Usually, this weekly StatsBomb Bundesliga Digest focuses on one subject. But there’s a lot to talk about this week, so let’s hit four talking points today. Off we go.
Remplacement needed for injured Robert Lewandowski
So, yeah. Bayern were amazing in midweek. Sure, the thorough beating of Chelsea in London was somewhat expected for those who follow the Bundesliga and Premier League on a detailed, weekly basis. But the fashion in which Der Rekordmeister put aside manager Frank Lampard’s squad, was downright impressive. Shortly after the game, Raphael Honigstein reported that Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge strongly hinted at the post-match banquet that interim manager Hansi Flick will get the nod as the permanent hire. Which, in all fairness, is something he has deserved with the sound turnaround of Bayern under his guidance. There was one bit of bad news to be reported post-Chelsea as well. Striker Robert Lewandowski will be sidelined for a couple of weeks due to a shinbone injury. So Bayern will have to replace a god-level frontman in the upcoming weeks. While Dutch teenager Joshua Zirkzee has shown promise in Bayern’s second squad and the youth teams - and has scored twice in his first ten minutes of Bundesliga football this season as a ‘Joker’ from the bench during hectic finishes - it does not likely that the hard-pressing squad of Flick will give the striker keys to an unproven 18-year old. The logical solution to Lewandowski’s absence seems to be giving Thomas Müller a different role. The veteran energizer bunny dominated Chelsea with his off-ball runs and smart positioning as Bayern’s central attacking midfielder, but still has an excellent knack of getting good shots in a semi-striker-like role. Shifting Müller up top will open up the 10 position in Flick’s formation. Lewandowski’s absence seems to be an ideal time for Leon Goretzka to definitively prove that he should be a day-in and day-out starter for Bayern. Giving more minutes to Barça loanee Philippe Coutinho in the upcoming weeks is also a possibility in case Müller does play as the central striker. The Brazilian will probably get his minutes as an inverted left-winger in the next game or two, with Ivan Perisic still out injured and Kingsley Coman picking up his umteenth knock in London in midweek. Although Bayern do not seem all too willing to pay up the big bucks required to definitively buy Coutinho from the Catalans next summer, we shouldn’t get too caught up in the narrative that the technically very gifted Brazilian’s career is in a sharp downward spiral. Yes, Coutinho has been inconsistent in Munich as well, but his peaks are still very high.
Timo Werner in 2020: slump or nah?
This should come as no surprise to anyone who slightly follows German football, but Werner was on an absolute tear before the winter break. But in a four week period in 2020, Werner went on a five game stretch with no goal or assist. His underlying numbers in the new year also seem to suggest something was up with the RB Leipzig superstar. With two goals and an assist in his last two games (against Tottenham and Schalke), Werner seems to have regained his form. But whatever was bothering him in the weeks before - be it a fitness issue, fatigue, a case of ‘transfer fever’ (with Liverpool explicitly in the market for him) or just a spell of poor form - was something real, and not just a dose of bad luck.
Why Bayer Leverkusen are the ‘not-so-fast-my-friend’ team of the Bundesliga
When looking at the current Bundesliga league table, maybe the biggest surprise is Bayer Leverkusen. No, not the fact that they’re in fifth place. That’s a pretty Leverkusen-y place to be in the table. The fact that Peter Bosz’ squad is just six points behind league-leaders Bayern München is surprising though, given the up-and-down nature of Leverkusen’s form when you look at the team from an ‘eye-test’ point of view. Life seems to be good - like good-good - for Die Werkself at the moment. The squad has won six of its last seven league games, and is still active in both the DFB Pokal and Europa League. But not so fast there, my friend. Before you point to Leverkusen as a dark horse title contender, let’s have a little look at their underlying numbers. If we look at the rolling xG trendline, we actually see that this squad - who were quite unlucky, finishing-wise, in the opening months - is benefiting from some hot shooting and not-too-accurate opposition. During Leverkusen’s period of six wins in seven league games, they’ve faced five teams from the bottom half of the league table (including three of the bottom four teams). That Leverkusen’s winning streak does not seem likely to extend much further, seems to come down to their defensive intensity. Bosz prefers a high-octane full-press as his team’s playing style, but Leverkusen have actually struggled somewhat this season when it comes to pressuring the opposing build-up.
Schalke 04 should brace themselves for a hefty drop
Schalke were the big over-performers in the Bundesliga before the winter break. Manager David Wagner manufactured a lot of patchwork offensive efficiency with some smart lineups and tactical tweaks. But in 2020, the lack of actually good players in the squad has cost Schalke 04. Big time. Three disappointing draws were bookended by 5-0 losses against the two big cats of the league (Bayern and Leipzig) in the last stretch of games. Schalke are still in sixth place, which would qualify them for next year’s Europa League at season’s end. But Die Königsblauen should probably aim for a league finish in the top half of the table when being somewhat realistic. Their attacking output has been really bad since the break. And a defensive skid is expected with the injury-caused absences of veteran defenders Benjamin Stambouli and Salif Sané.