Space to Raum: Analysing the New Leipzig Star
After a fine debut season in the German Bundesliga, David Raum has joined RB Leipzig from Hoffenheim. We analyse the strengths in Raum’s game that have led to his big-money transfer.
Traditionally considered a square-peg-in-a-round-hole position and something of an unwanted burden, the full-back role has evolved to such a degree that it’s become one of the most influential positions on the pitch. David Raum epitomises why it has become such a productive outlet, with the German marauder’s chance creation in his inaugural top-flight season rivalling some of Europe’s most instrumental playmakers.
Indeed, only perennial crafters Filip Kostić (87) and Thomas Müller (84) created more chances than Raum (83) in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, whilst Raum was just one shy of reaching the top 10 in Europe’s top five leagues. Considering Raum was able to hit those heights despite it being his first top-flight season and all while playing at wing-back is a testament to the artillery he provides from the left flank.
Raum had previously impressed with a joint league-high 13 assists for Greuther Fürth in 2. Bundesliga in 2020-21, yet it was still difficult to envisage Raum’s level of productivity undergoing such a seamless transition to his debut in top-flight football. Only four players provided more Bundesliga assists than Raum’s 11 in 2021-22, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) – the blueprint for modern full-backs – was the only defender to register more across Europe’s top five leagues.
Raum’s consistent chance-creation barrage is not just about volume either, with the quality of the chances he provided for his Hoffenheim teammates ultimately outweighing his assist tally. The chances Raum created amassed an expected assists tally (xA) of 13.9, the highest for any player in Europe’s top five leagues last season.
Remarkably, that’s a figure very few have attained in recent years, with only four players on record achieving a higher xA total across a single campaign in Europe’s top five leagues (since 2015-16) – all of whom are considered footballing masterminds of the 21st century. In 2021-22 Alexander-Arnold (13.0) was the only other player to accumulate an xA above 12, demonstrating how apposite both he and Raum are to the forward-thinking demands of the modern-day full-back.
Crossing is evidently Raum’s most proficient creative source, with his ability to deliver such wicked deliveries allowing him to conjure up chances in a multitude of fashions: Raum topped the Bundesliga in 2021-22 for crosses following a take-on (12), and only trailed Kostić for crosses (372 to 311), open-play crosses (218 to 205) and passes played into the box (343 to 321), even matching the Serb for successful crosses from open play (56).
Eight of Raum’s 11 Bundesliga assists came from crosses – again only matched by Kostić – whilst the wing-back pair were also the only players to reach the 50-mark for chances created via crosses: Kostić (64), Raum (54).
After being touted around several European powerhouses this summer, Raum has signed for RB Leipzig to continue his upwards career trajectory, where he should form an intriguing connection with André Silva, given the similarity in Raum’s creative output to Kostić’s.
Leipzig struggled to maximise Silva’s assets at times following his move from Frankfurt, where eight of the Portuguese’s 28 Bundesliga goals in 2020-21 were assisted by Kostić, the most from one player to another that season.
Nevertheless, Raum’s expansive crossing means he is adept at seeking out an array of targets for scoring opportunities, as evidenced by the German assisting eight different players in 2021-22, with no Bundesliga player providing assists for more different teammates.
Those visionary instincts also saw Sebastian Hoeneß afford Raum the responsibility to dictate Hoffenheim’s progressive play, with Raum often as involved at the start of attacks as he was towards their conclusion; as such, Raum (1,588) only fell behind Joshua Kimmich for open-play-sequence involvement in the Bundesliga in 2021-22. Subsequently, Raum comfortably led the league for multi-chance involvement, with 18 unique sequences seeing Raum involved in the Hoffenheim build-up, before eventually creating the goalscoring chance later in the same sequence.
In a system containing an overload of runners, the value of crosses and cut-backs cannot be understated, so whilst Raum didn’t necessarily always create the chance himself, he indirectly created the chance on 29 occasions, only ranking behind six others for secondary chances created in 2021-22.
Raum’s name translates to “space” in German, which ironically is exactly what defenders cannot afford him such is his nature to exploit it. That’s a dangerous cocktail given Raum is a willing runner too, covering the fourth highest distance of anyone in the Bundesliga last season, as well as being the only player to clock more than 1,000 sprints.
Raum’s somewhat unprecedented 2021-22 expedited his fledgling career to a spot in the Bundesliga Team of the Season, along with nine caps for Germany, with Raum providing his first national team assist in the fourth of those. Champions League football with Leipzig will enable Raum to showcase his talent to a global audience, whilst he also has the credentials to be of Germany’s star performers at the World Cup in Qatar.
Raum’s name also bears some resemblance to Germany’s best full-back this century – and arguably ever – in Phillip Lahm and although emulating Lahm is an implausible target, Raum does possess all the prerequisites to become Die Mannschaft’s star full-back of this future generation.
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