Over the last 12 months, Brazilian defender Dante has firmly established himself as not only one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga but in all of Europe.
Dante, whose curly coiffure earned him cult status in Mönchengladbach, is well on his way of doing the same with Bayern Munich thanks to his performances this season. A great physical presence at the back but equally elegant on the ball venturing forward, Dante is the epitome of the modern center-back, and it is no wonder that with him in the lineup, the club is setting all kinds of defensive records.
His consistently outstanding performances have earned him a heap of praise in the press, from coaches and his own teammates. Germany’s most prominent football publication kicker ranks him as the league’s best defender this season. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer even went so far as to say he is one of the best defenders he has ever played with.
When Dante arrived at Bayern, the club’s coach, Jupp Heynckes, told reporters that the Brazilian had to accept his role as a squad player and not expect to play every single game. Fast forward a couple of months and Dante has done exactly that. He has started every single match for his club this and is now deemed undroppable by Heynckes.
“He used the opportunity to prove himself from the beginning. He is a great player; experienced, confident and composed. He anticipates plays well so he can always read the game. He provides great security in our defense. When Dante is healthy and fit, he plays,” Heynckes said before the winter break. Heynckes is not the only one won over by the 29-year-old. Those afros that became so commonplace in Mönchengladbach are starting to pop up at the Allianz Arena as well.
For a measly 4.7 million Euros, Dante has been nothing short of a steal for Bayern and exactly the stabilizing element they needed in defense. Bayern went into the winter break with the second best Hinrunde record in league history and have so far recorded 13 clean sheets out of their first 19 games. In fact, by conceding just seven goals so far in those 19 matches, Bayern have set a new Bundesliga record and are on track to beating their own record for fewest goals conceded in a single season.
Even though half of the season still remains to be played, it’s not farfetched to predict Bayern running away with the title at the rate they’re going. Only they themselves had a better points total at this stage in the season (back in 2005/06) and Dante has been a central figure in their historic run this time around.
Dante has imbued a renewed confidence and stability in a Bayern back line that looked very fragile at many points last season. For all the trouble Bayern have had with Dortmund, and Robert Lewandowski in particular, in Dante they finally have a defender capable of dealing with their dynamic attack as he so boldly showed in their league and Super Cup encounters earlier this season.
After four consecutive league losses to Dortmund, Bayern had their best performances against the defending champions in two years when they met in December. In that game, Dante helped limit Lewandowski to the fewest touches on the ball of any player on the pitch and zero attempts on goal. To great effect, Dante made sure to stay close to Lewandowski and forced him away from goal throughout the match.
The game also marked a turning point in the teams’ rivalry with Bayern showing that they have more than closed the gap in terms of keeping up with Dortmund’s quick style of play. Bayern looked more comfortable in possession and dominated large spells of the game. In their eight previous meetings Bayern had always gone down a goal against Dortmund but in December they took the lead through Kroos’ goal and were denied the win by a wonderful individual performance from Roman Weidenfeller.
Bayern’s increased comfort level and dominance is in large part a result of their defensive stability. In this statistical analysis, Bayern came out on top as Europe’s most “formidable” defense, allowing the fewest chances all while being able to withstand pressure from their opponents without conceding. That composure Heynckes referred to has been visible in Bayern’s overall play and Dante has been arguably the biggest factor in facilitating it.
His athleticism and tactical awareness ensures that Bayern don’t get caught on the break as often as they did last year, and he provides Bayern’s attackers with a great platform to express themselves up front. Of course, Dante wouldn’t be a Brazilian center-back if he didn’t get involved in attacks himself and has created, either directly or indirectly, 23 goal scoring chances in the league so far this season, a remarkable statistic for a central defender.
Comparing Dante with nine of the league’s standout center-backs this season, one can see his consistency and balance as a player and just why he has received so many plaudits since in the last 12 months.
Statistics for the 2012/13 season, via Bundesliga.com
|Player||Club||Pass Completion %||Duels Won %||Fouls Committed||Shots on Goal||Chances Created|
|Mats Hummels||Borussia Dortmund||83||62.4||7||19||34|
|Benedikt Höwedes||Schalke 04||87.7||66.5||17||14||22|
|Martin Stranzl||Borussia M’gladbach||89.4||74.8||13||8||10|
|Philipp Wollscheid||Bayer Leverkusen||88.3||63.9||13||10||12|
|1. FC. Nürnberg||85.4||68||20||6||8|
|Nikolce Noveski||1. FSV Mainz 05||84.5||65.8||22||5||8|
|Heiko Westermann||Hamburger SV||85||64||14||17||23|
|Serdar Tasci||VfB Stuttgart||91.5||63.8||9||5||8|
|Fallou Diagne||SC Freiburg||85.1||57.5||16||4||8|
For years he has been steadily but assuredly improving his game, and all along, he has been doing it with his big trademark smile and an admirable humility. “I’ve always stayed positive in my head,” he said. That optimism finally paid off when Dante was rightfully rewarded with a call up to the Brazilian national team in January.
And now with the pressure of playing for the country’s biggest club who is desperately trying to get back to winning trophies, he has only elevated his game. His smile and his attitude are infectious and they seem to have caught on in the team. If Bayern finish the season the way they have started it could be a very special year for the club and no player has had arguably a bigger impact in that than Dante.
Header courtesy of Tobias Hase-dpa