Bundesliga 2020/21 Mid-Season Review
Our final look at the major European leagues sees the German Bundesliga come under the spotlight. Talk of a Bavarian behemoth, a alliterative forward winning with Wolves, hard-pressing Hütter, and sorry Schalke 04.
On the back of a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, and UEFA Champions League treble, Bayern Munich continue to meet their lofty standards.
On course for yet another 80+ points haul, the juggernaut continues to plough a furrow through the Bundesliga, but there are some curious trends in their performance levels this season. Bayern aren’t swatting teams aside with the ease and comfort that we’ve come to expect of them - their xG difference of 0.64 per game is their lowest since 2016/17.
Their 15-game expected goals trendline since the start of the 2018/19 season illustrates the fact that they haven’t quite been at their imperious best so far this campaign.
The 26 goals they've conceded already is only six shy of the 32 they gave up in the entirety of 2019/20. There was even a six-game spell between FC Köln on October 31st and Union Berlin on December 12th inclusive that Bayern didn’t “beat” their opponents on expected goals – in each of those six matches the opposition created the more dangerous opportunities.
But FCB didn’t lose a single one, claiming three wins and three draws from their “wobble”. Since then, they’ve flexed their muscle and performances have improved in line with a commanding haul of 21 points from the next eight, a run that has seen them pull clear at the top.
RB Leipzig are looking to go one better than last years third-place finish and their metrics look sufficiently strong to support them, but it's below them where chaos starts to ensue: just three points separate Wolfsburg in third and Borussia Mönchengladbach in seventh.
Wolfsburg, who had to win the Bundesliga relegation/promotion play-off match two seasons in a row between 2016-2018 just to stay in the league, are currently on course for their highest finish for six seasons and Champions League qualification. Big Wout Weghorst - to give him his full name - is having his best goalscoring season in the green of Die Wölfe. He's behind only Robert Lewandowski for non-penalty goals with 11.
At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Koen Casteels is on course to concede fewer goals than expectation for the fourth season running, with the best Shot Stopping % in the Bundesliga this season (Save % - xSave%).
Another team gunning for a rare Champions League qualification is Eintracht Frankfurt, who haven’t qualified for the premier European competition since they lost the 1960 final to Real Madrid (when it was known as the European Cup). Right now, they're in position to break that duck.
You know what you’re going to get with an Adi Hütter side. The ex-RB Salzburg and Young Boys coach has again instilled an aggressive press into his team, one that’s proven effective as Frankfurt currently sit fourth in the table, having lost just two of their 19 games.
No other side in the league engages the opposition as regularly as Frankfurt: their Aggression % - the portion of opponent’s ball receipts that are tackled, fouled, or pressured within two seconds - is the highest in the Bundesliga at 24%.
Andre Silva, like Weghorst, is having his best Bundesliga season yet, but it’s supplier-in-chief Daichi Kamada who’s providing the chances for the Portuguese forward. Kamada, who top-scored himself for Frankfurt in 2019/20, is behind only Thomas Müller and Marco Reus for xG assisted from open play.
Meanwhile, the irony will not be lost on long-term followers of football analytics discourse for the way that Lucien Favre lost his job at Borussia Dortmund, on the back of some pretty large underperformance on their expected goals.
Favre's teams were notorious for outscoring the performance metric, but this season it came unstuck and Dortmund currently languish in sixth place despite having the strongest expected goal difference this campaign.
At 37.5 xG, which happens to be the same as Bayern’s, their chance creation in attack has been the best in the Bundesliga, but where Bayern have scored 51 non-penalty goals from their 37.5 xG, Dortmund have finished bang on expectation, scoring 37 times. They haven’t been able to match this in defence, conceding 25 non-penalty goals from 19.6 xG.
Despite a strong start, going 5-0-1 in their first six games, the five games that followed cost Favre his position as Dortmund won just once. His last match was a heavy home defeat to VfB Stuttgart - there was no ambiguity over who deserved the result on that day.
Speaking of VfB Stuttgart, they’re making an impressive mark on the league following promotion back to the Bundesliga in 2019/20. Previously assistant to Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, Pellegrino Matarazzo was appointed to his first senior management role in December 2019 and led Stuttgart to 2nd place in the Bundesliga 2. Right now, Stuttgart have the fourth-best xG Difference but are behind expectation in both defence and attack, to have a goal difference of +6 from an expected goal difference of +9.5.
At the bottom, Schalke 04’s sorry season has persisted despite two managerial changes already. David Wagner was politely asked to leave just two games into the 2020/21 campaign after back to back defeats continued an 18-match winless run, and the appointment of Germany under-18’s coach Manuel Baum did not have the desired effect. He was relieved of his duties after just 10 games. Now it’s Christian Gross who looks to dig something out of the Miners in his 33rd year of management.
Nine points adrift and bottom of nearly every performance metric you can think of, it’ll be some turnaround if Gross can steer them to safety.
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