How good of a Centre Back is Benedikt Höwedes?

24 Years old Schalke Captain Benedikt Howedes has been linked with a host of top clubs in the past few years including Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United to name a few. With Schalke residing near the top of the Bundesliga and continuing to do well in Europe and the 24 year old having played a huge part in this, speculation will only intensify in the following transfer windows.

His manager Huub Stevens has recently urged Joachim Löw to select him for the German national team, however, he faces stiff competition if he is to break into the side in his preferred center back position.  Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker finally seems to have settled at Arsenal and Löw has begun integrating Hummels at the EUROs.

The Schalke captain does offer something different though. Höwedes plays with a more aggressive style compared to Mertesacker for example, meaning that he likes to break out quickly to interrupt and intercept attacks before they reach the final 3rd. This role carries a high risk as even the slightest misjudgement can leave the whole team exposed.  However, Höwedes possess an array of skills which make him very adept at this role and an option Löw should very much consider.

The 24 year old reads the game very well and as a result he is extremely quick to burst out and intercept the ball; usually only giving an attacker one touch on the ball, if that. As a result he averages 3.3 interceptions per game; 7th in the Bundesliga overall. This makes it extremely difficult for opposing strikers to find any rhythm as they barely have time to manoeuvre before Höwedes has reached them.

This pattern in his game also extends to wider areas of the pitch as he frequently provides cover for the right back; usually Uchida, as he aids him with overlapping full backs and doubles up on fast wingers. When this happens the whole team has to be aware and cover each position in turn (Matip/Papadopoulos for Höwedes, Fuchs for Matip/Papadopoulos, Afellay for Fuchs and so on) so as not to leave gaping spaces for opposition midfielders and attackers to exploit. As such, Höwedes organizes his backline extremely well and is almost always his team’s most vocal leader on the pitch. And it shows in their results this season. Besides Bayern, Schalke have the league’s best defense.

One recognizable strength that the defender possesses is his ability in one-on-one situations as he puts to use his impeccable balance; meaning that he can change direction without having to slow down and give the attacker the advantage. Höwedes consolidates this by generally timing his challenges very well making him an extremely tough opponent to come up against. This is reflected in the stats as he is only dribbled past on average 0.6 times per game; the lowest out of any defender at Schalke and one of the lowest for a centerback in the league

What makes the timing of his challenges so crucial is that he is a defender that often likes to go to ground; meaning that the slightest misjudgement can’t result in a foul or worse, a yellow or red card. Höwedes’s tendency to dive in may be exposed against better sides but generally speaking his timing is excellent enough to come out on top, most recently seen in his stellar performances against Arsenal and arch rivals Dortmund for example. Against Dortmund he was particular impressive; paving the way with 5 tackles; the 2nd most on the pitch and an excellent man marking job on Lewandowski. His technique when timing his challenges has rescued Schalke on many occasions as he frequently saves the day with last ditch tackles.

On the few occasions that he does not win a tackle after having gone to ground, he is very quick to recover; giving the attacker a lot less time than he would expect having just dribbled past the defender. Despite all of this, Höwedes is still a very good defender when he chooses to stay on his feet. Brilliant at ushering attackers into non-threatening areas of the pitch the Schalke captain’s good balance once again comes into play as he repeatedly closes off angles and eventually nullifies the threat.

The German international comes across as very composed and assertive when on the pitch. As a result he rarely gets distracted by what is going on around him. For example, he is rarely fazed by attackers running in behind him as others struggle and often misjudge the flight off the ball. A lot of defenders exhibit a trend of allowing opposition players to put them off their game by making simple movements when they are about to clear an aerial ball.

Benedikt’s distribution from the back may seem unassuming and is often very simple but is very calculated and important for Schalke’s build up play. Normally it involves playing short passes out wide to Uchida or even Farfan who sometimes drops deep to collect the ball but it is crucial to Schalke’s style of play as they look to get to the balls to the flanks as quickly and early as possible.  Sure enough, they have scored more goals on the counter than any other side in the league in the last two years.

Höwedes doesn’t overcomplicate things when it comes to distribution and he is not afraid to go long if there are no options immediately available. There are elements to his game that the Haltern born youngster can improve upon though; most notably his positioning as he often can be caught drifting too far away from his fellow centre back and leaving big gaps to be exploited. It must be said though that this is a job for both centre backs.

So how good is he? The answer is very; he mixes impressive tackling attributes and relentless pressing with incredibly quick reactions and brilliant interception skills. He can improve on his passing game and his overall distribution but if he continues with his development, there is no reason why Löw should not give him the chance he deserves to play in his best position.

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Aniefiok Ekpoudom

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