Finding Freiburg a replacement for Robin Koch – data analysis
Robin Koch is a 24-year-old German centre-back who joined Leeds United this summer for a fee of £11.7 million, according to Transfermarkt. Whilst it is still very early in his Leeds career and too early to pass judgement on his transition to the Premier League, Koch was one of the top-performing centre-backs outside of the Champions League teams in the Bundesliga last season, and had been linked in the media with both RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich. Therefore it was somewhat of a surprise to see him land at Elland Road, and for such a reasonable price too. Koch was a key part of the Freiburg side last season, acting as a lynchpin in their in possession phase with his ability to switch possession so quickly and accurately, whilst his long passing talent meant he could pick out his forward with well-placed direct passes. Koch can float his passes or drive them at a low trajectory, but his accuracy is consistent regardless, whilst he has the ability to take on these long passes without looking up, instead taking on the pass quickly and catching the opposition off guard.
Koch is tall, standing at 1.91 m, with a lean, but strong build. He is right-footed, but comfortable with his left, and possesses relatively good pace.
His composure in possession, along with his range of passing, puts Koch firmly in the camp of “ball-playing centre-back” and whilst he performs admirably defensively too, it is his contribution to the possession phase where Koch will be missed the most by Freiburg.
The current core of Philipp Lienhart, Manuel Gulde, and Dominique Heintz is still a respectable group, with Lienhart, in particular, likely to succeed Koch and Caglar Soyuncu in moving on to bigger and better things as he continues to grow with more first-team football. However, with Head Coach Christian Streich often using a back three, there is a clear need for some depth in this position. Freiburg have never had the biggest budget and tend to operate in the market by bringing in players relatively cheaply and moving them on for bigger fees should they exceed their expectations. As such this analysis will look at players at a variety of price points, albeit none too expensive for Freiburg, whilst every option will be no older than 23 to optimise the potential to sell them on for more than their current value. Their statistics will be directly compared with Koch’s for context.
To find these alternatives to Robin Koch I have used Total Football Analysis’ xGold system to find players who operate in a similar role with similar traits, whilst the graphics displaying the data have been made by Sathish Prasad VT.
Sam Beukema – Go Ahead Eagles – Market value: £0.24m
The cheapest option whilst potentially one of the most promising as well. Beukema is a dutch centre-back currently playing in the Eerste Divisie with Go Ahead Eagles. At only 21-years-old Beukema is still a youngster; however, he has been involved with the first team at Go Ahead since 2017.
Beukema is undoubtedly ready for the step up to a higher league than the Dutch second tier, and whilst there will be plenty of Eredivisie clubs looking to give him that platform, he has the ability to be nurtured and make an impact overseas too. A move to the Bundesliga wouldn’t be the biggest culture shock for him, whilst Beukema is the epitome of a ball-playing centre-back and a club like Freiburg who values this type of player so highly, on top of developing young talent, would make a lot of sense. Beukema isn’t just someone comfortable in possession in build-up though. He is a truly outstanding defender already, who’s timing and reading of the game is second to none. Beukema will regularly make perfectly-timed last-ditch tackles to cover his teammates, whilst despite his relative inexperience he operates with as much calmness and poise out of possession as he does when on the ball.
Physically he has a similar build to Koch and stands just three centimetres shorter at 1.88m, whilst he is also right-footed.
When we look at these graphs going forward, which will compare Koch to the shortlisted players in different aspects of the game, we will see each player measured against the median of their respective league’s centre-backs. So in this case, Beukema will be measured against other Eerste Divisie centre-backs, whilst Koch against Bundesliga (as these graphs will show last season’s statistics).
We can see that Beukema is similar in possession to Koch, with a high average pass length, whilst he is strong in all aspects, other than in forward pass accuracy, as is Koch. However, this comes from the high number of long progressive passes attempted by each of these players, and, of course, the longer the pass, the less likely it will be accurate. Nevertheless, Beukema’s 58.5% completion on longer passes last season was strong, but even more so when you consider he attempted a whopping 8.64 long passes per 90, which is over three more than Koch attempted.
However, when we look at the attacking effectiveness of their respective passing, it’s clear to see that Koch was the more effective when it came to key passes per 90. Yet, aside from this, we can still see that Beukema is a similar type of player to Koch when it comes to the possession phase.
When a prospective centre-back shows similarities in the possession phase to a more prestigious centre-back, the obvious concern is that these similarities won’t continue in the defensive phase. Fortunately, that is far from the case with Beukema and further goes to highlight the potential of the young dutchman. Although he competed in less aerial duels, we can see that Beukema was as solid defensively in relation to his league peers as Koch was. Koch’s aerial duel win percentage was 59%, whilst he won 69.5% of his defensive duels. Beukema, on the other hand, won 58.3% of his aerial duels, but an incredibly impressive 70.8% of his defensive duels.
Whilst he wouldn’t be ready to come in and start at Freiburg immediately, Beukema’s talent is undeniable, and will undoubtedly be operating in one of Europe’s top leagues in the not too distant future.
Diogo Queiros – Porto – Market value: £2.7m
Quieros is a product of the Porto academy, and whilst he is owned by the Portuguese giants, he is on loan at Familicao this season, after spending last year on loan at Mouscron in Belgium. He enjoyed a successful spell at Mouscron, and it’s highly likely Porto are keeping a close eye on him at Familicao, for at 21-years-old, they will be making a decision on whether he is good enough to cut it in the first-team by the end of this season. As such, Queiros wouldn’t be an option in January, and with a release clause of 25 million euros, he wouldn’t necessarily come cheap. However, should Porto decide he is surplus to requirements then it is unlikely they would expect this clause to be met. So whilst his value is 2.7m according to Transfermarkt, so much of that depends on his progress over the next seven months.
Queiros is another centre-back similar in profile to Koch, hence why he’s made this list. He is right-footed, a touch shorter at 1.85m, but is an industrious defender with a phenomenal passing range. Where he differs slightly from Koch is that he performs below average aerially, but makes up for this with his excellent defensive duel win percentage. Last season in the Belgian First Division A, he won an incredible 79.5% of his defensive duels.
Due to his ability with the long pass, it’s unsurprising to see him rank so similarly to Koch in terms of average pass length, and as such, he ranks close to Koch in almost every other department. However, having a higher passes per 90 explains why his accuracy is a little lower than the Germans. Like Koch, Queiros is as adept at switching play quickly and with accuracy as he is launching attacking longer balls forward into his strikers.
Whilst his passes to the penalty area per 90 and through passes per 90 are as equally impressive as Koch’s, he doesn’t yet have the same impact on the attacking phase of the game as we can see by looking at his touches in the box per 90 and xG per 90. However, that’s not the end of the world. Nevertheless, it’s clear he is only really progressive with his passing and isn’t as confident driving forward on the ball as Koch is.
Defensively, I have already mentioned his lack of aerial dominance being more than made up for with his overall presence in the defensive phase, and we can see this in the graph below. Aside from this, there are no drastic differences in shots blocked or padj interceptions, whilst he makes fewer fouls per 90 than Koch.
Queiros would be more than suitable as a replacement for Koch, but his future may well lie at Porto. If it doesn’t, he could be a relatively reasonably priced centre-back prospect with a high ceiling.
Cesar Montes – Monterrey – Market value £4.5m
There could understandably be some concerns about bring a 23-year-old centre-back who has spent their development thus far playing in Mexico into a league so different as the Bundesliga. The transition would likely be more difficult than one from Belgium or the Netherlands, as is with the two previous options, but Montes is an incredibly interesting prospect who has excelled in the ball-playing centre-back role thus far in his career and is surely ready to move on to a higher level.
His profile is almost identical to Koch: lean, but strong, standing at 1.91m tall, and right-footed. Montes also has only two years to run on his contract, so a move in January, or even next summer, and the Mexican centre-back could be brought in very close to his 4.5m valuation.
Montes is bold in possession and is very progressive, either driving forward on the ball, or showing his bravery with his passing too, either with line-breaking central passes into the front line, or with expansive diagonal balls, straight to the feet of his wingers.
He would fit in seamlessly to Koch’s role at Freiburg as such, and performs well enough defensively too, averaging over 60% for both defensive and aerial duels last season.
Montes is an outlier in Liga MX with his passing, as we can see in the graphic below. Aside from his ability as a ball progressor, which far outperforms Koch’s own, we can see Montes is an accurate forward passer, with an incredibly similar long pass ratio and average pass length to Koch.
Whereas the previous two centre-back options have had a similar passing profile to Koch, they haven’t had the same impact in the attacking phase with their passing as Koch. This changes with Montes, who only misses out to Koch on touches in the box per 90 and xG per 90, but otherwise operates very similarly to the German, albeit with a more impressive dribbling game, and more smart passes per 90 too. The dribbling could potentially be put down to the league’s style, however, where teams tend to sit off more regularly than in the Bundesliga, and it’s a common sight to see Montes wilfully drive forward into the space provided by the lack of press against Monterrey, attacking static players in a mid-to-low block, rather than having to keep possession in tight spaces against an intense high press.
Although his defensive duel win percentage last season was minimally above 60%, this is almost 10% lower than Koch’s and would be an area where immediate improvement would be required.
Aside from this aspect of his game, Montes is an aerially dominant centre-back with a good reading of the game. He isn’t the quickest on the turn, but frankly, neither is Koch, and he uses his positioning well to disguise this. Whilst he has the potential to struggle against quick forward should he be isolated in a 1v1 he shouldn’t be generalised as a slow player, but instead someone who works well in a defensive unit, and covers his teammates well, instinctively filling spaces where the opponent’s forward are likely to move to either in or out of possession. He tackles with force in loose ball duels, and his good reading of the game explains his high level of shots blocked per 90 and padj interceptions.
Montes isn’t the finished product, and at 23-years-old some may question why he is still playing in Mexico. Yet with 12 international caps already, Montes is a player with experience who needs to make the move abroad imminently if he is to continue moving forward in his career.
Jhon Lucumi – Genk – Market value £6.3m
As we move further down the list, we begin to come to players that are likely to stretch Freiburg’s budget. Baptist Santamaria became the club record signing this summer when he arrived for 9m, and the next two players would cost north of this amount, although potentially not by much. This summer Genk turned down a 10m euros bid from Rennes for Lucumi, to provide some context on his perceived value by the Belgian side, despite Transfermakrt’s valuation.
Lucumi is a quick, dominant, athletic centre-back with superb dexterity and a truly terrific reading of the game. At 22-years-old he has potential in abundance and has the ability to play at a top club in one of Europe’s top five leagues in the future. Lucumi stands at 1.86m tall and is left-footed. However, with Lienhart and Gulde being right-footed, and only Heintz being left-footed, there isn’t an imbalance in the squad, and truthfully we feel their favoured foot isn’t of any great importance other than worth noting.
Lucumi has an excellent passing range. He had a higher volume of long passes per 90, and yet had a long pass completion of 68.7% last season, which is outstanding. The graph below shows a lower average pass length and long ball ratio than Koch, but this is due to Lucumi’s pivotal role in the build-up phase for Genk, a side that averaged a good amount of possession last season as it was, but also looked to build patiently from the back specifically through Lucumi. His higher overall pass volume brings his long ball ratio and average pass length down, but it is still important to note what a terrific long ball player he is, even if he does possess the ability to be a tempo-setter within the backline. He isn’t the sort of centre-back to simply circulate the ball though and is attack-minded as we can see from progressive passes per 90 along with his forward pass accuracy percentage.
Lucumi continues to rank well in the attacking and creativity department where his high ranking for passes to the penalty area per 90 and key passes per 90 give a further idea as to the type of ball-player he is. Whilst he isn’t quite at Koch’s level for through passes per 90 and touches in the box per 90, we can see how similar he is with his dribbling as well as his xG too.
Being a touch smaller than Koch, Lucumi tends to sweep a little more than the German and as a result, is involved in far less aerial duels than his counterpart. Nevertheless, he still performs admirably despite the lower volume, with a win percentage of 61.5% last season, whilst his defensive duel win percentage of 74.5% is outstanding.
As mentioned earlier, Koch averaged minimally below 70%, meaning Lucumi’s win percentage was higher, but Koch also only averaged 4.84 defensive duels per 90, whereas Lucumi averaged seven.
Lucumi’s pace and strength, along with his reading of the game, make him an awesome defensive talent, potentially more so than Koch. But with his passing ability too, Lucumi has the potential to be a centre-back at the highest level and would be a worthwhile investment for a club such as Freiburg.
Marcos Senesi – Feyenoord – Market value £11.7m
Interestingly, Senesi was linked with Leeds before they pulled off the capture of Koch, so for some, it won’t be surprising to see him listed in this data analysis. Another left-footed player, Senesi is likely to be the most expensive option on this list, and whilst he has many of the qualities of Koch, there are some key differences here that make him an interesting prospect.
Like most of the players featured here, Senesi is a highly talented player who is all but ready to move on to a higher level than where he currently plies his trade, but with three years left on his contract, he wouldn’t necessarily come cheap.
Senesi is a very well-rounded player in possession, who is calm and calculated on the ball, but excels most notably when driving forward rather than with hitting the long passes we associate with Koch. Nevertheless, he still has an excellent passing range, and this part of his game could be nurtured whilst his ability to progress the ball with his dribbling could still be allowed to flourish.
When we look at his passing ability, we can see that Senesi is a league leader in the Eredivisie with a high pass accuracy and a penchant for playing forward, with a long ball ratio similar to Koch’s. It is his forward pass ratio that is so noticeably high, compared to Koch’s whilst he ranks very high for progressive runs per 90 too. Senesi is a really talented dribbler who will surge forward in possession and is equally press-resistant when looking to play out from the back too.
Yet in the attacking phase, Koch is a far more effective operator with his passing. For all of his forward passes, Senesi isn’t consistently penetrating the penalty area whilst he hits a low amount of through passes per 90 and barely registers for key passes. As such we can ascertain that Senesi is more of a tempo-setting ball progressor rather than the type to frequently launch forward balls into attacking areas in the role of a deep-lying playmaker. Nevertheless, he definitely has the passing range and ability to add to this part of his game, and even though he doesn’t have the same attacking impact as Koch just yet, he does still switch the ball quickly and accurately and so would be able to fill this aspect of Koch’s role in possession for Freiburg.
Again Senesi is of a similar height to Lucumi, and as such isn’t involved in a vast amount of aerial duels. But again just like Lucumi, he performs admirably in this aspect of his defensive responsibilities, and again wins a phenomenal amount of his defensive duels whilst completing a high number per 90 (winning 71.1% of 833 defensive duels per 90 last season). Again, Senesi is another player with a good reading of the game. He has decent pace both in a straight line and on the turn and is positionally disciplined too. It’s unsurprising that he ranks so highly for shots blocked per 90 and padj interceptions.
Whilst there are a few key differences between himself and Koch, Senesi is still a centre-back who takes a similar role in the possession phase as Koch but would bring his own take to the role of ball-playing centre-back.
All of these centre-backs are likely to be on more than just Freiburg’s shopping lists and all present slightly different options at different price points. This analysis looked to give a brief overview of each of the five player’s statistical similarities and differences when compared to Koch, whilst the graphics provided a picture of the comparisons too.