What Nico Schlotterbeck will bring to Borussia Dortmund

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Famous for their stunningly sound recruitment of young players, Borussia Dortmund have carried on the trend of snapping up some of the Bundesliga’s best with their latest signing of SC Freiburg’s Nico Schlotterbeck. The 22-year-old has been one of the best defenders in Germany this season, growing immensely from his 2020-21 campaign with Union Berlin, and massively developing his all-around game. Now one of the most accomplished defenders in a variety of categories, Dortmund were right to swoop in for a minimal €20 million fee. So with that, we analyze what Nico Schlotterbeck will bring to Borussia Dortmund ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

ABILITY TO PLAY IN A BACK THREE

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Within the past five seasons, Dortmund played their best football under Lucien Favre in a back-three formation, with high-flying wing-backs bursting up the pitch to contribute to the attack. Favre’s famous decision to switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3 allowed the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Manuel Akanji to grow into the players they are today, and I’ve personally spoken at length about how a return to a back-three makes the most logistical sense for the players Dortmund have at their disposal. So regardless of what lies ahead for the likes of Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji, we considered Dortmund’s need to sign a new centre-back ahead of 2022-23 as a paramount endeavour.

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Having one more sound defender to add to the mix allows the Black & Yellows greater flexibility in both over-arching structures and style of play, where they can push the likes of Akanji and Schlotterbeck further forward into the attack and utilize their exceptional carrying ability to overload central areas. As a left-footed centre-back, Schlotterbeck offers a natural left-sided option for build-up phases, opening more corridors of space out from the back. Mats Hummels has always been one of the most exceptional two-footed players around, but Schlotterbeck’s ability to aid in Freiburg’s wide overloads will massively benefit Dortmund in the exact same way, while positioning a player on their stronger foot. But crucially, the 22-year-old has become accustomed to playing in both a back-three or back-four across the season under Christian Streich, and even last season at Union Berlin. He’s a player that has become accustomed to flexible systems and fluctuating shapes, which will benefit a tactician like Marco Rose to better allow his tactical ideals to translate on the pitch.

A HARD-MAN, THROW-BACK DEFENDER

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Schlotterbeck excels in possession of the ball, particularly when considering defenders who want to proactively be progressive. While his passing percentages don’t match up to what would be expected of a Dortmund player (82.2%), he certainly has all the tools to grow as a safe passing net for the Black & Yellows. But where Schlotterbeck truly excels is in the defensive side of the game. He’s a hard-man, a rock-solid ‘Stopper‘, and in many ways – a bit of a throw-back to an old school defender. What Dortmund so often lack when defending is a sense of urgency. Rose’s team desperately need a warrior-mentality where they want to win the ball at any cost. Schlotterbeck perfectly encompasses that bravado and mindset, and will add a much needed sense of heart to the back-line. As more of a ‘Stopper’, coming out to challenge players and win tackles high up the pitch, he also works perfectly as a partner for Manuel Akanji – sweeping in behind.

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While Dortmund sometimes lack in proactiveness out of possession, Schlotterbeck symbolizes the exact high pressing mentality Marco Rose desperately wants to deploy. On a per 90 basis, he’s completed 5.43 tackles + interceptions this season, 2.15 blocks, and 5.50 clearances per game. Not afraid to make any type of challenge, he’s been tremendously successful in stepping out and winning the ball – with a pressure success of 40.5%, and tackle success of 58.3%. A beast in the air, Schlotterbeck’s 73.9% aerial duel success also ranks fifth in the Bundesliga this season, besting every Dortmund player. While his defensive numbers are bound to decrease in a high-possession team, the percentage points are particularly impressive, and showcase Schlotterbeck’s potential to dramatically improve Dortmund’s defense.

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But anyone who’s read my work over the years knows that Dortmund’s most desperate defensive need is to improve their ability in transitional moments. Freiburg, also playing in a high-tempo, high-pressing, high-line style of football, also conceded much of their goals in transition this season. Schlotterbeck may not be the most equipped to drastically change Dortmund’s massive problems in defensive transitions, but that will also be a structural concern that Rose needs to sort out on a broader scale. What the 6’3 defender provides is greater proactivity and pace in behind Guerreiro, something that neither Hummels or Zagadou can currently provide. This is particularly important – given Guerreiro’s attack-minded role and importance to the Black & Yellows when in full flow.

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In this sense, while we suggested Jonathan Tah as our first choice target in ‘Analyzing Dortmund’s future centre-back options‘, Dortmund certainly recognized the greater need to find a player who can play week in and week out on the left side of the central defensive unit. If the Black & Yellows add a ‘Midfield Destroyer‘ to the mix and a high quality defensive right-back, they will now have all the pieces in place to fix the structural issues at hand within Marco Rose’s system. Attack has never been the problem, and it’s nice to see the board recognizing that in the transfer market.

PROGRESSIVE MENTALITY

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With the recognition that Dortmund’s attack has never been the problem, Nico Schlotterbeck perfectly fits the bill as a progressive defender that can continue to carry on in the exact same way to Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji as they grow out of the team. The ability to spray long passes forward, carry the ball up the field, or simply find players in advanced positions between the lines are all paramount qualities for a Dortmund centre-back to possess. With an air of confidence and bravado on the ball, Schlotterbeck excellently times his moments to carry the ball forward, and is one of the top dribbling centre-backs in the world of football.

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His long passing percentage of 63.7% evidently needs to improve at Signal Iduna Park, but still situates nicely enough among the better centre-backs in the division. When considering his desire to be progressive, this lower passing percentage can be expected. 4.19 passes into the final third per 90 puts him right up there with the best in the division, and highly comparable to Akanji’s 5.11. As we noted in ‘Analyzing Dortmund’s future centre-back options‘, it’s not as though Schlotterbeck desperately needs to be capable of spraying long passes, given the quality Dortmund already possess in that department from the likes of Witsel (2nd in the league on long passing percentage), Akanji (9th) and Hummels (11th). The fact that the Freiburg man offers something slightly different in carrying ability could be a massive plus for the Black & Yellows, allowing them a greater variety of resources to break lines out from the back.

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From an attacking perspective, Schlotterbeck also possesses an uncanny ability to contribute on set-pieces. The Freiburg man has scored 4 goals with 1 assist this season, posting up 1.52 shot-creating actions per 90 this season, which ranks within the top 2% of all centre-backs in the world. Given the quality of Dortmund’s deliverers of a dead-ball like Marco Reus and Raphael Guerreiro, this only adds one more useful weapon to the equation. Going the other way, massive structural changes are again needed to resolve Dortmund’s own susceptibly from a set-piece. But Schlotterbeck’s aerial presence and aerial success should in some way help to mitigate that concern going into 2022-23.

All ends up, this piece of business appears to be an incredibly shrewd move from the Black & Yellows, and one that will benefit them in all phases of the game.

CONCLUSION

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Borussia Dortmund desperately needed to sign a centre-back ahead of the 2022-23 season, particularly with an array of sharks swimming around Manuel Akanji, and Mats Hummels coming into the twilight of his career. In Nico Schlotterbeck, they’ve secured the signature of one of the very best in the world, for an absolute bargain. Not only will Schlotterbeck provide better balance to the defense as a left-footed centre-back; but he provides much needed improvements from both an attacking and defensive perspective. Offering something different than what the Black & Yellows already have at their disposal, Nico Schlotterbeck will be an extraordinarily useful weapon for Marco Rose’s team next season. Whatever happens to Dortmund’s defense from here remains to be seen, but Schlotterbeck will undeniably prove to be a useful weapon in all phases of the game.


So there it is! What Nico Schlotterbeck will bring to Borussia Dortmund. Be sure to check out more of our Bundesliga articles, Player Analyses, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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