Miasanrot Awards 2022/23: FC Bayern – Player of the Season

Georg Separator July 4, 2023

Player of the season?

Although Musiala’s winner in the final against Cologne, which secured Bayern an 11th successive league title, provided a conciliatory end to the season, the mood at the club was still dominated by the negative impressions of the previous months: another early exit from the Champions League and DFB-Pokal was too disappointing, the Bundesliga performances too inconsistent and the many, many behind-the-scenes rumblings too disturbing.

Chalk up the season as a disappointment and move on? After all, the summer transfer window is in full swing. No. There have been too many positive stories. It was a close race for the player of the season award.

There was Benjamin Pavard. Despite considerable competition at centre-back and full-back, Pavard held his own. Previously seen by many as a valuable back-up and rotational player, Pavard developed into a recognised performer who stabilised the defence and was an important element in the build-up play.

Then there is Jamal Musiala. With 16 goals and 16 assists in all competitions, the 20-year-old topped the team’s internal scoring charts and was the only Bayern player to pass the 30-goal mark. Only Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller have passed that mark in the last three years. 2022/23 could go down in Bayern history as the season in which Musiala succeeded Muller.

And yes, there is Joshua Kimmich. The player who must be counted among the players of the season whenever the debate is about performance rather than narrative. Kimmich always plays. He tops the FC Bayern minutes table by a country mile. In the process, Kimmich, who is a little more defensive than he used to be, has collected 18 scoring points. A figure rarely seen among sixes and eights. Data-driven stats sites such as Whoscored and Sofascore put him at the top of both the Champions League and the Bundesliga.

However, none of the three mentioned won. Matthijs de Ligt, the slide tackling Dutchman, won.

De Ligt’s season in progress

Starting from the bench

In the first five competitive games of the season, de Ligt only had one appearance in the starting eleven. Three times he was a late substitute and once he spent the entire 90 minutes on the bench.

Nagelsmann explained that he wanted to protect the player. De Ligt was not completely fit to play at the beginning and needed time to get used to Nagelsmann’s ideas and style of play.

Indeed, the Dutchman’s first few appearances in pre-season were marked by a lack of enthusiasm and involvement in his team’s play. In retrospect, this was a wise move on Nagelsmann’s part.

Fast forward to the Qatar disappointment

De Ligt was undeterred by the initial test of his patience and quickly found his way into the team – although it remains an open question how the battle for the centre-back spot would have played out in the autumn had Lucas Hernández not suffered a serious injury.

At the end of the Hinrunde, Kicker ranked him as the fifth best centre-back in the Bundesliga, with teammate Upamecano in first spot. The latter had a very good Hinrunde with FC Bayern and also impressed at the World Cup in Qatar.

The World Cup would prove to be a turning point for de Ligt for the rest of the season. He played 90 minutes in the opening game, but saw only one other last-minute substitution. Otherwise, de Ligt had to watch from the dugout, including the penalty shoot-out against eventual champions Argentina.

Perhaps this disappointment was a kickstart to his motivation.

Breakthrough and dominance in the second half of the season

The year 2023 was to be de Ligt’s year. Whether in a three- or four-man backline, whether Upamecano, Pavard or both played alongside him, de Ligt became a regular first team starter.

After Upamecano’s mistakes in the Champions League, de Ligt finally overtook him and established himself not only as a centre-back but also as a defensive leader, directing his team-mates.

His goal-line tackle in the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain became one of the iconic images of the season. Almost more than the last-gasp save itself, de Ligt’s celebration became iconic. He clenched his fists and shouted his delight in a manner reminiscent of Oliver Kahn.

At the end of the season, Kicker named him number one in their list of the best centre-backs and we picked him as Bayern’s best player of the season.

De Ligt’s season in numbers

With a total of 43 appearances and 3,390 minutes, Matthijs de Ligt comes second in the minutes played statistics. Minutes played is an often underestimated measure of a player’s performance. On the one hand, only those who rarely miss out due to injury can make it to the top. This is a big advantage over Lucas Hernández, for example, who averaged 1,835 minutes per season in his four years at FC Bayern. On the other hand, playing time is always a reflection of performance. Who do coaches play as much as possible? Who is not part of the rotation? It is no coincidence that the axis of Neuer-Kimmich-Müller-Lewandowski has almost always been at the top of FC Bayern’s table over the past five years.

After the winter break, de Ligt passed Kimmich and played more than all outfield players. Of FC Bayern’s 25 games, de Ligt appeared in the starting eleven 24 times and played the full match 22 times. Only goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who did not miss a single minute, was ahead of him in terms of playing time.

In the decisive Bundesliga phase, de Ligt scored twice against Stuttgart and Freiburg for the important opening goal.

At first glance, the extended key figures of “fbref” show an ambivalent picture in comparison with the other FC Bayern centre-backs:

In possession

  • De Ligt has a pass completion percentage of 91.1%. That puts him level with Stanišić at the top of the central defenders’ charts. Upamecano (90.6%), Hernández and Pavard (both 89%) are close behind.
  • Upamecano is ahead in the number of passes per game. His 89 passes (13 of them long) are clearly ahead of de Ligt (78, 8 of them long).
  • No Bayern defender has fewer dribbles than de Ligt (0.15 per game) and only Hernández covers less distance with the ball at his foot than de Ligt (“Progressive Distance through Carries”). Upamecano, with around 182 metres per game, manages considerably more than de Ligt with 135 metres.

Off the Ball

  • De Ligt manages 6.4 successful pure defensive actions per game. This includes intercepted balls, successful tackles, blocked shots or passes and clearing actions. Pavard with 8.6 and Upamecano with 7.2 are ahead of him here.
  • He has a strikingly good record in ‘tackles won’. Rather than looking at the player himself and his tackles against an opponent, this stat focuses on whether his own team gains possession of the ball after the tackle. This is the case in over 71% of de Ligt’s tackles. Hernández follows with 66%, while Pavard, Upamecano and Stanišić are all below 60%.
  • De Ligt just about registers the fewest fouls (0.7 per game) and yellow cards (0.15 per game).

A look at these figures shows: In terms of individual statistics, de Ligt does not stand out from his peers. The numbers show de Ligt to be a cautious, level-headed player who takes relatively few risks. These are good qualities for a centre-back. De Ligt has no obvious weaknesses. The mistakes he doesn’t make and his role as the head of the defence are difficult to capture statistically.

At the same time, the figures suggest that there is still room for improvement: de Ligt can become even more active in the future, with more courage to pass, dribble and carry the ball – even if he will never be a Lucio. He has also underused his goal-scoring ability, particularly from set-pieces, having scored three goals, only one of which came directly from a corner.

De Ligt’s future as a building block of the new FC Bayern

On 12 August 2023, when FC Bayern’s season is set to start in the Supercup against Leipzig, Matthijs de Ligt will celebrate his 24th birthday.

He has a lot of experience and has won championships in three different leagues. His style of play is mature. He has another ten years ahead of him as a complete centre-back and leader. De Ligt’s transfer fee of around €70 million looks to have been well invested. Bayern can look forward to a bright future with de Ligt.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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