The Bundesliga’s Apparent Defensive Crisis Has Only Highlighted Where Other Leagues Fall Short

Manuel Obafemi Akanji, Robert Lewandowski
Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen – Bundesliga | Pool/Getty Images

Just a few months ago, you couldn’t look anywhere on social media without coming across a scathing review about Atlético Madrid’s win over Liverpool in the Champions League.

Diego Simeone’s ‘anti-football’ approach rubbed Premier League fans up the wrong way. There was an outcry against defensive, pragmatic football – not just from Liverpool fans either – but the entire English-speaking world has seemingly made a U-turn just a few days into the Bundesliga’s return.

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El Cholo can certainly have that effect. You only need to ask his Atléti players about that. But the apparent defensive crisis which the Bundesliga has right now isn’t an indictment on football in Germany. In fact, it’s something which actually says an awful lot more about the beautiful game elsewhere.

The Bundesliga’s high-scoring matches aren’t a secret. Out of Europe’s major leagues, Germany’s top division once again had more goals per game than any other last season and, in fact, it’s even improving on its own records from seasons gone by.

There’s a very simple criticism to throw at Bundesliga sides because of this. But critiquing their defences isn’t always the way to go as far as the German top flight is concerned.

Using the 2018/19 season, you only have to look at Stuttgart – they were relegated in the play-off match, with World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard and Turkish prodigy Ozan Kabak in defence – to realise how a good back four on paper isn’t the the key to success.

Benjamin Pavard, Ozan KabakBenjamin Pavard, Ozan Kabak
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It’s true that teams are often caught out in the Bundesliga when the ball is turned over. Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are experts at this specifically, making opposition defences look amateur at best whenever they have a chance to counter-attack.

The solution to that is actually quite simple. Sit back to stop any counter-attacks and hope to soak up as much pressure as possible, maybe even carving out a chance at the other end through a set-piece.

It’s a tactic we see almost every week in the Premier League, as some sides simply can’t match the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool in attack, but almost every team in the Bundesliga tries to avoid having their backs against the wall.

That’s why seeing sides like Freiburg, Union Berlin, Paderborn or Augsburg pick up results against Germany biggest sides isn’t nearly as much of a shock as it would be in the Premier League.

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This recent criticism about the Bundesliga’s defensive problems is also seemingly ignoring what’s happened in this season’s Champions League.

Although Borussia Dortmund couldn’t quite hold out long enough against Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and co in Paris, both Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig have taken Premier League opposition to the cleaners in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

In 270 minutes of football, neither Chelsea or Tottenham have been able to score a single goal against their respective Bundesliga opponents.

The aggregate scoreline from those three games is actually 7-0 to the Bundesliga sides – two of those matches were played in England, with Bayern Munich still yet to host Frank Lampard’s Chelsea in the second leg of their tie.

Serge GnabrySerge Gnabry
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This apparent defensive crisis which the Bundesliga has certainly wasn’t an issue when the likes of Antonio Rüdiger, Joël Matip and Çağlar Söyüncü moved to England. It won’t be when Dayot Upamecano, Edmond Tapsoba or Nico Elvedi follow suit either.

And while it’s true there is a huge catalogue of highlight-reel gaffes which have taken place in the Bundesliga, for every mistake there’s also an incredible piece of defending, like from Martin Hinteregger or Elvedi over the last two weeks.

So while the money on offer in England ensures winning is the only thing that matters, Germany’s entertaining, fan-led approach has put the Bundesliga on a pedestal in Europe, only without losing the competitiveness which makes it so attractive for so many fans across the world.

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