This weekend’s Bundesliga action saw the return of a much sought after title race in the German top flight as Bayern Munich lost and, for what seems like the first time this season, the teams around them actually took advantage of it by winning their own respective game.
Victories for RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg now means there are just seven points between first and fourth place in the Bundesliga. And, crucially, Julian Nageslmann’s young contenders are just two points off Hansi Flick’s perennial champions.
As such, there was plenty of interesting data to look through over the course of the nine matches. So let’s get started.
No Müller, no party
We can’t go anywhere until we first address the biggest news of the weekend: Bayern Munich losing. Although Adi Hütter’s side probably deserved all three points, Saturday’s showdown was undoubtedly a game of two halves. Please pardon the tired cliche.
Frankfurt scored twice in a first half that they unquestionably dominated and then Bayern pulled one back when they threw Leon Goretzka on at half time and wrestled back control of the game. But Flick’s side were unable to snatch a late draw or even push on for a winner because they didn’t have Thomas Müller.
While Robert Lewandowski wins the awards and the younger players garner the attention, Müller has been absolutely pivotal to Bayern grinding out results this season. Five of the forward’s 13 goals this season have come after the 60th minute as have four of his 14 assists.
Add three more assists that have come in the dying moments of the first half this season and you’re looking at a player that seems to specialise in scoring or creating goals when it really matters.
On Saturday Flick had to turn to Maxim Choupo-Moting to play in the No.10 position and it didn’t work at all. Bayern may have the biggest and most talented squad in the Bundesliga but they still don’t have proper cover for Müller and they’ve undoubtedly struggled without him.
Haaland and Sancho pull Dortmund forward
I know ‘good players win games for their team’ is hardly the hottest take in the world but the way Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho are playing right now for Borussia Dortmund is really quite incredible.
In the club’s last 11 games in all competitions the pair have combined to create 16 goals and a further nine assists. In the last week alone the forward duo have demolished Sevilla and Schalke and are showing no signs of slowing down.
Intriguingly, this has played out on the pitch by clearly underlining what parts of Edin Terzic’s side work and which definitely don’t. Despite Haaland and Sancho’s best efforts up one end of the pitch, Dortmund have still conceded 17 goals in those 11 games and, as a result, have only won six of them.
Even though Dortmund’s older (and therefore more experienced) players tend to be their defensive ones - Roman Burki, Mats Hummels, Emre Can, Thomas Delaney, etc. - the actual leaders in this team and the ones trying to win games each week are their young attackers.
Lacroix at the heart of Wolfsburg's rise
Only Frankfurt have won more points in the Bundesliga over the last 10 matchdays than Bayern Munich but Wolfsburg sit just one point behind the German champions and are undoubtedly one of the most impressive teams in the division right now.
Oliver Glasner has a number of attacking players to call upon each week. Wout Weghorst is undoubtedly one of the most effective strikers in the Bundesliga this season, while wide players Renato Steffen and Ridle Baku are usually a joy to watch every weekend. Add an in-form Max Arnold to the mix and you have a really impressive, attacking unit.
However, it is on solid defensive foundations that Glasner has built a team that are now pushing all aside from a top four spot. And, amongst the usual Bundesliga faces of Koen Casteels and John Brooks, it’s young central defender Maxence Lacroix that undoubtedly looks like the youthful drive that is ensuring the Wolves haven’t lost a match since January 3.
In this season’s Bundesliga, Lacroix sits tenth among the league’s central defenders with an average player rating of 6.8. Although he isn’t as physical as Brooks, he’s still currently sixth in the division for interceptions per 90 minutes. His technical skills on the ball have him sitting 10th (among other central defenders) for successful long balls per game and 12th for dribbles per game. And only three central defenders have picked up more FootballCritic man of the match awards than the 20-year-old defender.
If - or rather when - Wolfsburg finish in the top four in May the credit will undoubtedly go to the manager and his attacking stars, but Lacroix will undoubtedly deserves just as much credit for helping his team maintain what is currently the second best defence in the division.
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