I was perusing FBRef the other day and noticed something weird in the Bundesliga.
The first was that Bayern were not in first place and were in the middle of a four-match streak where they didn’t win (3 draws and a loss). The other shock was that Union Berlin were in first place. Not just that, they were in first place with a negative expected goals (xG) difference.
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Union Berlin currently has the 11th best xG difference in the Bundesliga, even giving them a boost for their goals for and against doesn’t help push them up the chart much. This weirdness made me want to look a little further into how they are getting their points so far this season.
In attack, Union are a pretty middling team.
They have average shot production but seem to rely heavily on using crosses as a major focal point of their shot generation.
Overall they don’t seem to be a team that gets the ball into dangerous locations often and consistently. It is also interesting that this doesn’t seem to be an artifact of extra shots on target, their 32.9% on target is actually below average for the Bundesliga.
All of this points to the current 2 goals a game is probably not something that will continue long-term.
Union’s defense on the other hand actually looks good.
They have been the best at limiting teams from creating good chances against them and have paired that with solid shot suppression. This has led to them having a legit, one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga so far this season.
They seem to do this by playing a very good mid/low block. They are currently allowing the most middle-third possession but really looking to limit access into dangerous locations, they currently have the 5th fewest penalty box passes allowed against them even though they have the most final third entries allowed.
Overall their current success seems to be built on a bit of good fortune. They have not gone behind in a match at all this season, they are among only 3 teams that haven’t spent any time losing this season along with Barcelona and Atalanta.
They probably don’t “deserve” to be on the top of the table but I don’t think they will care, my motto is that you don’t have to give back the points you don’t deserve even if you might worry about how long it can go on.
It is a fun story even if the inevitable Bayern title win is still lurking, some drama in this league might actually get me to pay a bit more attention (Serie A has taken that over the last couple of years).