With the Bundesliga season reaching the first international break of 2022-23, we asked German data experts at OptaFranz which players have stood out so far.

Following the opening three matchdays of the Bundesliga season, it looked like business as usual. Bayern Munich topped the table with a perfect record and a goal difference of 15-1 in their mission to secure an 11th successive title. Then things changed. Bayern went through their worst run of league form in over 20 years, opening the way for Union Berlin to grab top spot going into the first international break of 2022-23, with Borussia Dortmund, SC Freiburg and TSG Hoffenheim completing the top four.

Bayern – who sit in fifth place and five points off leaders Union Berlin – undoubtedly have some of the most talented players in the league, but which players at the other Bundesliga clubs have defied expectations and impressed us so far in 2022-23?

Sheraldo Becker and Jordan Pefok
Union Berlin

Not many expected Union Berlin to be top of the Bundesliga table heading into October, but the side from the capital are the only unbeaten team left in the German top flight this season.

They’ve won five and drawn two of their seven matches, while they have the best defensive record in the league with just four goals conceded. Only Bayern Munich (19) have scored more goals than they have (15), but how much longer Union Berlin can go outperforming their expected goal total (6.4) is anyone’s guess – no side in the top five European leagues have exceeded their xG total by as much as they have (+ 8.6).

Union Berlin Goals 2022-23

Leading the line for Union is Sheraldo Becker – the Bundesliga’s top scorer in 2022-23 with six goals. The 27-year-old has scored 4.4 goals above his xG tally of 1.6, with only Erling Haaland (+4.5) having a bigger overperformance in front of goal across the major European leagues in 2022-23 so far.

The Surinamese international is lightning quick – his top speed of 35.8 km/h ranks him as the joint-fastest player in the league alongside Alphonso Davies and Becker knows how to make best use of his pace. The Union forward has four goal involvements following carries in the Bundesliga this season (two goals, two assists), which is at least twice as many as any other Bundesliga player has managed and joint-most in Europe’s big five leagues alongside Mama Balde and Remy Cabella.

Becker Chance-Creating Carries Bundesliga 2022-23

Not only a goalscorer, but Becker has also assisted three more goals for Union Berlin in the league this season. His nine goal involvements are bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (10), Lionel Messi (11), Erling Haaland (12) and Neymar (15) in the big five European leagues – esteemed company to keep. Each of his three assists have been for his new strike partner Jordan Pefok.

The US striker arrived in the German capital following a 2021-22 season where he finished as top scorer in the Swiss Super League thanks to his 22 goals for Young Boys. Replacing Taiwo Awoniyi looked like a tough job, but so far so good, with Pefok and Becker replacing Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski as the Bundesliga’s most dangerous combo.

No pairing have assisted more Bundesliga goals for one another this season (five), while their 10 open play chances created for each other are a joint league-high alongside Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug and Marvin Ducksch. Becker’s seven chances created for Pefok are also a league high for one player to another in 2022-23 so far.

Pefok and Becker Partnership Union Berlin
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

On top of his three goals, Pefok is one of the hardest working players in the Bundesliga, he ranks second for duels per 90 minutes (20.1– Omar Marmoush 26.3), while no player has contested as many aerials (13.6) as he has, with his 7.3 successful aerial duels per 90 also the highest in the league.

Last season saw Pefok enjoy a Champions League campaign with Young Boys in which he scored an injury time winner at home to Manchester United. He’ll be hoping Union Berlin can reach the UCL for next season and relive those highs.

Michael Gregoritsch
SC Freiburg

Austrian international Michael Gregoritsch joined SC Freiburg in the summer, after scoring 40 goals in 188 Bundesliga matches for Augsburg, Schalke and Hamburger SV combined. Gregoritsch did not need any time to settle in at his new club, as he scored in both of his first two Bundesliga appearances for Freiburg, becoming just the third player to do so following Alexander Iashvili in 1998 and Roda Antar in 2003.

Freiburg always had hardworking centre forwards, but often lacked a reliable goalscorer, despite finishing sixth in the table last season, their top scorers last season were winger Vincenzo Grifo (nine goals) and Lucas Höler (seven).  

Not only does he have three goals to his name already in 2022-23, but his high work rate has also proved a threat to opposition defences in the Bundesliga since his move. Gregoritsch has the second-best numbers for aerial duels (12.4) and aerial duels won (6.5) per 90 minutes trailing only Jordan Siebatcheu (13.6 total, 7.3 won). Additionally, Gregoritsch has attempted 35 flick-ons, with no other player in Europes big five leagues has more than 29 (Thomas Henry from Hellas Verona) – a useful threat in Freiburg’s style.

Michael Gregoritsch Flick-ons

While providing all this work in the build-up, Gregoritsch also boasts the league’s third best average for non-penalty xG per 90 (0.53), bettered only by Bayern’s pair of Leroy Sane (0.54) und Jamal Musiala (0.59 – of players with 300 minutes or more).

Using his 6-foot-3 height, the Austrian poses the biggest aerial threat of all Bundesliga players in 2022-23. He’s had the most headed shots in the Bundesliga (nine), while no has scored more headers than Gregoritsch (two) in this season’s competition. Seven of his nine headed shots have been on target, which is also the most by a player in Europe’s big five leagues in this season.

Rafal Gikiewicz
FC Augsburg

Perennial relegation favourites FC Augsburg are into their 12th successive Bundesliga season. Augsburg’s brand of football under Enrico Maaßen is not easy on the eye – their passing accuracy of 66% is the lowest of any side in the big five European leagues this season.

Possibly riding their luck at times, Augsburg have won three matches despite being considered huge outsiders away at Leverkusen (2-1) and Bremen (1-0) and of course against Bayern (1-0). In those matches Augsburg completed 56% (Leverkusen), 53% (Bremen) and 47% (Bayern) of their passes and having a reliable keeper was key.

In each of these victories’ their goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz was the main man for the Bavarian outfit. The Pole made nine saves in the 2-1 win at Leverkusen – his second highest number in a single Bundesliga match, while he also saved a penalty against Marvin Ducksch in stoppage time to secure a 1-0 away win at Werder Bremen. He then followed this up by helping his Augsburg side to a shock 1-0 win over reigning champions Bayern. His performance helped them become the first team to stop Bayern from scoring in a Bundesliga game since February 2020, a run of 87 successive matches.

Excluding own goals, Gikiewicz has conceded 10 goals from an expected goals on target total of 15.2 – only Yann Sommer (5.3) has prevented more goals based on our xGOT model in the 2022-23 Bundesliga. Two crucial saves have come from penalties, making the Polish shot-stopper the first FCA goalkeeper to save two in a single Bundesliga season.

Rafal Gikiewicz 2022-23

Marcus Thuram
Borussia Mönchengladbach

Mirroring his team Borussia Mönchengladbach, striker Marcus Thuram came into this season after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign in which he scored just three goals and failed to register a single assist. Gladbach ended the season in 10th place and this was enough to force them to change their coach in the summer – former Norwich City manager Daniel Farke came in to take over from Adi Hütter.

The Foals are currently in sixth place and level on points with Bayern Munich (12) having managed to snatch a 1-1 draw away at the record champions. Undoubtedly the key players in Gladbach’s season so far have been Thuram and experienced goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who ranks first for both goals prevented (5.3) and save percentage (89%).

Thuram has scored three goals and assisted two more in 2022-23, already passing his number of goal involvements from last season (three). Safe to say that Thuram has rediscovered his scoring instinct, he leads the league in non-penalty xG (3.6) and shots (28).

Marcus Thuram Goals 2022-23

On top of his shot attempts, Thuram has created 10 chances this season, bringing his shot involvement total to 38 – the second most in the league, trailing only Bayern’s Leroy Sane (39).

The 25-year-old has already made four appearances for defending world champions France and will hope that his current form will secure him a seat on the plane to Qatar for the upcoming World Cup. If he does make the squad, he could follow the footsteps of his father Lilian who won the 1998 World Cup.

Mats Hummels
Borussia Dortmund

Whilst former World Cup winner and six-time Bundesliga champion Mats Hummels certainly doesn’t fall in the ‘shooting star’ category, the veteran 33-year-old is performing well above expectation at second-placed Borussia Dortmund so far this season. Following the departure of star striker Erling Haaland, Dortmund are having to reply more on their defence – Hummels has been a key part of that successful transition.

Last season saw Dortmund ship 52 goals – their worst defensive record in the league since 2007-08. Consequently, BVB went out and brought in two current German international defenders in Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle. The expectation was that the pair would form the main part of the defence, and looked like a sign that Hummels would have to settle for a bit-part in the side this season – even more so when the pair started BVB’s first competitive game of the season in the DFB-Pokal.

However, following an injury to Süle, Hummels played the full 90 minutes Dortmund’s first two Bundesliga matches of the season; a 1-0 win over Leverkusen and a 3-1 at Freiburg. After being substituted in the 62nd minute with Dortmund leading 1-0 at Werder Bremen, Dortmund suffered a historic collapse to lose.

In the matches since then, Dortmund have won the three games that he’s started by a 1-0 scoreline and lost the only match he didn’t participate in, 3-0 at RB Leipzig.

Mats Hummels 2022-23

Borussia Dortmund have conceded just one goal in 512 Bundesliga minutes with Hummels on the pitch, while they have shipped in six in just 118 minutes without the veteran. The quality of chances conceded to opponents with Hummels on the pitch dramatically reduces, too – a sure sign that they are better off with his presence on the pitch.

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