, can throw a couple of nice body feints to blow by opposing backs, and has plenty of shot power in both feet. If he just stopped being so very, very indiscriminate with his shooting, he might end up becoming an impact player at a club that doesn't increasingly look destined for a historic demotion.
Winger: Ruben Vargas (FC Augsburg)
To balance out Rashica’s wild flavor in shot selection, our All-Star squad also gets a young winger who excels in taking smart shots.
The signing of the Swiss-Dominican Vargas was a pretty impressive bit of transfer business by Augsburg this summer. The 2.7 million euro fee they paid FC Lüzern can be multiplied by a lot if Augsburg decide to sell their talented left-winger. Vargas possesses the rare combo of elite speed and two-footedness as a passer and finisher.
Striker: Gonçalo Paciência (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Let’s get funky in rounding out our All-Underrated Squad. Heck, let’s start a playmaking striker up top. Paciência is a fun player to watch, and Frankfurt are on the rise.