A first place in the Bundesliga and a secured knockout-stage spot in the Champions League make it look like Bayern continue rolling over their opponents this season just as they did it in the last one. Nevertheless, Bayern’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the most talked about player after the 3-1 victory against RB Salzburg. He saved his team on multiple occasions, which sheds a bad light on Bayern’s defensive performance.
Bayern Defensive Struggles Against Salzburg
The result at the end was a 3-1 in favor of Bayern, but the data confirms Bayern’s defensive struggles. The expected goals (xG) metric system suggests a xG value of 1.3 goals for Bayern, while Salzburg’s xG is valued at 2.9. This means that Bayern allowed Jesse March’s team to have plenty of high-quality chances.
The fact that this match did not end in a loss for Flick’s men can be attributed to Manuel Neuer’s brilliance. Everybody saw his double save to deny two great efforts by Berisha and Mwepu.
Another thing that could be noticed easily was the huge number of defensive mistakes that lead to said unusual value of xG for Salzburg. Alaba lost the ball frequently, while Roca and Richards looked shaky at the beginning of the match.
Increase of Defensive Vulnerability This Season
What is worrying from Bayern’s point of view is the fact that the huge reliance on Neuer’s saves is not an uncommon thing in the current season. Defensive instabilities caused the captain to step up and save his team quite regularly and data is here to underline it.
In the Bundesliga, Bayerns xGA (expected goals against) is at 11.8, which ranks them at a disappointing 9th place in this category with Union, Dortmund, Leipzig, Leverkusen, Bremen and Frankfurt all being expected to concede less goals this season. It looks similarly bad in the Champions League. Bayern’s xGA is at a value of 6.7, that is the second worst in their group. In the whole competition, 20 (!) teams have a lower xGA value.
In order to achieve a fair comparison with the last season, these numbers need to be converted into pG (per game) metrics. After the conversion of the statistics, Bayern are expected to concede 1.48 goals per game in the Bundesliga and 1.68 in the Champions League this season.
Last season the xGApG value for the Bundesliga was at 1,01, while the value for the Champions League was at 0,97. This is an extremely high increase.
It is interesting to see, whether this increase is due to a higher quantity or a higher quality of the shots against.
The metric SoTA is used to examine the quantity development. SoTA is an abbreviation for “Shots on target against”. This number was at 3.35 last season, and is at 3.88 this season, which means that the quantity of shots rose.
Talking about the quality, the metric PSxG/SoT is useful. It sounds complicated, but it simply describes the probability of the goalkeeper to save a shot, based on the shot’s quality. Higher numbers indicate that shots on target faced are more difficult to stop for the goalkeeper. This season, the value is at 0.47, while it was at 0.27 last season.
These number show that both, the quality and the quantity of the shots on Bayern’s goal rose. That can be put down to a more vulnerable defense this season, as more and better shots are allowed.
Neuer’s Great Form
Watching the matches is enough to notice Bayern’s defensive vulnerability but data is here to underline it. But is data also able to reflect Neuer’s fantastic form this season?
Spoiler: Yes, it is.
In order to properly assess a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability, the metric PSxG +/- is perfect. Here, a positive number implies an above average shot-stopping ability, while a negative number indicates the opposite. Apply this metric for Manuel Neuer this season and a value of +3.3 can be seen.
Comparing this statistic to other top team’s goalkeepers, Neuer still looks very good.
Albeit it was proven that Bayern is very vulnerable defensively this season and that Manuel Neuer is in incredible form this season, it is important to keep in mind that in this young season only 8 matches have been played in the Bundesliga while only 4 match days passed in the Champions League.
Another important aspect is the tight schedule. Bayern competes in several additional competitions and has a lot of players representing their national teams. Hence, defensive mistakes are not extremely surprising. Bayern’s unbelievable ruthlessness in attack overshadows their defensive struggles. In the majority of the matches, they manage to outscore their opponents. Still, the defense must be fixed. Davies’ return is supposed to take place soon and you can expect Flick and his team to work out a plan to put an end to these defensive struggles.
Data credits: FBRef
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