It’s no secret that Dortmund struggle defensively. It’s been that way for years. In fact, this very website has ensured it could never be forgotten, from articles like ‘Why Dortmund are so bad in defensive transitions‘ to ‘How Freiburg beat Dortmund…again – Tactical Analysis‘. The reasons for Dortmund’s defensive despair cannot be isolated on their own. But historically, one of the reasons why has been the unbalanced pairings they’ve employed since the days of Jurgen Klopp, always positioning two incredibly similar players alongside each other at the heart of their defense.Embed from Getty Images
Manuel Akanji has taken his game to new heights the past few seasons, particularly in developing a quicker change of pace to aid the slower Mats Hummels alongside him. But defensive reinforcements are still evidently needed. Hummels is now 33-years-old, and hasn’t been at his best for quite some time, despite all the brilliance he offers in possession of the ball. Meanwhile, Dan-Axel Zagadou is injury prone beyond belief, and can never develop a consistent run of games. Somehow, he also possesses the incredible skill of being slower than Hummels, without any of the positional awareness and leadership the German brings to the table. With that, Dortmund need to consider their centre-back options in the current market, and start planning for the future. So today, we take a look at the very best defenders that could make for realistic and easy signings for the Black & Yellows to make this summer. Let’s get into it.
MAXENCE LACROIXEmbed from Getty Images
One of the major surprises of last summer was that none of Europe’s elite went in for Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix. In truth, the Frenchman had no reason to leave the club that served him so well in his first season in the Bundesliga, where he made 31 league appearances at the heart of Glasner’s resilient back-line. But such a capable defender, and still only 21-years-old, it’s shocking that the likes of Dortmund and Milan were not competing for Lacroix’s services. That battle should take off this summer if clubs are smart, and Dortmund should lead the way in hunting the Wolfsburg man down.
A man of many strengths, Lacroix is exceptional at timing his tackles, aided in part by his magnificent pace to chase down speedy attackers. He’s won 65% of his tackles against tricky dribblers, whilst also boasting an impressive pressing success of 32.6%. He also sits in the top 1% of all centre-backs for interceptions, making nearly 3.9 per 90, and 6.67 tackles + interceptions per 90, the second most in the Bundesliga in both categories. As if that’s enough to justify his defensive solidity, he’s a menace in the air – winning an impressive 67% of his aerial duels this season.Embed from Getty Images
A powerful beast at the back capable of holding all defensive responsibilities, Lacroix also excels with the ball at his feet, and perfectly fits Dortmund’s possession game. He can carry or pass the ball out from the back to equal effect, and thrives under pressure. Only Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah has completed more dribbles (80%) of all centre-backs in the league than Lacroix’s 78.6%. A risky, progressive passer, the 21-year-old could improve on his short passing game, and recognize when to take risks, as opposed to when to play it simple. But in terms of fitting Dortmund’s style, while also upgrading from what they currently have as a third choice or future Hummels replacement, Maxence Lacroix ticks all the boxes. His market value of €25 million boasts well for Dortmund’s chances of signing the Frenchman, and they should go in for the highly-rated defender as soon as possible.
NICO SCHLOTTERBECKEmbed from Getty Images
Nico Schlotterbeck is having the season of his life, as Freiburg are having the season of their lives. The Freiburg defender is a healthy mix of an old school defender who wants to get in the way of absolutely everything, while still possessing that modern day class on the ball and passing range out from the back. Constantly wanting to get involved in the play, Schlotterbeck will frequently venture into the attacking half to aid the team’s possession and wide overloads, and contributes a ton of firepower from set-pieces. Like Lacroix, Schlotterbeck is also incredibly young – just 22 years of age. He still has so much time to develop into a Mats Hummels-like figure, while evidently already possessing the necessary leadership. The left-footed centre-back would also compliment Akanji’s composed defending, being more adventurous with his play and slightly more robust and ‘no nonsense’ in approach.Embed from Getty Images
Schlotterbeck isn’t the sharpest of passers that could enter the frame at Dortmund, but he brings so many other valuable assets to the table, while still performing well in possession. The German defender excels in every defensive category, from winning 5.05 tackles + interceptions per 90 this season, to bossing the air with 71% of his duels won. He’s also a warrior at the front end of the pitch, with nearly 2 shot-creating-actions per 90, and 3 goals this season. It’s also not as though he can’t hold his own in possession, constantly willing his team on as he progresses the ball via carrying and dribbling power. The 22-year-old German defender has won 60% of his dribbles, and made nearly 4 progressive carries per game – a valuable asset for any possession-based team to have at their disposal. His long passing range could improve (65%), but it’s not as though Dortmund necessarily need their future Hummels replacement to be a capable long passer, since Akanji can already hold his own in that department.
Being just 22-years of age, Dortmund would be foolish not to bid for the Freiburg man this summer. Schlotterbeck is currently valued at €20 million, which would be an absolute bargain for a man of his quality, that could so easily play for any of Europe’s absolute elite.
OBITE EVAN NDICKAEmbed from Getty Images
Obite Evan Ndicka is another one of Bundesliga’s rising stars, with four full seasons under his belt now at Eintracht Frankfurt. The Frenchman remains only 22-years-old despite that incredible top level experience, and has developed into one of the team’s most integral pieces this season under Oliver Glasner. Ndicka has the pace and power to upgrade on the weakest points in Mats Hummels’ game, while also offering some of the German’s greatest strengths – like his threat in the air. Ndicka frequently makes himself a set-piece threat for Frankfurt, even acting as their intended target on the vast majority of corner kicks. He’s scored 3 goals with 2 assists in 21 appearances this season, already beating his best season for goal contributions. With 63.5% of his aerial duels won for a total of 4.45 per 90, Ndicka handles his own in the air, and contributes positively at both ends.Embed from Getty Images
Importantly, the French defender is also incredibly disciplined, having picked up only two cards this season. That’s an area he certainly beats Maxence Lacroix, as the Wolfsburg man has seen red twice in 2021-22. Meanwhile, Ndicka’s tackle percentage rises above 55% (55.9), and his pressure success is one of the highest in the league – at 37.9%. With 2.29 blocks and 3.43 tackles + interceptions per 90, the 22-year-old frequently puts his body on the line for his team, while doing so safely.
As if that’s not already enough to convince you of his quality, Ndicka also showcases an adventurous side, frequently underlapping his left-wing-back Filip Kostic. He’s received 0.5 progressive passes per game, more than 91% of the players in his position. That showcases his attacking intent and desire, even if he can’t accomplish the long passing feats of Hummels or Akanji. An excellent centre-back in all regards, Ndicka would make for an excellent signing for Borussia Dortmund, and is currently valued at €28 million according to Transfermarkt.
JONATHAN TAHEmbed from Getty Images
The oldest player on our list, Jonathan Tah has grown into one of the Bundesliga’s most accomplished defenders. Still only 26, Tah would have half a decade to continue to develop his game at Dortmund, and sure up the defense immediately with the experience and leadership he brings to the table. Tah is an exceptional passer of the ball, and is used to playing in Gerardo Seoane’s possession-based team. At 6’3, the Leverkusen man has both the height and strength to outmuscle any opposition player, showcased by his aerial duel percentage of 75.2% (wow!), and his tackling success of 65%. A defensive warrior, Tah is less likely to put his body in the way of blocks and tackles, and more likely to hold an exceptional position that allows him to win the ball with ease. With 5.62 clearances and 2.15 interceptions per 90, Tah is a rare centre-back who accomplishes so many different sides of the game so incredibly well.Embed from Getty Images
From a Dortmund perspective, the German defender would fit in like a dream, with an exceptional ability on the ball backed by unquestionable confidence and composure. He’s completed 80% of his dribbles this season (4th in the league), and nearly 90% of his passes. His passing over medium and long distances is particularly encouraging, especially given the role of Dortmund’s current centre-halves to spray those progressive passes forward when the time presents itself. Like Obite Evan Ndicka, Jonathan Tah also poses a threat from set-pieces, with 2 goals and 3 assists this season – the best total of his career. On one hand, the downside of signing Jonathan Tah in comparison to the others on this list is his age, with less room to grow into his peak than the likes of Lacroix and Ndicka. On the other hand, that’s a major upside, as he offers so much value and experience straight away. Leverkusen won’t let him go to a rival for the €25 million market value Transfermarkt suggests. But if Rose’s men managed to sign the accomplished centre-back, they’d have a hell of a player on their hands.
GLEISON BREMEREmbed from Getty Images
When looking to the future, Dortmund should expand their search to clubs beyond just the Bundesliga. While the likes of Ndicka, Lacroix and Tah have less to prove, the Black & Yellows could find a bargain from a lesser known player in another league. Perhaps that man could be Torino’s Gleison Bremer, who has caught the eye this season for his all-round game at the heart of Torino’s defense.
Bremer stands out above 99% of other centre-backs when it comes to intercepting the ball (3.95 interceptions per 90), demonstrating an uncanny ability to position himself in the correct areas to win back possession. Given that they often go hand and hand, it’s also no surprise to see Bremer topping Serie A’s clearances chart, with 5.52 per 90. He also wins out on blocks (2.56 per 90) and places third on total aerial duels won (4.57 per 90). The benefits to Bremer are obvious, and there aren’t many drawbacks from a statistical perspective. He plays for Torino, rather than a possession-based team, and would therefore have the most to overcome in learning Rose’s style of play. But in terms of instantly amplifying their defensive transitions, the 24-year-old Torino captain would be a no-brainer.Embed from Getty Images
Even though not the best, he still performs well in possession, showcased by his decent long passing record of 75.4%. He’s more safe and less progressive with his passing, which is not a bad thing, especially considering Torino are not a high-possession team, and that he’s successful when choosing those moments to be progressive. Perhaps most importantly, he performs all of his defensive tasks with an air of bravado and confidence – something that cannot be said about Dan-Axel Zagadou, who often looks afraid to make mistakes.
Looking at the downsides again, it has to be said that while the Brazilian has challenged for and won a ton of aerial duels this season, he’s also lost quite a few (48%). He’s also picked up six bookings, showcasing a degree of rashness to his play. But Bremer would be an obvious choice to provide greater defensive stability to the team in transition, given his incredible defensive awareness and positioning. At €20 million, he’d even be a steal.
SPECIAL SHOUTOUTSEmbed from Getty Images
With each and every team in existence playing with at least two centre-backs, sometimes even three, there are a multitude of players for Dortmund to scout. The Bundesliga is an obvious place to start the search, and we’ve detailed the traits of four of the very best they could bid for. However, Dortmund would be wise to take a look at a few other names, and expand their search beyond just the Bundesliga and Bremer.
First off, Mohammed Salisu is enjoying a fantastic season at Southampton. At 22 years of age, Salisu has needed little time to adapt to the English game, completely upgrading from Jannik Vestergaard – the man he was brought in to replace. He massively needs to improve his passing, possession, ball control and defensive decision making, but he also exhibits many positive qualities that top clubs will undoubtedly be taking note of. With 3 tackles per 90, Salisu stands out above 98% of the players in his position. Importantly, his defensive pressure percentage sits at 40.8%, the second highest in the Premier League. So even though he can be rash in stepping away from his fellow defenders, he can also be super successful. This will undoubtedly change soon, but the Ghanaian is listed on Transfermarkt at just €10 million, and on that evaluation, would certainly be the best bang for Dortmund’s buck. But with more holes in his game and a stylistic clash, we’ve chosen to omit Salisu from our final search, despite the obvious upsides he could provide.Embed from Getty Images
Over in France, Dortmund should take a look at former Barcelona man Jean-Clair Todibo, who’s enjoying an extraordinary season at OGC Nice. Todibo is one of Manuel Akanji’s closest comparisons, due to his poise in possession, progressive carrying (5.59 per game), and excellence when applying pressure (42%). He’s faster than Mats Hummels, but weaker in the air and unable to successfully make a high number of long-passes. The 6’2 centre-back is however like many others on this list in age (22), and has so much time to still develop his craft.
These should not be first choices for Dortmund in their quest to sign a new centre-back, but could provide value if others are picked up by bigger clubs or become unattainable.
STATISTICAL COMPARISONEmbed from Getty Images
After narrowing down our search to five centre-backs, we take a look at how each player performs in a variety of statistical categories, with a particular emphasis on Dortmund’s style of play. Here’s how the players compare to one another, in the quest to decide who the Black & Yellows should make their primary target.
ATTACK + POSSESSION
When comparing the attacking abilities of the five centre-backs in question, a few standouts emerge. Jonathan Tah most closely matches Dortmund’s attacking style of play, due to his long passing threat, and ability to play out from the back, and break lines both on a dribble and on a pass. He leads the way or ties for first in four of the six categories, with Lacroix and Ndicka winning one each in comparison. Schlotterbeck will need to hone in his progressive and adventurous side at Dortmund, recognizing when to take risks and when to play it safe. Nonetheless, his numbers are still encouraging, particularly his tally of nearly 4 progressive carries per game – nearly double that of the next highest on the list. Bremer is the least similar to all others and the least likely to fit in right away to Dortmund’s attacking style, but as we’ll come to see, several of his defensive stats are simply too good to pass up.
When it comes to defensive contributions, we see a more even spread in the leaderboards for our centre-back contenders. Maxence Lacroix and Jonathan Tah both win two categories each, with Tah’s in particular matching well to Dortmund’s style again. His impressive tackling success rate of 65% means the Black & Yellows can continue to push Raphael Guerreiro further forward, knowing they have a defensive beast in behind who can sweep up the messes. He also competes extraordinarily well in the air, beating Hummels’ aerial duel percentage by over 10%.Embed from Getty Images
Bremer’s pressing percentage is encouraging, in addition to his interception numbers which vastly stand out from the rest. But stylistically, it’s clear that Schlotterbeck, Lacroix and Tah would make for more natural fits. Obite Evan Ndicka meanwhile achieves high scores in several categories and still stands out among most defenders in the Bundesliga, but in our particular analysis, the stats suggest he might not be ready for the big jump quite yet. At the end of this, a clear winner has emerged.
THE VERDICTEmbed from Getty Images
If you had asked me to sign a Dortmund defender off the back of performances the past two seasons, without any insight into the statistics examined today, I would have likely chosen young guns Maxence Lacroix and Obite Evan Ndicka. The two French defenders should still be top priorities for Dortmund, but a new leader has emerged amidst the breadth and depth of our statistical analysis. Jonathan Tah is a clear winner given his stylistic compatibility, experience and leadership, and statistical output this season under Gerardo Seoane. He would fit in right away, without needing any time to develop his game, and would ease into Dortmund’s set-up under Marco Rose. At 26 years of age, it’s also not like Tah’s best years are in his past, making the move even more sensible.
So as they prepare for life without Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund should make Bayer 04’s Jonathan Tah their top target, and splash the low cash of €25 million for his services.
Embed from Getty Images
So there it is! A statistical look at Dortmund’s future centre-back options. If you liked this article, be sure to check out more of our Data Analyses, and Bundesliga Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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