Few full-backs have asserted their dominance over a continued period in the German Bundesliga like Augsburg’s Phillip Max has over the last three seasons. The 26-year old German has racked up over 14 goals and 20 assists in the Bundesliga in the last 3 years. Max has been a regular feature in Augsburg’s league games this season; having started 31 times out of a total 34 matches and has made over 145 appearances for the German club. Augsburg are currently languishing in the bottom half of the league but has been their standout player all season.
Max was handed his senior debut by Schalke in a match against Borussia Dortmund in March 2014, having clearly benefitted from the academy that helped nurture stellar talents like Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler. In the 2017/18 season of the Bundesliga, he became the first defender since data collection began in 1993 to record 12 or more assists in a single campaign- 13 in total, which was more than the likes of Bayern Munich attacking midfielder James Rodriguez and Leon Bailey to name a few. His other notable achievements include helping Germany win silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In this tactical analysis, we will be assessing Phillip Max’s strengths and weaknesses and use this scout report to explore what makes the make-shift left-back one of the best in his position in the Bundesliga.
Phillip Max is an immensely versatile player; having shown mastery along the entire left side of the pitch and even possesses the positional flexibility to play as an interior at times. He operates mainly as a left-back and enjoys marauding down the flank, and at times even as a left-winger in Augsburg’s 4-4-2-1. He has been Augsburg’s main goalscoring threat having been involved in almost 18% of their goals in the league, this season being his best in terms of goal-scoring output. He has scored 8 and assisted 6 times which are attacking numbers full-backs dream most certainly dream of. The free role and the license to push forward given to him by manager Heiko Herrlich has returned many dividends.
Today’s role of a full-back has been highly revolutionized in recent years, as now they can have a large offensive output whilst not gambling on their priority which is defending. Max can play a number of different roles for Augsburg, clearly depicted by his season heatmap from the Bundesliga. As a modern wing-back, he performs both his defensive and attacking duties well. He is commonly seen advancing forward in the left half-space to provide crosses from the edge of the box or have a shot on goal himself. Max is 7th in the total number of shots taken this season at 31, with 0.98 per game. He would drift inwards into midfield to link up with the midfielder or provide a weighted through ball to the forward making a run. He forces the defence to spread out wide, often leaving the team vulnerable to the opponent’s counter-attack but also pushes forward on the left touch lines allowing his teammates more freedom in an attack. Max loves sitting back and helping the team ward off build-ups and incoming attacks as well.
What is perhaps his most effective position in terms of goal-scoring threat is as an out and out left-winger. Max assumes such an advanced position on the pitch that he can be termed as a wide-forward, from which position he has 5 goals and 1 assist. He is free to make overlapping runs and link-up in midfield as well.
Augsburg use a compact 4-4-1-1 formation but they drop this to allow Max to operate in an advanced role, turning it into a 3-4-3 with 3 at the back.
Attacking and transitions
Let’s talk about Max’s greatest attribute as a player; his attacking prowess. Max is a constant component in Augsburg’s attacking returns; he currently sits 2nd on Augsburg’s goals and accounts directly for 18% of their goals scored. He is 1st on the number of goals scored by a full-back in the Bundesliga (8) and is also ranked 8th in the xG charts for full-backs in the league. Max is an efficient assists provider as well; he sits 6th in the most assists provided by a full-back in the league (6) and has as impressive xA of 6.8 which is 5th best in the Bundesliga this season.
Having an attack-oriented mindset that is second to none, Max is highly involved in Augsburg’s output and is an excellent finisher. He has an impressive deep-completion rate of 0.95 per 90, i.e he is often involved in key playmaking movements of the team in the final third of the pitch. This shows just how much of a forward-thinking profile he is.
The image indicates that he is rarely dispossessed and his ball-retention skills are top-notch. Once he has possession of the ball he would quickly advance forward whether it is dribbling or laying it off to a teammate, making use of his quick acceleration which comes in handy when he needs to begin an attacking movement or trackback to stop counter-attacks.
Max has been blessed with impeccable technical ability, power, and aggression, which he often puts on display as a winger. With close to almost an 80% dribbling accuracy this season, he can drive forward at will whereas his pace on the ball and acceleration to beat the man in 1-v-1’s is also noteworthy. His 1.26 progressive runs per game also indicate his dribbling intelligence. Having drawn opponent players towards him, as a result, creates space for his teammates to exploit and pass to. He widely utilizes skills like step-overs and feints to help him in an attacking situation. Max is thus the prime linker of Augsburg’s defensive and attacking lines. When not in possession, his off-the-ball movement is top-notch; continuously making overlapping and underlapping runs in the presence of a midfielder or winger. When at a certain point on the field which is usually between the half-space and final third, he can be seen providing a laser-guided cross- arguably the most potent weapon in his arsenal. Consequently, either a flighted or grounded through ball is utilized, often splitting the lines with ease and creating real goal-scoring opportunities.
Max is not a great passer of the ball, having a pass accuracy of only 67% and more often than not gets caught out attempting long passes. His judging of passing channels is poor and picking out a pass is limited. He is ranked 9th in both key passes and progressive passes this season, which is fair; his ball-carrying exploits in the middle is great and because his final delivery is often a through ball that leads to chance-creation. In saying that, his crossing and set-piece ability is exceptional and more than make up for his limited defensive contribution. Interestingly, Phillip played as a striker early in his days and some of the traits in his repertoire really point to that too.
It must also be said that Max, even in his role of an inside forward, is not a traditional winger; meaning that he prefers to either run into outside the 18-yard box on the left side or cross the ball into the penalty area. He does not like cutting in to make an attacking movement.
As good a defender that he is, it’s really going forward that Max is able to showcase his abilities. His dynamism all along the left side is the spark that drives Augsburg forward and has often been likened to former Manchester City left-back Aleksander Kolarov.
Max is a fairly solid defender, which even given his stellar attacking ventures should not be overlooked. Standing at 1.78 meters in height, Max has a 48% aerial win percentage which is ordinary but fair for a full-back focused on attack. His 1.78 tackles per 90 shows that he does not typically commit tackles. Max is comfortable covering his team’s defensive lines even higher up the pitch, particularly the left-half space, and is a sound man-marker. He is capable of defending in 1-v-1 situations and wins the ball back, evident by his 7.59 defensive actions per 90.
He is an astute presser whilst not in possession and his high work rate enables him to dispossess an incoming winger and win the ball back quickly, fizzling away any potential buildup in play. His pressures and interceptions per 90 are equally great- 13.1 and 0.93 which speak volumes of his pressing ability. Max also has an excellent tackling technique which he usually demonstrates while tracking back from a higher line to perform a sliding tackle.
Having such a gifted pace can also prove to be an asset defensively. When not in possession, his pace allows him to run up at an opponent and make a lot of recoveries. He will often press very high up the pitch in the attacking positions and then quickly capitalize on the loss of possession to turn a position of defence into attack within moments.
What can, however, prove to be his undoing could be a simple fact that he is quite one-dimensional. He lacks the decision making and tactical self-awareness in his positioning. This is quite evident in the manner of goals that Augsburg leak- from counter-attacks. Lying so further up in the opponent’s half leaves a massive gap in the team’s left-sided setup and without cover is easy for the opponent to take advantage of.
When higher up the pitch, his pace coupled with his fine dribbling ability provides for moments of unorganized counter attacks to unsettle the opponent and create vital goal-scoring opportunities; spraying the penalty box with a cross, linking-up with a teammate making a forward run or attempting a shot on goal.
Crossing and set-piece ability
Max proves to be an extremely potent weapon on set pieces and crossing, the latter perhaps being the most standout attribute of his game. His crosses completed from the left are at 7.18 per 90 and with 216 crosses to his name, he is ranked 5th in the leader board for most crosses by a player in the Bundesliga this season. A major part of Augsburg’s goals this season have come from set-pieces (6), of which on the delivering end is usually Phillip Max. With the high number of crosses that Max attempts, it comes with no surprise that his accuracy is 37.08. With an average of around 20 crosses per game by the club, Max averages 13 of those, which goes to show just how much the player enjoys crossing.
His power, pace, and technical ability allow him to shove off opponents and glide past them into pockets of space to play in his cross from. This makes him a very efficient wide man-something that also adds another dimension to his position, i.e of an inside-forward. His out-swinging crosses cause problems to the keeper because they arrive high and quick, and he has little time to either commit to claiming the ball or sit back and allow his defenders to deal with it. He is a classic crosser and opts for a combination of short, medium and high crosses, the former two being his preferred choice.
His set-piece ability differentiates him from most full-backs in the Bundesliga this season- Max ranks 2nd in both freekicks per 90 and corners per 90. He makes use of his stellar left foot to deliver perfectly weighted balls from freekicks and corners and his deadball passes are at staggering 14.5 this season. Besides, being the club’s primary set-piece taker commands a great deal of leadership.
Phillip Max, as we have seen from this analysis, is a top player and provides for an extremely solid scout report. The attacking edge he provides his side is a big asset and Augsburg will look to keep him for longer although a move away from the German club seems plausible. The dynamism that Max brings to the table is in sync with coach Heiko Herrlich’s tactics and relates closely with the traditional high pressing and the fast-paced league that the Bundesliga is.
Although very underrated, it goes without a doubt that Max is a top 10 left-back in the world and at the prime age of 26, there is still a long way to go for the german. He most definitely has the calibre to start for the big clubs and play in the UEFA Champions League at some point in his career. Max is yet to feature for Germany too, however, Joachim Loew may look to integrate him into his squad for the upcoming Euros in 2021. He has also been linked with a summer move away to clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, who would want to capitalize on this to strengthen their sticky left-backs spots. Whatever the case may be, the future does look bright for Phillip Max.