It’s one game. Never get too bold about season long team qualities on one game. But it’s the first game. The first actual games we’ve seen in months means there’s a lot to learn. We can at least start to sniff some stylistic choices from a few teams, see some potential problems for others, and can confirm that Andre Schürrle might lead Europe in both shots and key passes. Again this is week one so we are going with light impressions, no firm conclusions, but here are some things that caught my eye.
Dortmund's Backward Looking Midfield and A New Distributor? For Dortmund there was a lot of passing among the CB’s. The 2 most popular passing combos in the whole league were Sokratis and Bartra to each other. The starting midfield was completely ineffective at moving forward: both Rode and Castro’s average pass travelled about 2.5 yards on average away from goal, a number that is terrifying and well worse than any player across the league put up season-long last year.
Things got better when Weigl came on but this is certainly a worry, especially when you know that advancing the ball was not something Rode did at Bayern. Schürrle and Dembélé stayed on their flanks while Kagawa was significantly advanced compared to last year (~9 yards closer to goal) so there's probably some blame to be given to the front 4 for not being fantastic options at all times but no matter how you apportion the blame, there are seeds of a problem here.
Ousmane Dembélé showed all kinds of 1-on-1 skills (and a willingness to seek out opportunities to use them) and an aggressive tendency to hoist the ball toward goal, somewhat reminiscent of Filip Kostic or Douglas Costa type player. Andre Schürrle surprisingly played the role of the eyes down distributor, with 6! key passes and a conservative passing style to go with his 7 shots. He had just 26 KP's in his entire time at Wolfsburg, averaging under 1 per game. 3 of his key passes went to Aubameyang, the highest # of key passes for any connection in the league. I thought we'd take a look at them to see if we can learn anything further in a new segment where we try to blend a bit of stats and video.
As you'd expect, hard to learn too much from just 4 passes but I will say it's maybe too soon to crown him Mkhitaryan. An excellent header mixed with 2 quality crosses toward a crowded box make for a great day but we'll need more to believe his transition from shot-happy striker to creator is full.
Bayern's More Relaxed Way To Thrash Bremen
Bayern steamrolled Bremen 6-0 and things were just carrying on exactly as before without Pep, right? Well, not really. The fact that Bremen managed a 76% completion rate (72% in first half) indicates a major shift in how Bayern will play. Bremen had a higher completion rate than 10 other teams on the opening weekend and had a huge increase from last years 63% (52% in first half) at the Allianz. Bayern allowed Dortmund to complete 87% of their passes in the Super Cup this year after 69% in the Cup final last year. Carlo seems to be drastically shifting the team away from Pep’s pressure to a team that could conceivably be below average in the Bundesliga at contesting passes. Doesn’t mean they will be knocked off the top or anything but is fascinating to see such a stark change.
For Bremen, yes they were without Pizarro, Junuzovic, Kruse, and Bargfrede, but it was a pathetic effort and I mean effort as in trying hard. Clemens Fritz basically admitted the team was terrified. Playing Sambou Yatabaré as an advanced right-sided midfielder might be the worst personnel move consistently made by any manager in the league. He offers nothing defensively, is a horrific passer and his output is very low (1 shot and 1 KP per 90 at Bremen and .08 G and .12 A/90 over 7000 minutes in his career). The “pressure” on the Ribéry for the 2nd goal sums up a lot of what went wrong not just with Yatabare, but the entire team.
Most Entertaining Game
Great signs from the fans, open space, and a furious tempo made Hoffenheim-RB Leipzig the most entertaining game of the week, just over Gladbach-Leverkusen.
RB Leipzig attacked at an absolutely lightning pace. They took 23 shots while completing 235 passes, a ratio of 10 per shot that would have comfortably led Europe last season. Leipzig had 38% of their completions in the attacking third (nearly twice the league average of 20%) and ~9% in the final 25 yards (comfortably over twice the average). Dominik Kaiser, a midfielder, scored a great goal and took 6 shots.
This is horrible news for Hoffenheim, who last year were horrendous at slowing down opponents and constantly got overrun. The heralded youngster Julian Nagelsmann improved the team overall but they still gave up 7 SOT per game during his time. This year started out with all of the offseason’s worries immediately turned up to the max and they look to be a team that will have some huge goals against numbers barring a quick correction.
The Loss Of Something Unique?
Darmstadt were disappointingly reasonable with their ball as they got routed by Köln. Last year they lapped the league twice with 68% of their midfield passes being played forward. This year just 53% did, behind a handful of teams. Their old manager Dirk Schuster didn’t take his forward bombing style to Augsburg either, at least not on opening day. Against Wolfsburg, Augsburg were the same patient, probing team as they always were under Marcus Weinzierl. They played 53 passes into the danger zone, only Bayern and Dortmund played more, while Wolfsburg played just 23 only Gladbach and Bremen played fewer. But…Augsburg completed just 11 of those 53 while Wolfsburg were 13/23 the respective worst and best rates in the league. Wolfsburg’s attacking efficiency was atrocious last year so any signs no matter how small have to cheer even Dieter Hecking.
Ok, maybe not.
Hamburg didn’t start Alen Halilovic, though viewers were treated to a long tracking shot of him on the bench before kickoff and then a 7-minute look at his halftime warmup. They might want to because their attack needs a right side (though I’d love to see him in the center). Nicolai Müller started on the right and completed a whopping 7! passes in 66 minutes as Hamburg completed 60 passes on the left (Kostic’s side) and 18 on the right. The attack struggled badly with American Bobby Wood getting their only shot on target and goal on a pass that came from the goalkeeper.
Gladbach Making It Count
Only Werder Bremen completed fewer passes in the danger zone than Gladbach's 5 but no one who watched the game would conclude they were lucky to score 2 goals. They took 12 of their 14 shots in the box because the space they found behind Leverkusen's press was gaping time after time. Strobl has started all 3 games over Dahoud and that means that where most teams have 2 players who start their passes 65+ yards from goal, Gladbach have 5 with Kramer/Strobl hanging very deep in front of a 3-man backline. It worked very well against Leverkusen, but it will be interesting to see how it looks against Freiburg who will have plenty of defenders back. The Stindl-Raffael axis is fantastic, no one loves Raffael more than me, but if you have Andre Hahn starting doing his only goals thing with 5 hanging deep there will be games that it's really tough to supply those two in good position.
It was heartbreaking to see Aránguiz limp off as I thought he had torn his knee up again. It's hard to come back from a devastating injury like he had last year, it takes a ton of work to do and mentally facing a serious re-injury so quickly after that can make your whole life look grey. Glad to hear reports it's not so bad. His performance on the pitch didn't scream out impact player however. He didn't get the ball to Calhanoglu, Bellarabi, or Volland (5 completions combined with only 3 in any sort of advanced territory) and his overall passing map looked a bit Rode-ish in how he passed backwards a lot.
That's very un-Leverkusen. A big reason I thought they had a real chance to push Dortmund or Bayern for at least a while was a very dynamic midfield with Kampl and Aránguiz involved. Kampl was electric, completing 20 passes to forward players in very good position, but Aránguiz has not shown that dynamism yet. But then again, it's 78 measly minutes and a handful of preseason games, plenty of time to get things fixed starting with his knee.