Finding the best full-backs in Bundesliga – data analysis
Last week, the first data analysis of this series got published in which we looked at the most interesting centre-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 full-backs 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 full-backs, but also wing-backs who 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 full-backs 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 full-back can carry the ball into more advanced areas. Progressive passes can give us an idea of how often player tries advanced solutions.
Canadian sensation Alphonso Davies leads the full-backs in progressive runs with 4 runs per game and also has 8.54 progressive passes per game. The 18-year-old has become a standout player for Bayern Munich this season, filling in for David Alaba on the left-hand side who has shifted into centre-back.
His Bayern teammate Benjamin Pavard has the most progressive passes per game with 12.82, which comes as no surprise as the centre-back by trade is a great ball-playing defender. However, the French international slightly lacks in terms of progressive runs per 90 with 1.69 given that he plays a more defensive role compared to Davies.
25-year-old Benno Schmitz is extremely close to Pavard in terms of progressive passes per game with a value of 12.8 and also has a similar value for progressive runs per game with 1.4. The German defender plays for FC Köln and has only played 900 minutes this campaign at both left and right-back.
There are a couple of interesting players to look at such as Jamilu Collins who plays for SC Paderborn. The 25-year-old has an impressive combination of progressive runs and passes per game with 2.71 runs per game and 10.88 passes per game. The Nigerian international was signed on a free and has contributed to three goals from left-back this season.
Noah Katterbach is a 19-year-old left-back for Köln and has similar statistics to that of his teammate Schmitz. The defender has 12.27 progressive passes per game and 1.56 progressive runs per 90.
The ability to deliver quality balls into the box, whether it’s a normal cross or a floor cross, is a crucial asset for a modern-day full-back.
RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg leads the full-backs in crossing accuracy with 44.44% but only attempts 1.23 crosses per game. Stephan Lichtsteiner has similar numbers, attempting 1.78 crosses per game with an accuracy of 44%.
Left-back Niko Gießelmann plays for Fortuna Düsseldorf and has 2.43 crosses per game with an accuracy of 44.19%. Benno Schmitz also has similar numbers with 2.3 crosses per game with an accuracy of 43.48%.
The player that stands out the most is Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Stefan Lainer. The Austrian right-back has a high cross accuracy of 43.62% but attempts significantly more crosses per game than the aforementioned players with 4.17 crosses per game.
Defenders such as Daniel Brosinski, Kevin Mbabu and Alphonso Davies also have promising numbers in this department.
As much as full-backs need to be great in the attacking end, their main job is to help protect the team on the defensive side. 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 on the player’s ability to contribute defensively and is reflects 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.
Paderborn’s Jamilu Collins is second in successful defensive actions per 90 with 13.68 and is third in interceptions with 9.76. He also has a good percentage of winning duels with 62.5%.
Maximilian Mittelstädt also has extremely high statistics in this area. The Hertha BSC left-back has 13.23 successful defensive actions per game and intercepts the ball 9.61 times.
The leader in the defensive department is Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender. This should come as no surprise given that German international was a centre-back but under Peter Bosz, he has featured exclusively as a right-back. The 30-year-old has the highest successful defensive actions per 90 with 13.89 and interceptions with 10.37.
Alphonso Davies continues to show great statistics as he has 10.16 interceptions along with 11.56 successful defensive actions per game.
Nordi Mukiele, Laurent Jans and Ramy Bensebaini all have similar numbers that are very good. They each win over 65% of their defensive duels with Mukiele leading the full-backs with an incredible 77.53% win rate. Their successful defensive actions per game are between 11.9 and 12.6 and their interceptions statistics are between 7.5 and 8.4.
We have already looked at the full-backs’ ability to deliver good crosses into the box. To further investigate their attacking prowess, we are looking at their deep completed crosses and final third passes per game as well as their expected assists. This is all so that we have an insight into the impact that the full-backs have on their respective teams’ goal contribution per game. Gold dots show players that have a low xA with purple showcasing the opposite.
Mbabu, Lainer and Brosinski are the only players above 1.4 deep completed crosses per game, which comes as little surprise given the fact that they were the leaders in crosses per game. However, their final third passes per game range from 4.6 to 7.3.
Meanwhile, Pavard, Katterbach and Schmitz are the leaders in final third passes per game and all have over 8.5 passes per game with Schmitz comfortably ahead of the rest with 10.2 passes per game. These three players all profiled well in the progressive passes category as well. However, they all lack in deep completed crosses as none of them have over one cross completed. They are also on the lower end of the expected assists scale.
Jamilu Collins is also similar to the players mentioned before as he has 7.26 passes in the final third per game but has an extremely low number of deep completed crosses per game with 0.28.
Now, we will evaluate all the players we mentioned in the sections above. The table below compares players we highlighted in all the metrics we evaluated. This table will help us narrow the list from eight to three players who are showing a lot of promise. It will be extremely difficult to find players who are all-around full-backs that are under the radar or quite young.
Katterbach will miss out in the final list because he ranks on the bottom for most categories apart from passing. However, he is only 19-years-old so definitely can improve in those areas. Schmitz is in a similar predicament as he ranks highest in the passing categories and second on crossing accuracy but lacks everywhere else.
Veteran defender Brosinski is the best at crossing in this group but is very poor defensively, which means he won’t make the cut.
Davies ranks highly throughout apart from progressive passing, which can be due to his role and positioning in Bayern’s build-up and attacking play.
22-year-old Mukiele is showing great potential and has already contributed to five goals this season. He ranks quite low on most of the categories but his numbers are still good and with age on his side, he can progress to become a great player in the future.
Wolfsburg defender Mbabu is impressive in almost every statistic. However, the Swiss right-back is the worst passer out of the selected players. The pacey defender does bring up some issues in terms of minutes played, just playing over 900 minutes. This is down to Wolfsburg preferring to play a three-man defence and a team could swoop for Mbabu and get the best out of him. However, the lack of minutes does mean he does just miss the cut.
While each player who was mentioned just before have their strengths and can certainly be looked as potential bargains, there are a few players that have caught the eye. It should be noted that no player in this is a perfect defender as each full-back has an area in their game that could be improved on. So, the players that should be further scouted are:
Alphonso Davies – We start with one of the most exciting talents in world football who has had an unbelievable breakout season in both the Bundesliga and Champions League under Hansi Flick. Normally, we like to exclude players who are highly touted but Davies deserves special recognition since he is showing superstar potential at just 19-years-old. The left midfielder turned full-back ranks in the top half of six of the eight categories, leading in both progressive runs and interceptions. This speaks to his strengths in dribbling, defensive intelligence and pace in both attacking and defensive phases. With his performances this campaign, Bayern were quick to lock him down to a new contract and will look to him as the heir to David Alaba.
Jamilu Collins – Despite Paderborn being bottom of the Bundesliga, they have a great player in Collins. The Nigerian international is in the top four for every category apart from crossing where he is bottom. His numbers are really good in the defensive department and at just 25-years-old, he is just entering his prime and could be a great pick-up for a Bundesliga side challenging in the top half. Transfermarkt only values him just above £2m and thus, would be a superb bargain if a club were to get him for a price similar to the evaluation. Further scouting will help see why Collins is struggling to deliver great crosses at a good rate.
Stefan Lainer – While Borussia Mönchengladbach are a team that are on the rise and have had a lot of notoriety this season, Lainer has gone under the radar somewhat. He is a solid right-back who has great statistics in some areas and is a decent all-around player. However, the defender does leave a lot to be desired defensively and passing wise. He has a great debut campaign for die Fohlen and his four-goal contribution has helped Marco Rose’s side be in the hunt for a Champions League place. Further scouting will help to determine whether his struggles defensively are an issue that he needs to work on, or whether it is an issue with his role in Rose’s system.
While plenty of football fans know about the likes of Alphonso Davies and David Alaba, the Bundesliga do have several players that, when you scratch the surface, could potentially be bargain signings and great players in the future. Collins, Lainer and players such as Mbabu could become some of the best players in their position in the league if given the right tools to succeed and improve.
Check out the previous part of this series, where we looked at central defenders:
Part One: Finding the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga – data analysis