V2 on Gladbach sputtering, Joelinton's value, Dortmund's set piece goal against Leverkusen and weekend preview questions

First, I just want to say a quick thank you to the overwhelming response to the Bundesliga Bulletin idea and Vol 1 of the newsletter, it’s truly humbling and inspiring. You guys rock!

Vol 2 will discuss the 6 reasons for Gladbach’s struggles, the 60 million offer for Joelinton, the Zagadou corner goal against Leverkusen, and ask some questions ahead of the weekend’s games

Deep Dive : 6 reasons for Gladbach’s freefall

Borussia Mönchengladbach’s miracle season, that once had Dieter Hecking’s team two points ahead of Bayern in second place, is now in danger: after a fortunate win against Leverkusen (Yann Sommer made TEN saves and B04 won the shots battle 22 to 7) the Foals have taken just 7 points in their last five outings. And that’s probably a little too kind when you consider that Gladbach needed two goals after the 84th minute to beat ten-man Schalke, as well as despite dominating Augsburg (including Hofmann’s missed penalty they put up 2 XG in the first half) the match was tied until Oscar Wendt’s 77th minute opening goal. Their other point came in a fairly even game against Frankfurt, while the 0-3 home losses to Hertha and Wolfsburg are probably harsh in goal difference, but less so in terms of game outcome/fairness. Their indomitable fortress, Borussia Park, saw BMG start out with a 9 of 9 home win record with an otherworldly 25-3 goal difference, 27 points on 22.5 Expected Points. How did they grab so many points at home? Well, simply with a trick that was probably the oldest one in the book, but then again Dieter Hecking is as old school as one gets in the Bundesliga.

  1. Scoring first at home = profit

In that 9 game sample size of home wins, only once were Gladbach behind: the highlight of Bobby Wood’s season saw the American score after just 33 seconds on what looked like a pretty serious positioning error by Nico Elvedi (more on that later). It took Gladbach just 5 minutes to equalize and then batter lowly Hannover. Overall, they trailed for 400 minutes this season, which puts them on the same level as most of the European contenders from Hoffenheim to Leipzig. However, by my calculations 165 of those came in the last 3 matches and it’s thus not a massive leap to figure out that they were close to the 250 range of Bayern/Dortmund prior to this slide. Of course another way to think about this is in terms of Gladbach outperforming their metrics in the fall, then regressing back to the mean in the spring. Let’s see what happened:

  1. Regression in metrics and results

The fall of 2018 was in many ways the half-season of the Borussia teams: Dortmund ( 12.57 goals over expectation) and Gladbach (10.74) outperformed XG more than any other teams in the Bundesliga per Statsbomb data on the excellent Zonal.ly website.

What’s interesting about the graphs is that BVB’s overperformance was almost entirely on the attacking end, while Gladbach - thanks to Yann Sommer’s keeper of the season campaign - conceded 6.31 goals fewer than as predicted by the XG model, the second best mark behind Mainz. Understat numbers are also pretty similar (0.5 XG difference), and have the benefit of expected points: Gladbach outperformed their 28 and collected 33 units, the third best margin behind Hertha (+5.44) and Dortmund (+9.5). While Lucien Favre’s XG wizardry is well-known, and Pál Dárdai has one and a half season of matching XG in 2017\18 and during his 15 match spell in the spring of 2015, two seasons of going ten and six points over (in 2016\17 when BSC finished sixth and in 15\16 where Hertha got the 7th spot), Hecking’s record is much more pedestrian. His 14\15 runner up Wolfsburg team, powered by the world-class season of Kevin de Bruyne (10 goals, 20 assists) and Bas Dost’s 14 goal spring, overperformed metrics by 10 points. However, next year’s squad went under by seven and his seven game spell saw him go under XPTS by 3.5 points before being fired. While he gets a ton of credit for rejiggering Gladbach’s 4-3-3 and the early success/career year of nearly every important BMG player, this regression is somewhat natural. Perhaps it is also a sign that his brand of tactically flexible, but only occasionally dominant football isn’t sustainable. Of course, that’s not a knock on what is still a fantastic season by die Fohlen, a team expected to compete for the Europa League spots in preseason.

  1. More possession = more counters for the opponents

In that wildly successful Hinrunde, Gladbach played a weird brand of football: 16.12 PPDA (passes per defensive actions, a metric designed to measure the intensity of pressing, with more intensive presses having lower values) was only ahead of Nürnberg, the worst team in the league. I would strongly suspect that always being ahead, as discussed in the 1st paragraph, and notably going 2-3 goals up in 15 minutes against Bayern in Munich, plus Plea’s 15 minute hat trick (interrupted by halftime) in Bremen are one of the reasons behind not having to press as much. Gladbach with a lead love to counterattack and given their excellent pressing resistant goalkeeper, plus intelligent-passing buildup players such as Nico Elvedi, Matthias Ginter, Oscar Wendt and Tobias Strobl, they can launch pinpoint counters with the best of them. When they can’t score quickly or fall in behind Gladbach resort to tons of possession. The team averages 52.6% for the season, but in games where they were not ahead those figures were at 65% vs FCA, 74% vs ten man Schalke until Kramer’s goal, 69% vs Hertha after Kalou’s opener, 70% against Frankfurt after da Costa’s goal and 62% against Wolfsburg after Gerhardt scored. Another metric that supports this is what is called Direct Completions, passes completed within 20 yards of goal (crosses excluded). In the Hinrunde, Gladbach were negative 10 in this category (102 for 112 against), suggesting that dominating territory was not important for them either because of tactics (preference to sit back and counter) and\or game state (being ahead a lot). That number has skyrocketed to +27 for Gladbach (51 for, 24 against) which is second behind Bayern in the six spring matches so far. Territorial dominance and being massively head in DCs does not guarantee success - Juventus and Atletico seldom want to pass you into submission, but by squashing any attempts to pass deep against them are insanely successful - but the big 5 leagues are typically dominated by the DC dominant teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City or PSG, with Leicester City’s 2015\16 historical outlier of a title winning campaign bucking that trend with a net negative 58 direct completions. There certainly is some irony in Hecking attempting\being forced into playing a style that isn’t his own - his 14\15 Wolfsburg team was +8 in DCs and it not working out. Of course there isn’t a whole lot he can do about the woeful defending against counters that arguably doomed some of Gladbach’s recent games. Exhibit A is this structural abomination before Hertha’s second goal from, you guessed it, a counter.

Who needs structure anyway?

Similarly, Nico Elvedi - rightfully courted by Manchester City due to his extraordinary line-breaking passes in the middle to Lars Stindl - has given away cheap goals with his positioning errors twice against Wolfsburg, while Oscar Wendt didn’t exactly give maximum effort on the second Mehmedi goal either. Normally reliable Matthias Ginter looked as hapless as Elvedi against the dynamism of Davie Selke and Salomon Kalou’s old man inside outside dribbles befuddled the CB duo and Wendt more than once. Against Frankfurt’s vicious counterpress and elite athleticism with Rebic and Haller, Ginter and Elvedi had some hairy moments in the second half, but so does the rest of Europe. Of course playing large swaths of matches from behind exacerbates these defensive frailties and part of the blame lies on the attacking unit of Gladbach

  1. Where are the Plea + Hazard goals?

To put it bluntly, Thorgan Hazard and Alassane Plea were nothing short of revelations in the Hinrunde with a combined 18 goals and 9 assists. As you can see from the Understat chart from below they were two of the 10 best attacking players in the Bundesliga in the fall. In addition, as Gladbach were out of the cup in late October and not involved in European competitions, they were able to spend a lot of time on the pitch: Hazard played 99.6% of available minutes, while Plea who began the campaign as a substitute would play 84%. They were 4.5 goals better than their XG tally with their 9 assists coming on 8.45 expected assists. On a per 90 minute basis the dynamic duo put up 1.26 XG and assists.

In the spring so far their tallies are one goal and two assists, on a per 90 combined 0.84 which is a 33% drop-off. Removing penalties - 8 of the 19 goals Hazard has scored in the last two seasons have come from the spot - we still get 1.09 XG + A for the fall, and the drop-off to 0.84 is now a 23% decline. In terms of their ranking, Plea ranks 30th and Hazard is 50th in non penalty XG, a far cry from the top 10 numbers of the Hinrunde. In addition, Hazard’s shot location profile has undergone an interesting relapse: in his career, the Belgian takes 24.5% of his shots outside the box and has one goal vs 1.5XG  to show for his 48 efforts. Unfortunately, this season he’s at a staggering 47% ratio of outside of the box shots to inside of the box ones, with a paltry one goal matching his XG on a whopping 25 attempts! In terms of just the spring he’s keeping up this poor trend, as he has attempted 6 of his 12 shots for 0.35 XG from outside the box. That’s certainly not helping things, though neither is the yanking of Plea from in and out of the starting XI by Hecking. The Gladbach faithful have criticized the veteran coach for not always being able to play the versatile, dogged and intelligent CF Lars Stindl with Plea, with the Frenchman sometimes looking forlorn on the wings. In the last two matches, hard-working Patrick Herrmann was preferred to Plea, with Hazard moving over from right to left. Needless to say, Hecking better find a solution and not just because they are playing Bayern on Saturday.

  1. Looking for number 8s

One of the best moves that Dieter Hecking has done is to switch to a 4-3-3 this season, where the deep-lying playmaking of Tobias Strobl (or sadly Christoph Kramer lately) has been supported by the box to box brilliance of three young number 8s: the well-traveled Jonas Hofmann was having a career season - 5 goals and 4 assists were better than anything the 26 year had ever put up - until another injury in late November. Since then, Hofmann has had a tough time and has no goals or assists in 6 matches. Hofmann’s incredible work rate in pressing, his shifty moves to get by opponents and his underrated ball progression were vital for Hecking. As is Florian Neuhaus, one of the best 2.Bundesliga players on loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf last season, who took the first division by storm with 6 assists in his first 12 matches. The 21-year-old positions himself between the lines expertly and is the master of making the pass before the assist. However, assists have historically been proven to be volatile and not very repeatable, just ask Emil Forsberg and Philipp Max who followed up 19 and 12 assist campaigns with TWO respectively. Given that key passes are a much better predictor of future success, Neuhaus’s hot start - 7 assists on 2.1 expected assists with 1.22 Key Passes per 90 - his regression is very natural and sure enough he has no assists on 0.10 XA and 0.85 KP\90. In addition, his misses against Wolfsburg - hitting the bar in the 25th then Robin Knoche blocking his 0.43 XG chance on a wide open net - have hurt Gladbach. In that sense and due to the Hofmann injuries, Dieter Hecking has somewhat justifiably opted to play Denis Zakaria more. The 22-year-old was a fixture in the starting XI last season, but after 20 games has just 1117 minutes and only played the full 90 three times prior to Hofmann’s injury. The Swiss midfielder seemingly has all the tools, excellent safe passer, tremendous athleticism, decent dribbling and tenacious defense, but somehow can’t seem to put it all together consistently. A nice example is the Frankfurt game where he made his goal look so easy: just a great turn from a wonderful Strobl pass took one great touch to beat Hasebe and fired under Kevin Trapp. Of course this was before wasting a much easier chance in the 25th minute in a 1v1 vs Trapp. In total, Zakaria has wasted six chances of 0.2 XG or higher this season. The glass half-full take is that he does have 3.17 XG on the year vs 1.24 all of last season and is taking almost two shots a game compared to 0.78 last year. Right now he looks like a better option than Neuhaus, but it’s probably fair to say that neither of Hecking’s number 8s are in form.

Player focus: Is Joelinton worth 60 million?


One of the big stories of this week has been the reported 60 million interest of Newcastle United in the services of Hoffenheim’s Joelinton. According to Bild, it was actually Dietmar Hopp who actually put in a veto, due to the need for the Brazilian in the fight for the European places. Having once played in the youth setup and officially backing the club since 2000, the 78-year-old former software mogul (SAP) and founder’s name is synonymous with TSG Hoffenheim, so his rare public utterances count a lot.

Interestingly, sporting director Alexander Rosen sounded almost proud to have been able to say no. “If we’re honest, there are at least 5-6 teams that are similarly interested. We have made great strides as a club in the last few years and can say no.” - Rosen told Bild. So we know there are multiple clubs in Europe - not RB Leipzig whose sporting director\head coach\everything Ralf Rangnick said “no way we can pay 60m” - willing to pay 50-60 million, which already somewhat answers the question regarding his value.

Still, the general reaction was one of shock and awe, because as conventional wisdom goes, the soon to be 23-year-old has produced little: 8+7 goal, 5+1 assist seasons in Austria for Rapid Vienna had his Transfermarkt value around 2.5 million when TSG recalled him this summer.

After a fantastic training camp where TSG staff were raving about him, Joelinton actually became a starter and was a dark horse candidate for a breakout year. Despite missing a massive chance against Bayern in the season opener, the Brazilian has had a brilliant first full season (got a few seconds in December of 2015 against Schalke) under Julian Nagelsmann. With a whopping 19 scoring points (10G + 9 A) in 29 games across all competitions, “Joe” as he is nicknamed looks to beat out Andrej Kramaric for the team top scorer award. Furthermore, he also leads TSG with 53 in terms of successful dribbles + being fouled.

Rankings and Comparisons

So on his team he’s ranked among the best, but CIES even goes further, ranking Joelinton as the 10th best Bundesliga forward this season based on a very detailed methodology.

Subbing Paco Alcácer or Yussuf Poulsen for Jacob Bruun Larsen, that’s a fairly accurate list that corresponds to most people’s idea of the top 10 Bundesliga forwards.

Finding a player comparison for Joelinton is tougher than one might think. Comparing him to his Hoffenheim predecessor, Roberto Firmino is both obvious and slightly bizarre. While their radars look jarringly similar and they appear stylistically to be fairly different players. Firmino’s known for his incredible footballing IQ, a devastating cover shadow that can often defend multiple players, as well as a bag of tricks and key passes that have made him into one of the highest rated attackers in the Premier League. In terms of track record, Joelinton’s only got this season of excellent play and perhaps benefits from being on the second-highest XG producing attack in the Bundesliga, as well as an excellent staff with a known history of bringing amazing performances out of pretty much anyone, aka the Nagelsmann effect.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Joelinton’s main strengths include his incredible athleticism (he has been a handful for the likes of Nicolas Otamendi, the Bender twins and even Niklas Süle), dynamism with or without the ball, his strong pressing and even the ability to man-mark opposing playmakers, as Diego Demme found out Monday. His combination and holdup play with clever back heels, lots of quick turns make him an incredibly exciting player to watch and a nightmare to defend. In addition, he possesses an ever-improving  first touch, excellent upper and lower body strength and raw pace to outrun most defenders, with tremendous ball progression. He can create openings with his dribbling or runs and remains a devastating player in space. He is a fantastic target in the box: with 81 touches in the box he has the same amount as Ante Rebic, Yussuf Poulsen, or Kevin Volland.

Ante Rebic is perhaps the most apt comparison for him in the Bundesliga, because of the similarity in dynamism and athleticism. The Croatian is a nice story: After a couple of difficult loan spells at Leipzig and Fiorentina, Rebic, whose first touch is still very hit or miss, has over the last 2 seasons turned himself into one of the Bundesliga’s and world football’s rising stars. To nobody’s surprise, and as a result of some excellent exposure with Croatia reaching the finals of the World Cup, 50-60 million offers were pouring in during the summer.  But one area where Rebic has an advantage over Joelinton is finishing, in particular from outside the box: just in the Bundesliga the 25-year-old has 4 goals on 29 shots outside the box, while Joelinton is 0 for 20. Their numbers inside the box are eerily similar with the edge XG\shot of 0.15 vs 0.17 going the way of the Croatian, with both somewhat known for bundling the occasional big chance.

So, would you pay 50-60m?

Well, if we take the Rebic comparison in terms of $$, there’s a decent argument: Rebic’s old contract that got extended after the World Cup used to run until 2021 and he was about to turn 25 in September, with 8 goals and 4 assists on 9 XG and 7 XA with 2.6 shots per 90 and 1.5 key passes per 90 and 0.46 XG+XA per 90  in 3100 minutes, per Understat. Joelinton this season has 6 goals and 5 assists on 8XG and 4.2 XA with 1.6 key passes on 0.62 XG+XA per 90. He’s also 22 years and 6 months old (2.5 years younger than Rebic was) and has a similar contract - 3 years left on a deal that renewed in November, while Rebic signed on for higher wages and an extra year last summer. Richarlison’s 40m move from Watford to Everton on the back of a 5+5 G+A season, (on nearly 11 XG) is also in the ballpark, so in those terms 50-60m doesn’t sound so crazy for a player like Joelinton who’s had nearly 30 games of very solid production. This of course does not necessarily mean that Newcastle SHOULD spend 50-60 million on him, as the money could be spent elsewhere, but that’s a different topic. Of course, my hunch is that Hoffenheim do hold all the cards, since if there are so many suitors from England, one is bound to pay the sum even this summer, when the post-Nagelsmann era begins. In the meantime, Joelinton can add to his value and TSG can figure out their next coach (Marco Rose is still the favorite) and what they wanna do with their low buyout clause stars and go from there. Given the tough finishing season Kramaric is having, Szalai’s output stopping since late October, and the notoriously unreliable Ishak Belfodil (currently on a hot streak), not wanting to let go of your most consistent striker is certainly reasonable.

Goal of the Week: Dortmund’s opener by Dan-Axel Zagadou

Right away there are ton of interesting going on that show this to be a very atypical corner: first, and you can’t really get this from the myriad of unhelpful replays, B04 are leaving Leon Bailey up in a left winger position and Julian Brandt as the lone striker, forcing Dortmund to stay at home with two defenders, Julian Weigl and Achraf Hakimi. As Raphael Guerreiro is defending the middle and Abdou Diallo the left wing against counters, essentially then, it’s a 6 on 7 corner. But to make this even more interesting, Dortmund are only sending 4 guys in the box with Götze providing an option for the short corner. This is I suspect deliberate: if you can beat your man in a huge space, you are likely to be open if the delivery is on the money.

Just a good old fashioned 3v3

Another thing that helps to create less traffic is Paco Alcácer being right on the six yard box and occupying the attention of two defenders. His eventual near post run is one of the keys to this play, as it opens up the middle for one of the three BVB players to run into. But which one, that is the $64,000 question? Based on the initial lineup Witsel, matched up vs Baumgartlinger, looks to make a near post run with Akanji (marked by Jedvaj) running to the middle and Zagadou, followed by Tah in the battle of giants, will perhaps drive to the far post.

However, as the delivery is started and Paco takes Bender and Havertz out of the way, something funky happens: Witsel curls around Akanji and creates a moment of confusion for Leverkusen. This frees up Akanji to get a step on Jedvaj to the near post and he just misses scoring the header. But what Witsel’s spin move also does is to confuse Tah, who takes a step forward (maybe to follow Witsel) and thus allows his man Zagadou to get inside of him. Baumgartlinger actually does a nice job of leaving Witsel alone and focusing on Zagadou, but is just not strong enough to bump the Frenchman’s 90kgs with a head start with his 82kgs (that’s 200 lbs vs 180 lbs). Sancho’s ball is inch perfect and Dortmund take the lead out of nothing with a brilliantly designed corner routine.

Weekend questions

Here are some of the questions that need answering and this weekend’s slate of games should provide some of those feedback:

  1. Will the return of Marco Reus also help Paco Alcácer recapture some of his magic against Augsburg?

  2. Can Nürnberg avoid a red card in the first 15 minutes vs Leipzig?

  3. Will Leverkusen vs Freiburg break the record for the most intensive runs in a Bundesliga game?

  4. Can Hoffenheim avoid shooting itself in the foot against Frankfurt again, or will the Rebic-Haller-Jovic trio run wild again?

  5. Does Dieter Hecking have anything up his sleeve against the hottest Bundesliga team in Bayern (ten wins from last eleven games) or will they lose the third spot to Leipzig?

  6. Can Wolfsburg continue its title challenge with a counterattacking game plan against the possession based Werder in a battle of “green teams in 4-3-3”?

  7. Will Stuttgart vs Hannover be the Markus Weinzierl swan song? Who will “not lose” (can’t really say win) the battle of two teams who have shipped 101 combined goals and have a combined 26 points their last 36 matches?

Thanks for reading,