Finding the best central midfielders in Bundesliga – data analysis
Last week, the first data analysis of this series got published in which we looked at the most interesting full-backs that play in the Bundesliga. In this week’s analysis, the task will be to use data and statistics to find some of the best and most undervalued central midfielders in Germany’s top division.
Hopefully, we will find players who are showing good potential to succeed in the future given the Bundesliga clubs’ willingness to promote and develop youth players. This data analysis includes midfielders who have either played as central or as defensive midfielders and have played a minimum of 850 minutes in the league this season. In the end, this analysis will produce a list of some of the most interesting central midfielders in the league who have the potential to make a step forward in their career and perhaps don’t get enough recognition.
Progressive runs and passes
The first section of this data analysis consists of the player’s ability to make progressions down the field either with a pass or a run. Progressive runs are a good indicator of whether a midfielder can carry the ball into more advanced areas. Progressive passes can give us an idea of how often player tries advanced solutions.
Spanish metronome Thiago Alcantara leads the midfielders in progressive passes with 13.62 per game. The midfielder has become a standout player for Bayern Munich this season, helping the team rediscover its form under Hansi Flick.
The leader in progressive runs is Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt with 1.95 runs per game. It should be noted that Brandt does often play as either an attacking midfielder or winger so his numbers will be slightly inflated. He has a decent value of 7.51 progressive passes per game.
A player who shines in this list is Kerem Demirbay. The 26-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player who ranks highly in both progressive passes and runs. He has 10.15 progressive passes and 1.69 progressive runs per game.
His teammate Charles Aránguiz also ranks highly in progressive passing. He is only one of two players to have more than 11 progressive passes per game, Thiago being the other, with a value of 11.09. He does however only make 0.48 progressive runs per game.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Sebastian Rode has an impressive 1.8 progressive runs per game despite being a defensive midfielder. He does lack in progressive passes per game with only 5.32.
It is an important aspect for midfielders to be able to contribute on the defensive end, especially for players playing much deeper. In order to quantify their ability, the statistics we are using are their successful defensive actions per 90 and PAdj interceptions (possession adjusted). Those metrics are relevant because they look more at the player’s ability to contribute defensively and reflect less on how their respective teams are set up. In addition to that, we have included the percentage of defensive duels they have won to see their ability to win the ball or stop an attack. Blue dots indicate a lower percentage of wins in their defensive duels and red dots show players who win more defensive duels.
Of course, defensive midfielders will shine in this category and thus, it comes as no surprise that Schalke 04 midfielder Omar Mascarell leads in both successful defensive actions per game (12.59) and interceptions (9.28). He also wins a high amount of duels with a win percentage of 63.33%.
There are four other players who have more than 12 successful defensive actions per game and they are Konrad Laimer, Christoph Kramer, Ellyes Skhiri and Nicolas Höfler. The players listed are also ordered from the ones making the least interceptions to the most and it ranges from 6.3 to 8.1.
The only player mentioned in the progressive runs and passes section that has a high defensive output is Thiago, who is above average in the categories with 9.88 successful defensive actions and 7.8 interceptions per game. Aránguiz has a higher than average interceptions value with 7.18 but lacks in successful defensive actions per game with only 8.51. However, both players have a high percentage in defensive duels won.
We have already looked at the midfielders’ ability to pass the ball forward. To further investigate their attacking prowess, we are looking at their deep completions and final third passes per game. This is all so that we have an insight into the impact that the midfielders have on their respective teams’ goal contribution per game.
The players mentioned in the progressive passing category once again shine here, with Thiago and Aránguiz the only two players above 11 final third passes per game – 13.57 and 11.03 respectively. Both are just above average in deep completions with 1.33 and 0.96 respectively.
Thomas Müller leads the midfielders in deep completions (3.39) but this should be taken with a pinch of salt given that under Flick, he has predominantly featured as an attacking midfielder or a winger. The same goes for Brandt who also has a high deep completions value per game at 2.58.
Werder Bremen’s Maximillian Eggestein is the only other player with a deep completion value higher than 1.5 with a value of 1.6 deep completions per game. The 23-year-old is slightly below average in final third passes with 5.97.
There are plenty of players around the eight to nine final third passes per game mark including Demirbay (8.77), Pierre Kunde (8.31) and Nuri Şahin (8.29). The latter two players have not been mentioned yet but do rank well in the other categories for players who play for relegation-threatened sides such as Mainz 05 and Werder Bremen. Laimer is just below eight final third passes per game with a value of 7.85.
Now, we will evaluate the best players we mentioned in the sections above who are under the radar or show promise. Therefore, the likes of Thiago will not be included given that he plays for Bayern and is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. It should be noted that it will be extremely difficult to find players who are all-around midfielders that are under the radar or quite young.
Konrad Laimer – The 22-year-old midfielder is a crucial player in Julian Nagelsmann’s system for RB Leipzig. Out of the chosen players, he is one of the most complete players as we have already highlighted his prowess defensively in terms of his high successful defensive actions per game (12.33). He also has good passing numbers with more than seven progressive and final third passes per game as well as 16.4 forward passes per game. His 2.67 dribbles per game also help him get out of pressing situations. With the Austrian international being quite young, top clubs should look at his ability and potential since he already offers good output in both attack and defence.
Kerem Demirbay – We have already mentioned the German international’s high progressive and final third passing numbers, and he continues to shine in passing when looking at his 18.23 forward passes per game. His high dribbling numbers (2.54) and passes into the penalty area (2.85) help him have a great impact in Leverkusen’s attack. This is evidenced by his 0.23 xA per game, which is great for a midfielder who plays in both central and defensive midfield. Like Laimer, he offers a great value already and can play the ‘6’ role very well, which is shown by the statistics.
Charles Aránguiz – Demirbay’s teammate Aránguiz offers a slightly different package given that he plays a different role for Peter Bosz’s side. His role is to progress the play and protect the defence, which comes up in the numbers. This is shown by his low progressive runs per game, but high values in all passing categories bar passes into the penalty area. As mentioned previously, he has a high interception value (7.18) but his 8.51 successful defensive actions per game is a place for improvement. The 31-year-old could have been a good back-up for top teams especially considering his contract was running out. However, with Bayern Munich registering interest, Leverkusen were able to lock the midfielder down on a three-year deal that could help Bosz’s side push for a top-four finish in the Bundesliga in the upcoming seasons.
Pierre Kunde – Mainz midfielder Kunde is profiling well in the statistical categories, all at the age of 24. The Cameroon international has better than average successful defensive actions per game with a value of 9.86 but more than makes up for it with a superb 7.46 possession adjusted interception value. The former Atlético Madrid man has a decent frame as he stands at 1.8m tall but it doesn’t affect his great dribbling, which he attempts 2.73 per game. He has good progressive runs and passing numbers with 1.49 and 8.49 per game respectively. Accompany that with 15.19 forward passes, there is a potential steal here for someone, especially considering that he plays for a team near the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Maximillian Eggestein – The last choice was between Bremen teammates Sahin and Eggestein. Despite the former’s good defensive numbers, we opted to go for the younger German midfielder. The 23-year-old lacks defensively with below par 4.84 interceptions and 7.95 successful defensive actions per game. Further scouting will detail whether that is a role issue or a skill issue. He makes up for this with his good passing and attacking output. He has numbers that stack up similarly to Laimer in progressive runs and passing per game – 1.34 and 7.39 respectively. As mentioned before, he has good numbers in deep completions albeit with less than average final third passing numbers. Only Demirbay has more passes into the penalty box out of the five players highlighted with Eggestein having a value of 2.51 passes per game.
So now we have a small shortlist of players that have shown either good potential or great output and they deserve to be scouted further to see where their strengths and weaknesses are on the pitch. As we have seen, the Bundesliga have some great players that are flying under the radar for the common fan, albeit the likes of Laimer and Demirbay are somewhat well known already. However, Kunde looks like a steal and Eggestein is showing decent potential and both could elevate their games if given the right environment and coaching.
Check out the previous two parts of this series, where we looked at central defenders and full-backs:
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