Stephanie Insixiengmay looks at the 2022 Women’s Ballon d’Or nominee, who is only 20, and assesses her terrifyingly high ceiling
After a successful campaign and Euro 2021, Lena Oberdorf entered the spotlight and the forefront of many people’s minds. However, those who have been paying attention have had her on their radar for much longer.
The German midfielder first came to prominence playing at the last Women’s World Cup at the age of 17. Now, just three years later, the 20-year-old is a Ballon d’Or nominee This analysis will examine her rise and give an insight on the midfielder’s playing style.
The Midfield General
The German language is known for its variety of compound words and the ability to seemingly invent terms that explain your mood in a way other languages can’t. The resulting noun chains in English typically feature spaces or hyphens between the different elements, while German ones normally appear as one word. The two parts of the compound may also have a connecting element that can have various forms. Oberdorf’s passes are something quite similar to this.
According to Wyscout, Oberdorf has a 76.7% pass accuracy rate. By comparison, Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas has an 82.9% pass accuracy rate (Wyscout). The German midfielder’s numbers aren’t too far off from hers and when you view it in that light, you’ll realize that Lena is not a bad passer. Oberdorf’s modus operandi is to operate with short, incisive passes.
One of the ways that she does so is by winning balls in the midfield in situations that allow her to recycle the ball quickly and effectively. The midfielder has an innate ability to read plays and make timely interventions. As per Statsbomb, Oberdorf is in the 99th percentile for PAdj Tackes, and the 100th percentile for PAdj Interceptions. No other central midfielder in the major European leagues made more PAdj Tackles plus Interceptions in the past season than Oberdorf, which means that she’s quite literally, in a class of her own.
Oberdorf’s ability to read plays and to step in to make vital interceptions snuffs out fires before they get started. She often gets herself in the right position to intercept passes and imposes her authority in a calm and controlled manner. As this data from TransferLab shows us, she ranks very highly for quality in both interceptions and tackles, as well as in defensive headers.
Oberdorf also wins 82% of her aerial duels and is capable of using that skill to not only protect her own goal but to wield it as a weapon in offense. Against Denmark, Oberdorf won a crucial header on a set piece, which she then aimed in the direction of her teammate, Lena Lattwein. Lattwein would go on to score Germany’s third goal, and Die Nationalelf would go on to win the game by a score of 4-0.
She also gets a 100th percentile score for 1v1 defending. And as this defensive sequence, where she wins the ball back from a Bayern Leverkusen player shows, that rating is more than merited. Defensive steeliness is the substratum of the midfielder’s game and it’s also what allows her to contribute to her team’s offence. A lot of midfielders have used the concept of La Pausa to slow down a game. In contrast to this, Oberdorf has a more hurried nature. Rather than pausing and waiting for the defenders to come to her, Oberdorf evades the press by using her dribbling to evade her marker. This is one of the many remarkable skills in her arsenal and she wields each one with potent effectiveness.
Oberdorf is very reliable in possession and rarely makes errors. She shows great calmness under pressure and the way she is able to either dribble her way out of the press or to find the right pass while being rushed is a testament to this.
The Defensive Playmaker
Another aspect of the midfielder’s passing abilities is her sense of awareness. Oberdrof constantly scans the midfield, for passing options and opportunities for plays. This allows her to be aware of her teammates’ positioning as she gets the ball to them. She is always scanning the pitch, looking for the forward pass which could break through the opposition lines.
Oberdorf often pushes into the half-spaces in the opponent’s half to intercept balls. By doing so, she can then make a turn and take advantage of several good options, including the option to make diagonal passes to her teammates if they operate on the shoulders of the oppositions’ defenders. Though these passes are low risk, safe, options, they do play a valuable part in creating scoring threats.
The midfielder’s constant scanning and nimble reflexes help create the facade that she is everywhere on the pitch. Even if she isn’t, the mere illusion of her being omnipresent is enough to foster fear in the minds of her opponents. And it is something that she most definitely takes advantage of, as she has the ability to assess various threats at once and to discern which is the most dangerous among them. The tall midfielder then uses a combination of her ox-like strength and leopard-like speed to extinguish any threats before they burn her team.
As was noted before, the German language is unique in the sense that it allows you to express yourself through the creation of unique compound words. One of those words is the phrase Zuckerpass. The term translates to “sugary pass” and in particular, refers to a skilled pass that is particularly smooth, creative, or well weighted. Oberdorf is certainly capable of those, and she is able to lob one off while still maintaining her balance.
Another interesting German football term is Bananenflanke, which literally translates to “banana cross.” It’s a curling ball with so much spin that it appears to be traveling on a banana-shaped trajectory in hopes that it’ll end up in a goal. In this case, it wasn’t Oberdorf who sent in the cross but she did finish it, thus proving how vital she can be on set-pieces.
If words form the sinew and muscle that hold societies upright, as Jason Wilson once wrote for the National Geographic Society, then we can view passes in the same light. An effective pass is the sinew that holds a midfield together and it helps connect the fibrous tissue that puts the muscle into the attack. And when you combine all of Oberdorf’s talent with her impressive physique along with possessing the heart of a champion, then you have one complete player.
As was noted before, Lena Oberdorf is only 20-years-old. The player possesses a variety of skills and is quite good at most of them, with her only glaring weakness being her reluctance to make long-passes. You get the feeling, however, that it is something that can be worked on over time. Her carrying could improve, too, although her speed of release means she often doesn’t look to carry but wants to move the ball on.
Oberdorf is a new breed of midfielder who can’t be easily boxed into a category, though she is most often described as a defensive midfielder. The invocation of German football words has been used here, which is appropriate given her nationality, but there are perhaps two Italian terms that might also fit her: they are that of a regista and a mediano. Oberdorf has all the makings of a mediano (defensive midfielder), while also possessing a keen eye for a pass and the innate, playmaking abilities of a deep lying midfielder (a regista). TransferLab has given her a 85 rating for the defensive playmaker position, which means that it’s the position where she excels at the most.
And while it is tempting to confine the player to these neat little boxes, the truth of the matter is, she is quite the unique athlete. She is just Lena Oberdorf, and she’s an incredibly good football player. The scary part is, she’s just getting started. It’ll be a long while before she hits her ceiling and she can only get better from here.
Header image: Shutterstock/Ververidis Vasilis