One Year – Six Oddities
However, the value of a single stat is debatable and one can easily get lost in the endless sea of data. Let’s see if we can take six odd stats from Bayern’s past season and figure out what they indicate for the upcoming period.
Mehdi Benatia led all Bayern players in interceptions (2.4), clearances (2.3) and offsides won (1) per game.
With Bayern’s high positioning on the pitch there is lots of room for counter attacks. This was exploited most recently in last year’s Champions League semifinal by Atletico Madrid. In these situations one defender is often outnumbered and needs good positioning in order to tone down the situation.
As Boateng usually moves higher up the pitch, his counterpart in the central defense has to be that last man. Benatia, when healthy, has always impressed with his positioning. While not the fastest of the lot, he often seemed to just be in the right position to make plays. This is outlined by him leading in interceptions, clearances and offsides won per game. The Moroccan, however, was signed by Juventus on a loan move this summer and the question arises who can add his qualities and stats to a Bayern squad which ranked last in the Bundesliga in interceptions in the last season.
Benatia’s departure of course was triggered by the signing of German international Mats Hummels for 35 million euros. So what can we expect from the new central defense duo Hummels and Boateng, if we look past the brilliant playmaking and focus on counter-attack defense?
While Hummels from time to time had some flaws in positioning, his stats are on par with those of Benatia. His numbers for clearances and interceptions are even slightly higher. One can assume that paired up with Boateng, the two will take turns in playmaking and covering. It also has to be seen whether Ancelotti’s new system will depend as heavily on the playmaking of central defenders and will have them as high up the pitch as Guardiola wanted them to play. Especially the last part can be questioned, if you listened to Phillipp Lahm’s comments after the second friendly of the season against Manchester City. The captain talked about the new “blend of pressing and patience” that Ancelotti wants to establish.
As mentioned before, Boateng as a defender was the deep-lying playmaker in Guardiola’s scheme. His long lobbed passes across wide areas of the field – right onto the foot or exactly in the open space ahead of the wingers – were not only eye-catching but created several chances and goals. His improvement in that regard really pushed him onto a new level that only a few other players in the whole world have.
The fact that he plays more long balls per game than Manuel Neuer is still surprising. It doesn’t only demonstrate the impact of Boateng’s game but also tells a lot about Neuer’s game. While Neuer is the definition of a sweeper keeper, he also functioned as the basis for the inferno of short passes that Guardiola demanded. Neuer seldomly looks for the easy solutions like kicking the ball in the stands or heaving it ahead to Lewandowski, where the striker would be alone against two defenders, but often initiates attacks with quick and short passes.
Again, a change of system by Ancelotti could alter this stat and Neuer’s short passes have sometimes been costly for Bayern as defenders were simply overwhelmed in the situation. Also, with Hummels and his playmaking qualities, the long balls by Boateng will be required less often in order to break a defense.
Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman both rank in the Top-20 of the Bundesliga in inaccurate and attempted crosses.
With Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery out of the picture, both new signings Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman took the heart of Bayern supporters quickly with their fast and fresh style of play. The sheer number of dribblings was astonishing. Their “dribble-first-pass-second” approach changed the dynamics of the whole Bayern offense as strikers got more chances inside the box. Both loved to dribble to the outside and, after running past the defender, hit a sharp cross into the middle.
It wasn’t unusual that the cross flew past friend and foe and right into the hands of the goalkeeper, but they created a kind of mayhem in the opponent’s box. Especially with Costa’s play declining in the second half of the season, these crosses started to look ill-advised and possessions were lost when they resulted in such a cross. It will be up to Ancelotti to manage to keep the surprise element of Costa and Coman, but at the same time teach them to take a more cautious approach. Sometimes a new build-up is better than a short-sighted cross.
Of all Bayern players, Robert Lewandowski had the most dispossessions (1.5), bad touches (2.7) and offsides (1.2) on a per game basis.
Leading scorer in the Bundesliga, first striker in almost 30 years to score 30 goals in one season and his mind-bending five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg – yes, Lewandowski had a great year. Maybe the best since the days of Gerd Müller. Not only his goalscoring, but also his ball-control and role in the system were extremely valuable. He might be the most complete Bayern striker since Giovane Elber – just on another, higher level.
With that said, these stats seem surprising. Lewandowski is still dispossessed a lot. Especially his number of bad touches is a little concerning as it is the highest in the league. Of course Lewandowski often operates in tight spaces and is marked by more than one defender, but fixing the ball is still one of the main responsibilities of a striker and this might be one area where Lewandowski still can improve.
On the other hand, the number of offside calls show that his paths don’t always match the passing patterns of his teammates. Once more it will be Ancelotti who has to coordinate the flow of the offense and create more room for Lewandowski.
“Still world-class” is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the game of Lahm in the second half of last year’s season. The right back played a marvelous campaign despite his age and was able to silence those who began to doubt him. Guardiola generally used a more conservative approach in his last season and played Lahm more in his original position as a right back. However, the dominance that Lahm can have from such a supposedly limited position is unprecedented. His interpretation is unique and has him interact all over the field. So it doesn’t surprise to have him as one of the most involved players in Bayern’s attack schemes with lots of passes.
The fact that he averages 23 more passes per game at home correlates with Guardiola’s game plan. He often used a risky approach at home, playing five offensive players at the same time in order to break the defensive-minded fortress opposing teams build in their box. This was combined with high positioning of all players and especially the right and left back, who therefore got more interactions. Away from Allianz Arena Guardiola often chose the conservative approach with less offensive power and fewer jaunts by the wing backs.
It will be interesting to see whether Ancelotti will keep this strategy of different approaches for home and away games. As Ancelotti is not known to be quite the tactical tinkerer that Guardiola was, the gap between passes at home and away for Lahm should narrow.
Ever since the arrival of Ribery and Robben, Bayern’s offense has been very wing-focused and lots of shots have been created by individual actions of these players. So while Bayern appears to be wing-dependent, this stat says otherwise. In context to other teams, Bayern is not so much dependent on their wings. Actually, the overall balance of attacks is very good. 35 % of attacks are carried out on the left wing, 34 % are initiated on the right wing and the remaining 31 % are executed through the middle. This makes Bayern quite unpredictable.
So while Bayern doesn’t have a low attack percentage on their wings, the distribution is not as top-heavy as at other teams, where often one especially good winger has to carry the team’s offense. It will still be a challenging task for Ancelotti to find solutions if the wingers are marked out of the game. Maybe the 5-4-1 system that Germany used in during the European Championship match versus Italy could be a possibility to increase attacking through the middle while still having sufficient wing support.
The original idea to this article belongs to Danny Kelly from “The Ringer” who wrote The NFL Is Weird.