Bundesliga Team of the Season: OptaFranz’s XI
Bayern Munich sealed their 10th successive Bundesliga title, while Borussia Dortmund, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and RB Leipzig completed the rest of the top four. There were still a few surprises in 2021-22 with Union Berlin, SC Freiburg and 1. FC Köln all qualifying for European football, while newly-rich Hertha BSC will have to battle through the relegation play-offs to remain a Bundesliga club in 2022-23.
Our German data experts at OptaFranz have compiled their Bundesliga team of the season based on the data, with the squad containing some familiar names, but also some surprises and rising stars. To be considered for selection, players had to play at least 2000 minutes, which means some players such as Florian Wirtz and Erling Haaland failed to make the cut.
Kevin Trapp – Eintracht Frankfurt
Eintracht Frankfurt only managed to finish 11th in the Bundesliga this season, a disappointing campaign compared to a fifth-place finish in 2020-21. This drop in performance was due, in part, to their heroics in the UEFA Europa League, with European distractions seeing them go winless in the final eight matches of this season. Despite all this, goalkeeper Kevin Trapp was a standout star for the club in 2021-22.
In conceding just 45 goals from shots worth an expected goals on target (xGOT) total of 51.1 (excluding own goals), Trapp led the Bundesliga rankings for goals prevented (6.1). Frankfurt’s league position could have been much worse if not for Trapp in goal, with a standout performance coming in their fantastic 2-1 away victory at champions Bayern in October. Trapp made 10 saves in the match, both the joint-most saves by a goalkeeper on a winning team in the Bundesliga in 2021-22 and the joint-most saves that he’s ever made in a German top-flight game.
Trapp came through 1. FC Kaiserslautern’s academy, who pride themselves on teaching extraordinary reflexes in their young goalkeepers. Those attributes were certainly on show in 2021-22, with Trapp having a league-high 66.4% save percentage from shots inside the box.
His heroics were rewarded in March with his sixth international cap – his first since November 2020 – putting him in a strong position to earn a place in Germany’s squad for the upcoming World Cup.
David Raum – Hoffenheim
2021-22 saw Hoffenheim left-back David Raum make a breakthrough into the Bundesliga, with it being his first season as a top-flight player following a transfer from Greuther Fürth last summer. Despite never playing in the top-flight before August 2021, Raum didn’t take long to push any doubts about his credibility as a top-flight player aside.
Raum finished the season as the leading player in the Bundesliga for expected assists, with his total of 13.9 eclipsing even the German assist king Thomas Müller (11.7 xA). Much of his threat came from out wide, with the 24-year-old averaging 6.7 open play crosses per 90 minutes last season, an average that only Frankfurt’s Filip Kostic (7.8) could better.
Raum’s total of 11 assists were only beaten by four players but was the highest among defenders ahead of Freiburg’s Christan Günter (9). His assists were also enough to equal the Hoffenheim club record for the most in a single Bundesliga campaign, drawing level with Roberto Firmino’s total from 2013-14.
His performances have not gone unnoticed by Germany coach Hansi Flick either, with Raum earning his first five international caps. Nuremberg-born Raum had of course previously won the U21 European Championship in 2021, defending alongside…
Nico Schlotterbeck – SC Freiburg
SC Freiburg were on course for Champions League football in 2022-23, when they climbed up to fourth place on MD32. Despite eventually finishing sixth, coach Christian Streich’s side still massively exceeded the pre-season expectations, with 55 points being their second-best haul ever in the competition after 1994-95 (66).
At the heart of Freiburg’s performances was centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck, who returned to the club after spending the previous season on loan at Union Berlin.
Schlotterbeck got the basics of centre-back play right, leading the Bundesliga in duel success, winning 69% of his duels, while his 75% success rate in aerial duels was only bettered by Stuttgart’s Konstantinos Mavropanos (76%) and Bayern’s Niklas Süle (77%, min 50. aerial duels).
But Schlotterbeck is not just your usual no-nonsense centre-back, he also offers a lot going forward. Only team-mate Philipp Lienhart (5) scored more Bundesliga goals among defenders than his four in 2021-22. The Freiburg defender is also adept with the ball at his feet, with his average progress of 7.2 metres per carry ranking him first among all centre-backs (min. 1000 minutes).
Despite missing out on a top-four finish with Freiburg, Schlotterbeck will feature in the Champions League next season as he will be joining Borussia Dortmund in the summer. At BVB, Schlotterbeck will be joined by Niklas Süle, whom he will be also competing against for a spot in the German side, after winning his first two caps this March.
Josko Gvardiol – RB Leipzig
RB Leipzig had to replace their centre-back pairing of Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano who had left the club to join Liverpool and Bayern Munich respectively in the summer of 2021. One of the players the Saxons brought in to replace the two Frenchmen was Josko Gvardiol. Despite only being 19 years old at the time of his arrival, Gvardiol slotted immediately into the defence, which ended up conceding the joint-fewest goals in the league alongside Bayern (37).
Not only did he shore up the back for RB Leipzig, Gvardiol truly excelled with the ball at his feet. The 20-year-old averaged 95 touches per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, ranking him sixth, while the five players ahead of him all played for Bayern Munich. With the ball, Gvardiol liked to advance up the pitch and take risks.
Gvardiol has attempted 51 take-ons in the Bundesliga – 12 more than any other central defender. Of these 51, 37 were successful, meaning that the RB Leipzig youngster led all Bundesliga players with 40+ attempts with his 73% success rate.
Nearly half of his 51 take-ons (25) came in the opposition half, showing how Gvardiol wasn’t shy in progressing with the ball upfield, further backed up by his total progressive carry distance (2,545m) being in the top 10 for central defenders across the 2021-22 Bundesliga season.
Jeremie Frimpong – Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Bayer 04 Leverkusen sealed a top-four finish in the Bundesliga for the first time since 2018-19, thanks to new coach Gerardo Seoane turning them into one of the best counter-attacking outfits in the competition. Their 43 shots from fast-break situations dwarfed the numbers of next-best VfL Bochum (28), while they had as many shots in these situations as Bayern Munich (22) and Borussia Dortmund (21) combined.
For such a playing style it is fundamental to have quick players available, such as right-back Jeremie Frimpong, who posted a top speed of 36.1 km/h, ranking him seventh in the league. Frimpong uses his speed to carry the ball far upfield from his deep starting position.
The Dutchman averaged a league-high 6.4 progressive carries per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this season – a whopping 0.9 more than second-best Filip Kostic (5.5). Unsurprisingly, Frimpong also ranks first in terms of average distance per carry (13.7m), while only Kostic (10.1m) performed better in terms of average carry progress (Frimpong 9.7m).
The 21-year-old earned his first four international caps in 2021 and might have added further to them had he not suffered an injury in March. Still, with 2061 minutes played, Frimpong has managed to make the cut for the team and takes the place on the right side of defence.
Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich
The first representative from the league champions Bayern Munich in our team of the season is Joshua Kimmich, who further cemented his reputation as the best defensive midfielder in the league.
Averaging a league-best 109 touches per 90 minutes, Kimmich is at the heart of Bayern’s midfield and no other player has been involved in as many open play sequences per 90 minutes as the German international (67). Yet he does not just sit deep, feeding short passes to his team-mates. As in the Bavarian’s 4-1 win over Hertha in January, Kimmich likes to move further upfield, often playing the penultimate or final pass in Bayern’s attacking moves.
In fact, only Thomas Müller (1.7) and Jonas Hofmann (1.6) have created more secondary chances per 90 minutes, the pass made to the player who created the chance, than Kimmich (1.3) in the 2021-22 Bundesliga season, while his eight secondary assists are the joint best number in the league (alongside Thomas Müller and Julian Brandt). On top of that Kimmich had 11 assists, of which a league-high six came from set-pieces.
The 27-year-old is also an integral part of Bayern’s gegenpressing. Amongst his team-mates, only Dayot Upamecano (10.2) has won possession more often per 90 minutes, than Kimmich (7.9) in the league this season, with the German international starting more open-play sequences that ended in shots than any other player in the league (39). Fourteen of these came following Kimmich dispossessing opponents, which was yet another league-high.
Moussa Diaby – Bayer 04 Leverkusen
One other Leverkusen player to massively improve in 2021-22 was Frenchman Moussa Diaby, with the 22-year-old setting new personal records for both goals (13) and assists (12). Those 12 assists were also the highest by any Leverkusen player in the Bundesliga in recorded history (since 2004-05).
His 25 league goal involvements were more than he had managed in the previous two seasons combined (24), while the only other player to reach double figures for both goals and assists in the German top-flight in 2021-22 was compatriot and fellow PSG academy product Christopher Nkunku.
Adept at running with the ball at his feet, Diaby attempted 4.6 take-ons per 90 minutes – ranking him joint fourth in the league, while no player attempted more take-ons in the opposition half than the Frenchman (117, alongside Karim Onisiwo).
Using his pace, Diaby, just like Jeremie Frimpong, is perfectly suited to Bayer 04’s counter-attacking style, with the attacker exploiting any gaps behind the opposition’s defensive line – no other player has created as many chances (25) and has set up as many goals (8) following ball carries as Diaby.
As further proof of his importance to the Werkself’s attack, which has ended up scoring a club record 80 goals, Diaby had been involved in 34 open-play sequences resulting in a goal – the second-highest number in the league, bettered only by Bayern’s Thomas Müller (35).
Vincenzo Grifo – SC Freiburg
Every team needs a set-piece specialist, so who would be a better pick for the Bundesliga team of the season, than the prime set-piece taker of the most dangerous team from set-pieces?
SC Freiburg led the Bundesliga with 24 goals scored from dead-ball situations, with Vincenzo Grifo being directly involved in half of them (12), thanks to five assists, five penalty goals and two direct free-kick goals. Even without penalties, Grifo’s seven goal involvements from set-pieces was a league-high tally.
Grifo’s and Freiburg’s best performance in the 2021-22 Bundesliga arguably came in their 6-0 trouncing of Borussia Mönchengladbach on MD14.
This match saw Freiburg become just the second away team in Bundesliga history to score six first-half goals (the first being Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke in 1964), with four of these coming from set-piece situations. Two goals were directly assisted by Grifo, while the other two arrived following set-piece deliveries from the midfielder.
Grifo scored nine goals in total in the Bundesliga this season, equalling his personal best from 2020-21, and has taken his career goal tally in the competition up to 35 – now just three away from the Bundesliga record by an Italian player, held by Luca Toni (38).
Thomas Müller – Bayern Munich
Bayern’s Thomas Müller once again led the Bundesliga with 18 assists – the third season in a row in which the record champion’s talismanic midfielder set up at least 18 goals.
Even more remarkably, only two of these 18 assists came from set pieces and there is no other player in the league who gets even close when it comes to Müller’s playmaking abilities. The Bavarian has created 82 chances from open play, bettering the tally of the next-best player (Nkunku) by 26. On a per 90 basis, Müller has created 2.9 chances from open play, which is half a chance more than anyone else has managed in the league.
His total of 11.7 expected assists was a league-high tally and only just below his per 90 average of last season at Bayern Munich in the league (0.41 vs. 0.42).
Overall, with his chances and secondary chance totals combined (130), Müller led the way in the Bundesliga by a huge tally of 48 ahead of David Raum.
Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig
The official Bundesliga Player of the Season Christopher Nkunku showed one of the best all-round attacking performances the German top-flight has seen in quite a while.
The Frenchman has scored 20 goals himself while setting up another 13, which made him the first player since Miroslav Klose in 2005-06 (25 goals, 11 assists) to score 20 or more goals and reach double figures for assists in a single season in the competition.
Nkunku’s 33 goal involvements in the Bundesliga in 2021-22 set a record among French players in the league since in recorded data history (since 2004-05), while it was also more goal involvements than Nkunku had managed to collect in the previous two seasons combined (30).
Of the 15 players to have attempted 60 or more non-penalty shots in the Bundesliga this season, only Patrik Schick (26.1%) converted at a higher rate than Nkunku (23.5%), showing his clinical touch in front of goal.
The Frenchman was at his most dangerous when running with the ball, leading the league with nine goals scored from carries. No other player managed to score more than six such goals. Only Moussa Diaby (8) had more assists from carries than the RB Leipzig forward (7), whose 50 shot involvements following carries were also the best in the league (29 shots, 21 chances created).
Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich
There will be little shock that Robert Lewandowski makes our Bundesliga team of the season. The Polish striker’s 35 goals saw him finish as the German top-flight leading scorer for the seventh time, equalling Gerd Müller’s record. It was also the third successive campaign in which he scored at least 34 goals, with every other player in the history of the competition only doing this on four occasions – Gerd Müller (three times) and Dieter Müller (once).
Once again it was not just down to the Pole’s clinical finishing – his non-penalty shot conversion rate of 19.2% was lower than that of other star strikers such as Erling Haaland (21.6%) or Patrik Schick (26.1%) – but to his truly extraordinary instinct in the box.
Lewandowski had a non-penalty expected goals total of 30.9, which was an astonishing 12.4 higher than the next highest, Anthony Modeste (18.5). To put this into some perspective, Lewandowski had better quality non-penalty shots in the Bundesliga across 2021-22 than SpVgg Greuther Fürth as an entire team (30.3).
Averaging 4.8 non-penalty shots per 90 across the Bundesliga this season, Lewandowski has only had two seasons with a higher ratio in the German top-flight – 5.0 in 2017-18 and 5.1 in 2015-16. This is the same for average touches in the opposition box per 90, with his 8.3 average in 2021-22 his third-highest in a single Bundesliga season. In what could reportedly be his final Bundesliga campaign, Lewandowski solidified his legendary status in the competition with his 2021-22 performances. He’s now scored 312 goals in the competition, with 238 of those coming in a Bayern Munich shirt – only Gerd Müller (365) has more both overall and for a single club in the competition.
Urs Fischer – 1. FC Union Berlin
Union Berlin were far from promotion favourites within the second tier in 2018-19 but ended up winning the promotion/relegation playoff with Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart. The majority tipped them to suffer relegation in their first season, but they ended in 11th place and 11 points above the bottom two positions.
2021-22 was a second successive season of progress in the Bundesliga for Union – their fifth-place finish on a record 57 points surpassing an excellent improvement in 2020-21’s seventh-place finish, 50 points and UEFA Europa Conference League qualification. Urs Fischer has defied all expectations for the Berlin side, leaving rivals Hertha in their shadow.
Despite strong competition from the likes of Freiburg’s Christian Streich, Köln’s Steffen Baumgart or Bochum’s Thomas Reis, the Swiss man’s continuous miracle work makes him the best choice to lead our team of the season.
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