From the moment that it looked like Mats Hummels was going to return to Bayern Munich, everyone began to think about who his replacement would be. After all, for a player of Hummels’ class, replacing him is no easy task. Names like Joel Veltman from Ajax, Shkodran Mustafi and others were seen as options for Dortmund. But instead of buying one of those two, Dortmund decided to purchase the contract of Barcelona defender Marc Bartra. Since he looks like he’s going to take Hummels’ place in the starting XI, for at least next season he is their replacement for Hummels. Since this is the case, any Bundesliga fan must be thinking asking themselves if is he the right man to fill the void left by Hummels. Is Bartra the correct buy? Let’s see.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Bartra, he’s 25 years old, he’s from Spain and represents them internationally. And before coming to Dortmund, he played for Barcelona, the only club he’s every played for. He’s featured for Barcelona B and he’s been a senior player with the giants of Catalonia since his debut in the 2009-10 season. Even though his debut was in the 2009-10 season, it wasn’t until 2012-13 that he was regularly included in the squad.
And since Bartra has been on Barca his entire career, minutes have been few and far between for the Spanish defender. He’s never made more than 20 appearances in La Liga in his career, and up until 2013-14 he’d never made more than 10 appearances in the top flight. And even when he’s played for Barca, his minutes have often come against lower level opposition either in the La Liga, Copa Del Rey or the Champions League.
Now you might be wondering why Dortmund just bought a guy who’s never been a first team regular, but the reason is quite obvious — he has talent. His talent has been evident ever since his breakthrough into the Barca starting 11 in 2013-14. This is because when he’s gotten the chance to play, he’s generally taken advantage. His whoscored.com match rating this season in the league was 6.85, which is alright but in the two seasons before his rating sat at 7.51 and 7.39 respectively. Those ratings are very good (especially the last two) and if he had those numbers in the Bundesliga, he would be one of the highest rated defenders in the league. His performances in the Champions League have been close to the level he’s been at in the league, with ratings of 7 and 7.35 in the last two years. Despite not being given regular minutes by Barcelona, he’s clearly taken advantage of his playing time.
He’s even performed well enough that he’s been included in the Spain squad for the Euros, and he’s made almost a dozen international caps. Even though he’s not going to start for La Roja this summer (barring an injury), the fact that a manager like Vicente Del Bosque thinks highly enough of a player with limited minutes to put him in his squad shows that he clearly has talent. Since Bartra has done well when’s he’s played, and he’s even become a Spanish international as a result, Dortmund appear to have bought a pretty good player.
The only bad part about Bartra is the lack of playing time, and with Dortmund he will have something to prove. He needs to show that his performances aren’t a result of playing against lower level sides or just since they’ve come very rarely. If Bartra can do that at the Westfalenstadion, he could become a very solid player at the back for Dortmund.
How He Fares With Others
Even though Bartra appears to be a talented player, an especially talented player is what it’s going to take to successfully replace Hummels. Since this is the case, all of the defenders that Dortmund had been linked with have shown talent and ability in their respective careers. And knowing that, it’s fair to compare Bartra with some of those players, such as Veltman and Mustafi.
First let’s compare him to Veltman, who is close in age to Bartra at 24 years old, and plays for Ajax. Veltman has played in the Eredivisie his entire career, which means that he’s yet to play in a league that is comparable to the Bundesliga. Even though this is the case, Veltman has shined in the Dutch top flight for his entire career for Ajax, where he’s been a first team player since 2013-14. And Veltman has made over 75 appearances since then for the iconic Dutch side that plays in a style similar to that employed by Coach Thomas Tuchel at BvB.
The Dutch defender has been so impressive for Ajax that he’s become a regular in the Netherlands national team and in their recent friendlies he’s been starting for them as well. And his match ratings justify the time he’s gotten with the national team, with a 7.77 rating this past season. That total made him the second best player in the Eredivisie according to match rating, but he’s been impressive in his other two seasons with 7.68 and 7.59 ratings as well. Veltman has been an impenetrable wall during his time with Ajax, and there’s a very good argument to be made that he would make a great replacement for Hummels.
But although he checks all of the boxes as a replacement for Hummels, Eredivisie players don’t always work out when they move abroad. Memphis Depay is a prime example of this, the player of the year in the Eredivisie last season was an epic flop at Manchester United this past season. Other players such as Luuk de Jong, (who most Bundesliga fans remember from his time at Gladbach) who were obscure at best in the stronger leagues have starred in the Eredivisie as well. Since this is the case, it’s understandable why Dortmund didn’t want to take the risk with Veltman. Even though he is a good player, Bartra looks like the more safe buy on paper.
Next up is Mustafi, the German-born son of Albanian parents who played in the youth systems of Hamburg and Everton before signing with Sampdoria in January, 2012. Also 24 years-old, he would certainly be the more expensive option for Dortmund with the reported 50 million euro release clause in his contract.
But there is a reason why the Germany defender has such a high price tag. As he showed against Ukraine in the Euros, he is capable of shutting down the opposition along with being a solid header of the ball. 2 goals in the La Liga for Valencia this season along with 4 last year show that Mustafi is more than just an impressive defender. And just like Veltman and Bartea he’s thrived throughout his career, with a match rating of at least 7.24 in his three seasons as a first team player with Valencia and Sampdoria.
Mustafi is also a regular in Joachim Low’s Germany squad, which displays how much quality that he has. And even though Veltman has a lot of quality as well, Mustafi had done it against sides like Juventus, Inter, Milan, Real Madrid, Atletico and Barca along with Sevilla and Villarreal. All of those sides are much better than those Veltman has faced, and in Bartra’s Barca career he was rarely on the pitch against the top sides. All in all, even though the German has a hefty price tag, he’s the most proven option for Dortmund.
And the only way that Dortmund can realistically compete with Bayern is by doing more than buying and depending on young players. Even though Dortmund have made multiple signings this summer with Ousmane Dembele, Emre Mor, Sebastian Rode, and now Raphael Guerrero being inked along with Bartra, the Spanish defender might be the biggest question mark of them all. As a result, with options like Mustafi available, it looks like Dortmund could’ve done a bit better than Bartra.
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