It has been 62 days since Bayern Leverkusen beat Rangers 3-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 Europa League; over two months without football, but finally, it will return this weekend. The Bundesliga has been given the green light to return to action, without fans of course. So, for those who are not as knowledgeable with German football, here is a chance to get you up to date. Hopefully, this article will help you sound more intelligent when you are arguing with your friends over why Alphonso Davies is the best player ever, yeah we will get to that. I will be highlighting players to watch, storylines to follow and pick out a few teams for you to keep an eye one.
Where we left off
The last Bundesliga matchday was Matchday 25. On that day, an RB Leipzig draw saw Bayern Munich go four points clear at the top of the table with Borussia Dortmund in second and Leipzig in third. This has been the most competitive title race in quite some time with five teams still feeling like they can win the title; Bayern Leverkusen sits in fifth just eight points behind Munich. Jadon Sancho, Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner are in a three-way battle for Player of the Year with the Polish striker being the frontrunner due to his incredible goal per game scoring rate (22 Non-Penalty Goals in 23 games). Sancho and Werner have both had breakout years for Dortmund and Leipzig respectively and will look to cap off their seasons with strong finishes.
In the Relegation race, the biggest surprise is Werder Bremen, a club that has been a mainstay in the top tier of German football for years sits eight points from safety with just eleven games to go. They will look to Milot Rashica to carry them to salvation. The race for the title and European spots makes the backend of the Bundesliga season arguably the most enthralling in all of Europe’s top five leagues.
Sancho and Werner’s last dance?
Throughout the incredible seasons both Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner are having, the underlying story has been where they will be plying their trade next season. Before the global pandemic, Dortmund would have received offers in the range of 120 million pounds for Sancho from clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and many of the other largest clubs in England and abroad. With the economic hit clubs have taken due to COVID, that seems unlikely, but a move is still on the cards if Dortmund finds the right deal for the star winger.
Dortmund sits four points off the top behind rivals Bayern Munich, much of that is due to Sancho who has become a superstar this season with fourteen goals and fifteen assists in just 23 games, the Englishman is averaging a goal or an assist every 62 minutes. Sancho’s year has not been perfect, he was pulled off before half time in Dortmund’s derby against Munich and was criticized for his lack of effort earlier in the season. But the 20-year-old has put his head down and has been the catalyst to Dortmund’s turnaround this season. If this is Sancho’s last season at Signal Iduna Park, he has a chance for the perfect send-off.
Werner has also had quite the breakout season this year for RB Leipzig. Under Julian Nagelsman, the German has developed the playmaking side of his game very well and is averaging 1.5 key passes per 90 to go along with an xA of 0.31 per 90. For a player that used to be solely a “get in behind” goal scorer, it has been quite the reinvention. Werner still scores goals too, don’t get me wrong, he has already matched his best ever goal tally with 21 goals in just 25 games (18 non-penalty goals). Often being positioned out wide in a front three, Werner has found a lot of space coming in off the flank to through balls or low crosses and his relationship with Yussuf Poulsen has been key to Leipzig’s attack. Werner was linked to Bayern Munich for much of last season, but the player has expressed his desire to move to Liverpool more than once over the course of the season.
It is up to Liverpool whether or not Werner moves, there have been rumours the European Champions are not going to be spending any money this summer, but it is clear Jurgen Klopp likes Werner and Werner would be a perfect fit for Liverpool, now we just have to wait.
Werner is ready for a new challenge, but that doesn’t mean he has given up on Leipzig yet, the Saxony based club is just five points behind Munich and much like Sancho, if Werner can carry Leipzig to Bundesliga glory, he will never be forgotten.
Title race: Fact or Fiction?
You can forgive many Bundesliga fans for being pessimistic over the idea of an intense title race to end the season as the seemingly inevitable Bayern Munich looks well on their way to winning their eighth straight Salatschüssel. A quick look at the table, this year looks no different from the last seven, but, It hasn’t been a typical Bayern year. For much of the campaign they were not even in the top three, but since the winter break, they have been fantastic. Bayern tends to pull away from their competitors in the last stretch of the season and they have been in great form, before play paused, taking 34 of a possible 36 points in their last twelve games. However, Bayern’s schedule is anything but easy to end the season, they play second-place Dortmund, fifth place Leverkusen and seventh place Wolfsburg away from home as well as a home fixture with fourth place Monchengladbach.
The direct competitors are Dortmund and Leipzig, but Gladbach and Leverkusen are still in with a shout as well being six and eight points behind Munich respectively. This title race will only become a race if one of the four competitors can separate themselves from the rest. Dortmund has the best chance as they are already in second place and have matches remaining against Munich and Leipzig, which gives them a chance to pull closer to Bayern and to pull away from the rest. It would be a surprise if anyone but Bayern won the title, but, all we can ask for is a little excitement. The website Five Thirty-Eight doesn’t think there will be much excitement as they have Bayern’s odds at winning the title at 88 percent, they got that number by doing a whole bunch of math which you can see here https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/soccer-predictions/bundesliga/.
Players to Watch
Alphonso Davies: LB, Bayern Munich
As a lifelong Canadian National team fan, I have waited for a player like Alphonso Davies for a long time. The 19-year-old is a winger by nature, but due to injuries Bayern has needed to move the pacey Canadian to fullback and he has surpassed every single expectation and then some. Davies has seven assists in twenty starts from left-back, but his ball progression and defensive statistics are what has been more impressive.
As you can see above Davies has similar attacking numbers to Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson who is widely considered the best left-back in Europe. Defensively, per 90, Davies averages eighteen pressures, two tackles won and one and a half interceptions, keep in mind he is playing for the team that has the highest possession in the league, those are very promising numbers. Davies’s pace allows him to recover very well even if he is out of position as evident many times in Bayern’s champions league game against Chelsea. Davies also utilized his pace to set up the second goal in that match with an incredible slaloming run before delivering a low cross for a Robert Lewandowski tap in.
Christopher Nkunu: AM, CM, LW, RB Leipzig
Christopher Nkunu is an interesting story, the Frenchman was highly touted coming out of PSG’s academy, but after limited playing time and uninspiring performances PSG sold him on to Leipzig for fifteen million pounds. Under Naglesman at Leipzig, Nkunku has shown why he was so highly rated at PSG. The midfielder has played out wide, as a number ten or as a roaming number eight, but he has always been at the centre of much of what Leipzig do attack wise. Nkunku has averaged three and a half key passes per 90 and has an xA of .54 per 90, which are just very good numbers for a creative player. He sits third in the Bundesliga in assists with twelve, but he has also been a key part of Leipzig’s intense pressing scheme. Leipzig has the most pressures in the midfield third in the league and Nkuku averages twenty pressures per 90.
Nkunku is so talented and is one of those players who is just lovely to watch, there is no doubt that Leipzig will be able to at the very least triple their profit on him in the years to come if they’d like.
Marcus Thuram: LW,CF, Borussia Monchengladbach
Marcus Thuram is another fascinating player, the son of former French international Lillian Thuram, Marcus is a towering centre forward with the playstyle of a false nine, kind of. Thuram had promising numbers at a very poor Guingnamp team in France and got a move to Monchengladbach because of it and this year he has announced himself to the World. The Frenchman is good in the air, averaging three aerial duels won p90, is a creative threat with an xA of .33 p90 and averages two and a half shots to go along with a .37 xG p90. He can certainly improve the number of shots he is getting as he has a tendency to drop deep, but his relationship with Breel Embolo has worked wonders for Gladbach this season. Thuram’s biggest strength, however, is his dribbling. His powerful first step and tricky feet allow him to always get the extra step needed on his defender to get by him. Thuram beats his man three times p90 and wins two and a half fouls p90.
Here is one of Thuram’s best performances of the season
Filip Kostic: LW, LB, LWB: Frankfurt
Eintracht Frankfurt had a rough summer in 2019 as they lost their three leading scorers from last season, but the transfers opened up room for Kostic to finally play more of an attacking role and he has excelled. After plying his trade at wingback for most of his time at Frankfurt, Kostic is now one of the most versatile players in the Bundesliga having played at left-back, left wing-back, left-wing and even striker for Frankfurt. The Serbian is tied with only Thiago for the most take ons completed in the Bundesliga. Kostic p90 numbers are quite staggering due to how poorly Frankfurt have been this year, the winger averagers nearly three key passes and shots and has an xA of .36. For the year he has four goals and eight assists and he has been the driving force behind most of Frankfurt’s limited success this season. At 27, time is running out for a big move, but he does have a very specific and rare skillset that many clubs could use.
Dayot Upamecano: CB, RB Leipzig
Another promising youngster that plays for Leipzig, Dayot Upamecano. Upamecano is not your typical centre half, his playstyle fits a very certain team and Leipzig is one of those teams. He is a very adept mover of the ball, averaging seven progressive passes p90 along with .34 key passes p90 which is quite impressive for a centre back. He is the perfect centre back for teams that like to press a lot and play with a high line. He has the best pressure success rate in the Bundesliga this season at 45% and his pace and strength allow him to stay stride for stride with most attackers. Upamecano is an attacking force all the way from centreback, he is involved in 1.2 shot-creating actions p90 and completes one take on a match, again quite impressive for someone that solely plays centre back. Upamecano needs to shore up his defensive side a little bit, he tends to get caught out now and then and can rely too heavily on his pace. He is also very confident in his ball moving abilities which can get him in trouble sometimes as well when he is trying to force a difficult pass.
Moussa Diaby: LW, RW, Bayer Leverkusen
Much like Nkunku, Diaby is another PSG academy player who due to a variety of reasons was shipped off by PSG for a fee of around fifteen million pounds. Diaby is an inside forward who has a wand of a left foot. He has only started eleven times for Leverkusen this season but has four goals and three assists and has shown his potential to be a deadly goalscorer. His shooting stats are good, not great, 2.25 shots p90, an xG of around .3 p90, but where he really excels is his dribbling. Diaby is best with the ball at his feet, attempting 6 take on’s p90 and completing 4.5 of them. Diaby is a player that makes you feel like something exciting is going to happen when you watch him. His performance against Rangers in the Round of 16 of the Europa League was just a small glimpse of what he is capable of. He was threatening all night on the counter-attack and finished off his performance with a lovely assist to help his team kill off the game. His form has really started to pick up as of late so make sure to watch for him.
Nico Elvedi: CB, Monchengladbach
Nico Elvedi has been a huge part of why Gladbach is having their best season in years and why they have of the best defensive records in the league. The centre-back isn’t flashy, but he’s sturdy. Among centre-halves in all of Europe’s top five leagues, Elvedi is second in interceptions which attests to how smart of a defender he is. His long passing is another strength, as the Switzerland international averages, nearly 19 long passes attempted p90 and has a completion percentage of 92%. Elvedi has also only committed 14 fouls this season (.65 p90) which is quite good for a centreback, especially in the Bundesliga. His partnership with Matthias Ginter is the driving force behind Gladbach’s season and at just 23, Elvedi is just getting started.
Milot Rashica: CF, LW ,RW, Werder Bremen
In a truly horrid season for Werder Bremen fans, the one bright spot has been Milot Rashica. Rashica can play anywhere along the front line due to his pace, creativity, dribbling and eye for goal. The forward has averaged 3 shots p90 and makes 1.6 key passes p90. His full skillset was on display for a stunning goal against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena earlier in the year. He picked the ball up at halfway, beat his man, drove at Jerome Boateng and unleashed a bullet into the top corner from 20 yards out. The only issue is that is Rashica’s last goal in the Bundesliga, it has been 9 games since he scored. Again, it cannot be understated how poor Bremen have been, they have the worst xG in the league and have scored the joint least amount of goals, Rashica himself averages just 3 touches in the oppositions penalty area p90. He hasn’t gotten adequate service but is still putting up decent numbers and his advanced metrics are quite incredible considering the team he plays for. I get the sense you’ll be hearing a lot more of Milot Rashica next season.
Teams to Watch
No one wants to be watching boring football matches, although at this point anything will do, nonetheless here are the teams you want to be watching for the next couple of weekends.
If you are a fan of modern football and young talent Leipzig is the team for you. They are 2nd in the league in pretty much every single attacking metric (only Bayern ahead of them) and play some fantastic football. Their two-leg performance against Tottenham in the Champions League earlier this year was the first time many saw Leipzig play and they showed why they are having such a great season. Even with injuries to key players, they dominated Spurs for 180 minutes with quick, intensive pressing and deadly counterattacking. Julian Nagelsman has made quite the impact in his first year as manager and his tactics alone are reason enough to watch Leipzig, let alone the fact they have guys like Werner, Nkunku, Nordi Mukiele, Upamecano among others.
Frankfurt have had a disappointing season, but they are still an intriguing team to watch due to how they play. Manager Adi Hutter sets them up in a 3-4-1-2 and encourages his wingbacks to get very high up the pitch. They have the sixth-best xG in the league, but they have also allowed 41 goals in just 25 games, which is a mediocre record at best. Their inconsistency is what makes them so exciting, earlier this year they mauled Bayern Munich 5-1 at home and then just weeks later were destroyed at home 4-2 by Cologne. They also managed to get a 2-2 draw against Dortmund, then just two weeks after that draw with second from bottom Bremen 2-2 at home. You just never know what you’re gonna get and who doesn’t love surprises. Players like Kostic, Gonçalo Paciência and Martin Hintregger who has 6 goals from centre back.
Other teams to keep an eye on: Wolfsburg, Union Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen.