Under the radar, under the microscope: Sebastian Vasiliadis

profiling and analyzing some of the German league's lesser known players

One of the players I’ve had my eye on since the second half of the 18\19 season is Paderborn’s Sebastian Vasiliadis. At the beginning of the season, I wrote a feature\mini scouting report on him which appeared at the Football Chronicle. For the purposes of this piece, it will serve as both an intro to the player and a chance for me to test my observations in light of his first 1. Bundesliga season. So let’s start with that:

You would be forgiven if you have never heard of Paderborn’s 21-year-old central midfielder, Sebastian Vasiliadis, who was born in Germany and came up through VfR Aalen’s youth system after moving there from his village team of Backnang (near Stuttgart).

Although he had some nice numbers in the third division and teams like Ingolstadt were interested, Paderborn’s then sporting director Markus Krösche (now at RB Leipzig) was able to seal his signature in March of 2018. In his first 2. Bundesliga season, the attacking-minded central midfielder fit in flawlessly into Steffen Baumgart’s wildly entertaining 4-2-4 high pressing system and put up six goals with 10 assists. 

As Matthew Karagich, a keen observer of the German 2. Bundesliga points out, Baumgart eased Vasiliadis into the lineup and things began to take off in the wild 5-3 win over the favorite 1.FC Köln where he assisted the last goal. There are a couple of things that make the high-energy midfielder one to watch in the upcoming 19\20 season:

1. Versatility: Because he is an excellent tackler, succeeding 67% of the time on 3 attempts per match, he is able to play in the double pivot as a double six, which he did about 55% of the time. However, due to his speed and dynamism he has enough to get past the pressing lines via dribbling. Playing 1v1 is a skill that comes naturally to the youngster, as he is very hard to knock off the ball.

2. Pressing: Baumgart’s hyper-aggressive system often used him as a second striker\number ten behind centre-forward Sven Michel in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4 out of possession. Hamburg and Leo Lacroix found out the hard way how effective this can be, as he scored his second goal in a crucial 4-1 win.

3. Instinctiveness in front of goal: The first goal he scored vs HSV was more indicative of another skill that Vasiliadis possesses: arriving in front of goal in counters. Another way Vasiliadis has of scoring is via distance shots, but here it’s his ability to create a decent shot for himself, via winning the ball, turning and spinning off or dribbling past a defender that is more notable than the end product itself. 

Similarly, his ten assists ranked him third in the 2. Bundesliga last season, but it was on the back of just 1.4 key passes, which had him 46th on a per-match basis. The good news is that almost all of those are from open play and that 1.3 per 90 ranks him sixth in the league behind his teammate and midfield partner Philipp Klement and the centre-forward Sven Michel. 

From watching some film on him, he tends to successfully create key passes more in transition and in space and has trouble unlocking crowded defenses and will sometimes overhit his intended key passes. He also needs to work on his finishing and shooting, but given how quickly he has risen from the 3. Liga and became one of the standout players of the Bundesliga 2, it’s reasonable to think his energetic game will translate well to the top division.

Approached by Borussia Mönchengladbach over the summer, Vasiliadis was deemed “not for sale” by management he will be perhaps the most important player for Paderborn after the departure of top scorer Philipp Klement. So, make sure you remember the name of this 21-year-old of Greek origin, because Vasiliadis could tear up the Bundesliga next season.

I updated his progress and took stock of his early performances at the 10 game mark here. This was right around the time he got called up to the Greek national team - he was in the squad but did not play in the November qualifiers:

The Bundesliga has proven to be a difficult task for the extremely offensive-minded Paderborn. Of course this is a team with meager resources playing at times some brilliant football, but SCP are also by every metric just about the worst team in the league. Despite coach Steffen Baumgart tinkering with all 4 of his defenders and all of his forwards at one point, the one constant has been Vasiliadis. Playing all 900 Bundesliga minutes, he started out as a double six, in Paderborn’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2, next to Klaus Gjasula with some freedom to move up the pitch. In the last 3 games since the inclusion of summer signing Abdelhamid Sabiri, he moved up to a freer 8 and even a number 10 role.

As a result, Vasiliadis’ creative attacking output improved: his 6 shots since his new position matched his totals in the previous 7 league matches, but he also registered a season high 5 tackles against Hoffenheim. Overall, his per game numbers are exactly the same as in the 2. Bundesliga, which considering the increase in the level of competition, his team’s dismal season, how he has played deeper a lot more often, is quite promising for his future.

Share Bundesliga Bulletin Newsletter

The story since then and the numbers on Vasiliadis:

Paderborn stood with just 4 points (despite 9.85 expected) and a 1-1-9 record in the first 11 games. While they were somewhat unlucky to have just 4 points, no team was worse by xG difference.

Since then Paderborn did manage 12 points vs 13 xPTS in the last 14 games (better than Frankfurt who had a positive xG difference and the bottom dwellers Düsseldorf and Werder) and played more like the 15-16th best team - a bit better than Düsseldorf and Werder and closer to the 15-18 points of Freiburg, Augsburg and Schalke.

But what about our hero? Let us go to Fbref.com and see what they say:

As you can see from the raw numbers “Vasi” has played roughly the same amount of minutes and games this season as he had in the second division last season - only missing the last game of the Hinrunde due to a groin surgery, but he would have been suspended anyway because of 5 yellows. Against the 6 goals and 10 assists of the 2. Liga he has just 1+1 so far.

One quick look at his shot map this year vs last season tells you that he’s just not been able to get into those good xG positions. The few missed shots from the right side inside of the box (marked with an x) from this season are in the 0.15xG category and his lone goal is from a 0.03xG long-range one - a rocket against Wolfsburg!

Whereas in the 2. Liga he was able to get some high quality, 0.3-0.4 xG shots (3 of his 4 goals are such) and also get them off from the left side of the box as well as centrally.

Give a gift subscription

Chance creation and offensive output down, but why?

We'll get into some of the other reasons regarding his finishing in the film study section, but for now let’s stick with more basic numbers:

Overall shots are down from 1.4 to 1.1, his pass % is down from 77.8 to 76.2 and with key passes also slightly down from 1.4 to 1 a game, but those changes are more or less insignificant. Those are relatively league average numbers (and the xG output is below that), yet there are a couple of reasons for that

  • the league being a little more difficult could be a built-in excuse: though smart people like Jörg Seidel of Goalimpact have long argued that there is not a huge difference between a lot of 2.Liga teams and the bottom half of the Bundesliga (and I am inclined to agree)

  • In the 2. Liga Vasiliadis played 7 matches at AM, 16 at CM and just 7 at DM on a team that put up 76 goals total. On a per game basis SCP had 2.21 goals, on 17.65 shots and 6.35 SOT per 90 - basically a juggernaut on offense, on par with Cologne. All but 2 of his assists came from when he played higher up the pitch, as opposed to at DM. This season however, those aforementioned experiments with Vasiliadis in advanced positions did not continue and he logged 20 of his 24 matches as a number 8 (mostly on the right, but at times like against Mainz as a left 8), with that lone number 10 appearance against Augsburg. So that seems like a convenient explanation for his basic offensive numbers not matching last year’s totals, but there is some contradictory in-season evidence.

  • Digging into the numbers further and comparing his first 12 games to his last 13, we get a radical decline in expected assists for Vasi, who was the team leader in that category early. On a per 90 basis it goes down from 0.17 to 0.03, while overall it drops from a team high 1.91 to a paltry 0.34. We’ll see if that matches the eye test in the film study, but it may just be others (LW Antwi-Adjei went from 0.1 to 0.19 xA in that time period, while midfield teammates Sabiri and Gjasula jumped from 0.5 key passes to 1.1) picking up the slack and Vasiliadis asked to do different things by the coach.

  • Paderborn’s style: all-out attacking, building out of back via short passes is a lot of fun to watch, but it adds up to 1.2 goals and xG per 90, so not exactly prime Barcelona numbers. The team has no players in the top 30 in per 90 Non pen xG (Streli Mamba is at 0.37 in 36th) and their best creator, Kai Pröger is tied with Julian Brandt (!!!) for 60th in xAssists with 0.18 per 90.

  • Tactical assignments/role: Yet, he is perhaps not entirely alone to blame, since in the spring Vasiliadis has had to play 2-3 times at DM, as Gjasula has been phased out (and suspended bc he has 12 yellows). Paderborn also switched to a 4-3-3 and Vasi has played both as the 6 (like against Wolfsburg when he scored) and the right-sided 8 with Abdelhamid Sabiri and Samuel Kari Fridjonsson. So it’s possible that the role changes have contributed to the declines in his output….

    Give a gift subscription

In part two we are gonna dive into film study and look at some of his strengths and weaknesses and find some potential suitors.