Bayern Munich have no doubt been the most dominant side in the Bundesliga in the last decade, having won eight league titles, along with many other honours in the domestic competitions as well as two Champions league titles. It’s clear that Bayern have stamped their seal of dominance for years and years to come, making it harder for other teams to cope given their smart management, a brilliant academy that has regularly produced stars like David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and Phillip Lahm, as well as an excellent scouting system.
In this data analysis, we would attempt to use data and statistics to create a team of the best Bundesliga players, excluding the Bayern players that could potentially offer themselves as major rivals to the German powerhouses and perhaps even beat them. The team’s structure will be decided on the basis of the formations and tactics most commonly utilised by coach Hansi Flick’s side making use of statistics and data extensively.
Tactics and Formations used
Bayern predominantly lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Below, we can see their lineup from their Champions League game against Chelsea, which shows their most frequently used lineup along with the key players that form that system. We can see that the back four consists of the centre-backs Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba, with Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard as the fullbacks. Joshua Kimmich forms a double pivot together alongside Leon Goretzka just in front of the backline. Just behind striker Robert Lewandowski, Flick prefers to line up Thomas Müller, who has thrived in his system as a playmaker. Bayern aren’t short of attacking options- their wingers include Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman forming a devastating front three with Lewandowski upfront.
When in possession of the ball, Bayern’s full-backs Davies and Pavard will drive higher up the pitch and provide width on the flanks, especially Davies who is often known to join build-up and consequently assumes a higher role whilst the Frenchman Pavard prefers to stay behind sometimes forming a back three with Boateng and Alaba. Wingers Gnabry and often remain inside and occupy the half-spaces. Build up typically takes place only with the two centre-backs. Though this is subject to change depending on the opposition, their overall goal to penetrate the opposition lines in central areas remains the same.
Having understood Bayern’s attacking shape, the formation chosen for this analysis would be the narrow 4-2-3-1 which allows for a patient and controlled positional play. The analysis would use data from all Bundesliga players, not including Bayern’s for every position in order to arrive at those that are the best suited for the role, in each position. Looking at Bayern’s most used formations and dynamics will allow us to create a strategy, to define our formation and look for players that have the right attributes for each given role – goalkeepers, centre-backs, wing-backs, central and defensive midfielders, attacking midfielders, wingers and finally the striker. As an additional filter, we will consider players with only over 800 minutes completed to eliminate skewed results.
This position will typically have a fewer bracket of players to choose from but nonetheless forms an important part of the analysis.
Two scatter plots were created one with goals conceded and xG against in each axis, and the other scatter plot with save% and shots against on both axes. In the first plot, we notice eight major names highlighted in blue- Alexander Schwolow, Kevin Trapp, Zack Steffen, Roman Burki, Alexander Nübel, Peter Gulasci, Robin Zentner, and Yann Sommer. It is clear that these players have kept the number of conceded goals below the expected goals indicating that they are indeed reliable and consistent goalkeepers. The second graph singles out Yann Sommer Alexander Schwollow, Peter Gulasci, and Hradecky.
Final pick– Alexander Schwolow stands out well above the rest in both aspects of the analysis. With a 73.77% save % in the Bundesliga, he ranks only second to Yann Sommer. He was also ranked sixth for goals against per 90 minutes with a low 1.38. The club he plays for, Hertha Berlin, conceded 59 goals in the Bundesliga last season, 9th in the league. We can assume that Schwolow is an efficient goalkeeper because according to the scatter plot, the number of goals he actually concedes is below the goals that are expected to be scored against him and he is the best when it comes to that.
The quality of centre-backs in the team will be a major factor to balance the Bayern attack. Fortunately, the Bundesliga has a plethora of top-quality centre-backs to choose from. We started by looking at the defensive statistics of centre-backs so we could create a shortlist, those are the most important metrics for this position and, in order to compare players, we plotted possession adjusted interceptions against defensive duels per 90. Possession adjusted interceptions is a great metric to outline the difference in defensive metrics between players that play in teams with more and less possession during games.
Next, aerial duels won (%) and defensive duels won (%) on both axes was plotted to understand how good our player is both in grounded duels as well winning possession of the ball in the air. Besides being an efficient defender of the ball and be able to halt opposition attacks, the next requirement of our centre-backs is to be a good ball-player, i.e be able to progress the ball and participate in build-up play by distributing the ball vertically as well as diagonally, as they will form the first line of attack in that moment of the game. Having filtered from each of the three scatter plots, eight names stood out against the rest
Dayot Upamecano: The 21- year old young Frenchman has cemented his place as one of Europe’s best young centre-backs after a prolific Bundesliga campaign, having also gone far into the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League last season. He ranks high in the defensive metrics; he wins 76.65% of his defensive duels, 62.96% of aerial duels, ranking 1st and 6th in both. His passing numbers are equally impressive with almost 69.05 passes per 90 averaging a 90% completion rate and 11.95 progressive passes per game placing him 3rd in our shortlist of players.
Jonathan Tah: The 24- year old German centre-back may have plateaued in terms of his performances in the past few seasons but continues to be among the best in the Bundesliga. Tah ranked 1st on our shortlist in both Aerial duels and progressive passing ability with a 70.8% aerial win% and over 12.75 progressive passes per game. He also boasts a 91% passing accuracy.
Wing-backs are a vital position in our side as they are required to provide stability at the back to be able to cope with Bayern’s pacy forwards but also be able to progress forward build-up play and launch attacks.
Again, we started with the defensive statistics to create the shortlist because we know that players in this position need to be able and willing to defend, so that the team stays balanced. We then also filtered players to only show players who average 1.5 progressive runs per 90, leaving us with players that demonstrate increasing willingness to participate and progress an attack.
We arrived at six key players; right backs Kevin Mbabu, Stefan Lainer, and Mitchell Weiser and left-backs Ramy Bensebaini, Marcel Halstenburg and Wendell. Having outlined their defensive abilities, we must now filter them according to how efficient they in progressing play and in attack. Crosses deep crosses per 90 and passes into the penalty are were measured for each of the full-backs.
Right-back – Kevin Mbabu: The Swiss right-back has been a mainstay in the Wolfsburg backline and completes both his defensive and attacking duties well. He has a 60.34% defensive duel win% and completes 2.7 deep completed crosses per 90 with 4.25 and 1.25 respectively. He is second on the list for passes into the penalty area, which shows he is extremely active around the penalty area as well.
Left-back – Marcel Halstenburg: The 29-year old full-back playing for Leipzig stood out against the rest of our selected left-backs in contention. He has impressive numbers in both the defensive and attacking phases of the game. The German has a 61% defensive duel win% and 1.6 crosses per 90 game to his name. He ranks fourth on our list for deep completed crosses averaging almost 0.7 per game.
Bayern traditionally opt for a double pivot and the Thiago Alcântara-Joshua Kimmich duo has been incredibly effective since Hansi Flick’s appointment, prior to the Spaniard leaving for Liverpool. We would, as a result, require two midfielders that are capable of playing in a deep role – able to defend as well as progress attacks and be a constant cog in the build-up. Additionally, both should possess great passing ability.
We first took a look at successful defensive actions and successful offensive actions so we could narrow our choices and create our shortlist containing some players with a more defensive profile and some with a more attacking profile. The second scatter plot shows the defensive profile of the midfielders we are looking for. The graphic was also filtered to show players with a pass accuracy above 80%.
After obtaining our shortlist, we compared the defensive statistics of the eight players in the shortlist with defensive duels won per 90, aerial duels won per 90 and PAdj interceptions per 90 being the metrics used.
Looking at the offensive contribution and passing stats from the shortlisted players will allow us to make our final choices for our midfield duo. We used progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90 to determine the players’ ball progression abilities, while smart passes per 90 and chance creation contribution per 90 show us the ability of the players to break lines and create chances.
Final choice –
Konrad Laimer: The young German has arguably been one of the best defensive midfielders in the Bundesliga last year. Laimer stands out way against the others with a whopping 11.92 defensive duels per 90 in addition to around 2 aerial duels per 90. He is a proficient passer and is able to progress play well with his passing range with 8 progressive passes per 90 ranking 2nd on the shortlist of players. Besides, he also makes close to 1.6 progressive runs per 90. He would no doubt prove to be solid in a double-pivot.
Kerem Demirbay: The 27-year old German possesses a great mold of a midfielder proficient in the defensive department as well as the offensive department. Demirbay averages a staggering 12 progressive passes per 90 and around 1.7 progressive runs per 90, ranking first and second on our list of players. It is clear that he would be able to link both the defensive lines and the attacking lines well with his playmaking.
Thomas Müller has an extremely unique role at Bayern Munich. He is nowhere close to being a traditional number 10, but he ability to find space and operate between the lines has been world-class for many years. As such, he is able to get a large number of assists and create chances aplenty while also having something to show on the scoresheets.
To find such a midfielder for ourselves, we started by plotting the number of Assists per 90 and xA (expected assists) per 90 in a graphic so that we could see which players contributed more to chances creation. Next, to highlight the player’s activity near the penalty area, we put touches in the box per 90 against shots per 90
Final Choice –
Marco Reus: Little needs to be said about the quality that the German possesses. The Borussia Dortmund mainstay stands out well against the rest in both the departments and it would even make sense given his outstanding attacking abilities in recent years. Reus would fill the role of the attacking midfielder in our team more than sufficiently.
The primary job of a winger is to score and create on a regular basis. This will be even more important given our selected wingers will be tasked with exploiting the wide spaces left by Bayern’s full-backs and the usual high line. They are thus required to be players with great pace and acceleration besides being someone with great goalscoring abilities to make the most out of the chances that will be made available to them.
In order to obtain our shortlist, two scatter plots were created; one that should ideally underscore the winger’s creativity specifically passes to the penalty area per
90 vs crosses per 90 in addition to their expected goals (xG) per 90 vs expected assists (xA) per 90.
With the shortlist complete with 7 prospective players, we will further filter to find our ideal left winger and right winger. For this purpose, stats such as their passing and creativity around the box were further highlighted.
Left Winger- Christopher Nkunku: The 22-year old Frenchman is an extremely versatile winger. With the ability to play anywhere in the front line it was a no-brainer for him to be included as the left-winger of the team. Nkunku clearly demonstrates some impressive numbers when it comes to creativity and attacking play and shines well against the rest of the wingers in three out of four possible departments.
Right Winger- Jadon Sancho: The 20-year old English winger is fresh off another successful season at Borussia Dortmund. Sancho, again, is also someone very in-phase with the way Borussia Dortmund attack. He averages more than three deep completions per game and his passing accuracy when it comes to passes into the penalty area is close to 67%.
The role of a forward in this team will be pivotal in order to counter Bayern’s high output. The player needs to be able to get on the scoresheet on a regular basis whilst being dynamic enough that he can exploit Bayern’s high line to run in behind and finish chances at will. In order to obtain our shortlist, we created a scatter plot with xG and non-penalty goals plotted against one another so we could have a view of the number of goals scored versus the expected goals.
After obtaining the shortlist, we compared the player’s goal conversion and chance contribution stats, also including touches in the penalty area per 90 to see which players are able to receive the ball close to the goal.
Final choice –
Erling Haland: Arguably the breakout star of the 2019/20 European season, Erling Haland’s move from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund was lauded. Haland’s swift movement and ability as a target man allow him to score a large number of goals with increasing accuracy. He boasts a 40% goal conversion rate, the best on our shortlist, and also dominates when it comes to touches in the box per game.
This analysis allowed us to create and assemble a team with the best players of the Bundesliga in each position, that would certainly do well in the league. It remains a question to be answered whether they would go on and perhaps even beat Bayern to the title but nonetheless, it is a very strong team player for player. These players passed the data analysis test and would no doubt pass the eye-test on any given day as well. It would certainly be a great contest of football between the sides.