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League Focus: What worked and what didn’t in the first half of the Bundesliga season

Bayern's all round threatThat Bayern Munich are in a league of their own is simultaneously the headline of the Bundesliga’s first half, and no news at all of course. With 17 games gone, Pep Guardiola’s side are top scorers (41), have the...

SENIOR ANALYST
06 Jan 2015, 23:49 IST
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Bayern's all round threat

That Bayern Munich are in a league of their own is simultaneously the headline of the Bundesliga’s first half, and no news at all of course. With 17 games gone, Pep Guardiola’s side are top scorers (41), have the best defence (4 conceded) and are yet to lose, having drawn just three times.

What is perhaps more interesting is the sense that they are developing yet further under the Catalan coach. His philosophy of total collectivity, borne of his footballing roots at Barcelona, is clear. One could argue that this is even accentuated in Bavaria, with Bayern arguably lacking an individual strictly comparable to Lionel Messi through whom everything should run.

The team’s efforts could hardly be more evenly spread. 35% of Bayern’s attacks come from the left, 28% through the middle and the other 37% from the right. The burden of goalscoring is shared too. Among 11 different scorers in the Bundesliga, Arjen Robben leads the way with 10 but Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze have all chipped in with 7 each.

Their fluency is clear, having scored 31 times from open play – a full 8 more than any other team. Crucially, no side has a higher proportion of their shots from inside the 18-yard box (69%) than them. In essence, nothing is left to chance.

Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen on set pieces

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, of course. Bayern’s closest challengers Wolfsburg (albeit a hefty 11 points behind) are proving that, profiting from more practical elements of the game. Dieter Hecking’s side lead the Bundesliga rankings in terms of scoring from set-pieces, having scored 11 of their 33 goals from dead balls (33%). The only other side to have hit double figures in set-piece goals is Werder Bremen, who have scored 10 (from a total of 26, so 38%).

The key, in both cases, is having a reliable creative conduit. Hecking is blessed with the use of Kevin De Bruyne, head and shoulders the first half of the season’s top creator with 10 assists and a master of the dead ball. To turn key passes into goals, De Bruyne does have the advantage of some very reliable targets, including towering defender Naldo, the team’s joint top scorer with 5. No team has scored more headed goals in the Bundesliga this season than the Wolves (9).

Werder are able to call on Zlatko Junuzovic, second to De Bruyne in respect of assists with 6, a position shared with Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino. Junuzovic’s threat is largely from corners, and he has relative giants such as Sebastian Prödl, Franco Di Santo and Davie Selke to seek out. The Austrian midfielder has also thrived from direct free-kicks, the source of all of his three league goals to date.

Dortmund’s - and Hamburg’s – finishing

So myriad have been Dortmund’s failings in the opening segment of the campaign that it’s sometimes been hard to focus on what their biggest problem is. Let’s cut to the chase – it’s goalscoring. Only three teams have posted less than the 18 in 17 matches that Jürgen Klopp’s side have registered, a staggeringly low amount for a side with such a plethora of attacking talent at its disposal, even after the departure of Lewandowski. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is their Bundesliga top scorer with a modest 5, while expensive summer signings Adrián Ramos and Ciro Immobile have just 5 more between them.

It’s not as if they’re not creating anything. Only two teams have more shots per game than Dortmund’s 17; Bayern, of course (18.9), and Roger Schmidt’s dynamic Bayer Leverkusen (17.9). It’s notable, however, that 43% of these come from outside the box, underlining their difficulty in opening teams up – Aubameyang’s pace, in the absence of the injured Marco Reus’ craft, has been the main conduit to do so, with three assists. Maybe new arrival Kevin Kampl (the Europa League’s second-highest assist provider with 4, and 3.7 key passes per game for Salzburg) can help.

It’s been even worse for Hamburg, the lowest scorers with a meagre 9. Their shot count of 12.1 per match is by no means disastrous (putting them 10th in the rankings). No team, however, hits the target with less – just 3.3 per game to date. Only 4 goals have been scored from open play so far.

The struggles of major signing Pierre-Michel Lasogga have been a major problem; he scored 13 in 18 starts while on loan from Hertha Berlin last season, plus the play-off strike at Greuther Fürth which kept the club up, but he has just 2 in 16 (15 starts). His shot-per game count is down from 13/14’s 3.6 to 2.9.  

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Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin and Werder Bremen’s leaky defences

Plus ça change, you might say. Stuttgart and Werder had the fifth and fourth-worst defences in the Bundesliga last season, with 62 and 66 conceded respectively (Hamburg brought up the rear with a whopping 75). This season Werder have let in 39, Hertha 35 and Stuttgart 32. Frankfurt, in keeping with Schaaf’s by the seat of the pants philosophy, would both score and concede 68 if they continued at the current rate, a not-dissimilar profile to Hoffenheim’s 72-70 of the last campaign.

Stuttgart’s problem is one of being able to field a settled unit. Having alternated between two different goalkeepers, Armin Veh and now Huub Stevens have used eight different defenders between them so far, with each starting at least 5 games. The man who has played the most games in the centre of defence, Antonio Rüdiger, is only 21. He has also sustained a knee injury, so it could get worse for them.

Hertha concede a relatively low 13 shots per match, but 62% of them are from inside the box, which immediately spells danger. They also commit the highest number of fouls per match (18.6), suggesting a lack of control. So what of Werder?

Their inability to keep hold of the ball and in avoiding individual errors don’t help, and they also concede a large amount of the shooting opportunities against them from inside the area (61% of the 14.9 per game). At least they pack a punch in the final third – Hertha’s 9.7 shots per game (only Cologne manage less) spells possible trouble for 2015.

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