In this article series I will take a handful of football focused questions from Twitter and do my best to provide a valuable answer. If you want your questions answered, follow me on Twitter and drop me a message (https://twitter.com/Nick_FootballPA).
Are there any Bundesliga players you’d like to see in the Premier League and which teams would they fit tactically?
The first and immediately obvious name that comes to mind is Jadon Sancho, specifically at Manchester United. I think every football fan is aware of this man, the media speculation and the phenomenal season he has had with Dortmund, scoring 14 goals and registering 15 assists in 24 Bundesliga matches. Solskjaer has made it clear that he likes to target young, British talent and there isn’t a more perfect fit to that mould in world football right now. He is clearly an extremely talented player with an impressive output for someone who has just turned 20, but the reason I think he suits Manchester United ahead of other clubs is his ability to play effectively from both wings. Sancho is predominantly seen as a right-winger and proper talent in advanced areas on the right side of the pitch has been something lacking at United for years. However, from the games I have watched, I believe that Sancho operates just as well, if not better from the left side. Couple this with the fact that Marcus Rashford has proven to be more than capable from the right side, this opens up all kinds of opportunties, be it starting positions or ability to interchange positions and keep defenders guessing during matches.
The other main Bundesliga player that I see having a successful future in the Premier League is Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz. Not only is he the youngest Bundesliga player (20) to reach the 30 goal milestone, but he is also incredibly positionally versatile. Predicting his starting position on the teamsheet on a weekly basis is no simple task as he has spent time playing right-wing, attacking midfield and even up front. For this reason, 2 teams stand out to me as potential English destinations (although I believe he would be a valuable asset to most teams), those being Liverpool and Spurs.
Liverpool’s 4-3-3 system makes use of Firmino in a ‘false 9’ position and although I can see the incredible value he brings to the team in terms of midfield link-up play as well as creating space for the inside forwards to operate in, he has nonetheless been disappointing in front of goal and his finishing often leaves a lot to be desired. If Liverpool want to ensure the sustainability of results and dominate Europe in the long-run then I think they need an alternative attacking option. Here’s where Havertz comes into play. Havertz, as explained, is an extremely versatile player and the fact he has led the line for Leverkusen as well as playing behind the striker, I think he could be used in the ‘Firmino’ role for Liverpool. I believe he would contribute to a greater number of goals directly without losing the work Firmino does in midfield and creating space as he also has experience in this side of the game. Beyond this, if Liverpool were to suffer an injury to Mo Salah for example, Havertz would also be able to replace him on the right side.
No matter where his written starting position is, Havertz has a large degree of freedom to roam to either side of the pitch in the current Leverkusen side. This is why I also think he could be a good fit at Spurs as their front 4 will often interchange positions throughout various periods in the match. So often with Spurs we see Alli, Moura, Lo Celso, Bergwijn etc. rotating positionally and this would be a sytem that Havertz would fit into nicely based on his ability to influence his teams’ attacking play from pretty much any advanced area of the pitch.
Where do you rank Alphonso Davies and Achraf Hakimi amongst top Premier League full-backs?
First of all, I always find it incredibly hard to exactly rank players due to the different systems players are playing in for their respective clubs and specifically for full-backs/wing-backs, how much their role is weighted towards attacking and defending.
Starting with the point on the Premier League, I believe the 2 best right-backs are Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka, with the latter being the best defensive full-back in the world. However, it then becomes hard to rank players as a lot more is expected of Trent in an attacking sense at Liverpool compared to Wan-Bissaka at United. The impact Alexander-Arnold has on this current Liverpool side in terms of predominantly assists and the odd goal is incredible and allows Salah to thrive from from inside-forward positions rather than having to maintain width. Therefore, overall I would say that Alexander-Arnold is the best right-back in the Premier League, with Wan-Bissaka, Ricardo Pereira and Kyle Walker not too far behind in terms of combined defensive and attacking work. Left-back is quite an easy one in the Premier League as the engine and assist machine that is Andy Robertson is currently unmatched.
The 2 names mentioned (Hakimi and Davies) are very useful choices in the question as I couldn’t have picked a better pair. Alphonso Davies perhaps isn’t massively well known to all football fans in England just yet, but his outstanding performance against Chelsea in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge should have helped to put him on more people’s radars. Quite simply, he is frighteningly good. He is the definition of a powerhouse, demonstrating unbelievable pace and power, which not only sees his storm past members of the opposition down the flank, but also massively contributes to his defensive ability as he will out muscle and out pace just about every player he comes up against. His defensive work could use some polishing, however, even if he does make a mistake he is usually able to catch up to his opponent and try again before they have caused any damage. For me, I see Davies as a suped-up Robertson, offering similar attacking ability but with a more powerful nature. A lot of people who watch an array of football believe that Davies could become the best left-back in the world. I disagree. I think he already is.
It’s harder to directly compare Hakimi to Alexander-Arnold as Hakimi predominantly lines up as a right wing-back in a 3-4-3, whereas Alexander-Arnold lines up as a right-back in a 4-3-3. However, the pair share many strengths and weaknesses. It is clear that they both thrive off getting forwards, contributing with chance creation, assists and goals and both have a range of passes in their locker. Both of their issues come when tested defensively. Hakimi will often struggle with duels and Alexander-Arnold can get caught leaving too much space for the opposition to exploit behind him and is certainly not the most comfortable 1-on-1 defender. Both players are fortunate that their mistakes/shortcomings are often mitigated by the team’s play as a whole and to be completely honest, in terms of attacking full-backs, I cannot find any way to easily separate them.
How far away do you consider the Bundesliga to be from the Premier League tactically?
I would rank the Premier League as the most advanced league in the world, with the Serie A second and then Bundesliga and La Liga behind with Liga NOS, Ligue 1 and Eredivise further behind.
The bundesliga has some outstanding teams with the likes of Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig and the detail of their tactics could be discussed over multiple articles. For example, the positional play of Bayern, the use of the half-spaces and orchestrated player movement creating space from Dortmund and Nagelsmann’s unique build-up and attacking principles at Leipzig. However, a league is not comprised of a few teams and I believe the lower quality sides in the league really let it down as a whole tactically.
General naivety towards the opponent seems to be far too common in the Bundesliga and it is genuinely quite baffling to me. A regular theme in the Bundesliga seems to be the use of a high defensive line. This is a fine principle if you are a quality side in maintaining ball possession, counterpressing and have fast defenders, however, many of the Bundesliga sides lack this and get killed with runs in behind and during counter-attacks.
Something that stood out to me over the first round of games post-lockdown was the vast spaces being left between defensive and midfield units. This was particularly apparent from Schalke against Dortmund in their 4-0 loss. Schalke tried to press Dortmund high up the field in the first half and their 3-4-3 formation meant that at the best of times they only had 2 central midfielders covering the centre of the pitch. What worsened the situation was that Suat Serdar was regularly involved in this high press, leaving Weston McKennie up against 4 or 5 Dortmund players on his own that had targeted this area. The likes of Brandt and Hazard dropped into deeper half-space positions and Schalke were not just outnumbered in these areas, but entirely overwhelmed.
For context, Schalke went into the weekend’s fixtures sitting in 6th position and demonstrated complete naivety and baffling tactics when coming up against one of the league’s and Europe’s finest teams. They just handed Dortmund the space they wanted to operate in and Haaland and co. duly accepted the invitation and punished them.
The Premier League in comparison has the likes of Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs and Sheffield United between 6th-9th and even Southampton down in 14th currently who are much higher quality sides overall and tactically more advanced. I am pretty confident that any Premier League team would have beaten Schalke on Saturday had they played as they did in the first half. The high lines that we see in the Bundesliga are practically non-existent in the Premier League and there is absolutely no chance you would see Burnley or Newcastle even trying it against the top teams in the league.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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