We are now one number away from revealing the league’s most outstanding player this past season but before we get to our top choice, we pay homage to a player few would probably even consider ranking so high on the list.
It is often repeated that defenders rarely get the credit of their offensive counterparts but there is no denying that his contribution has been nothing short of incredible in a historic season for his club.
Here is the rundown on not only one of the best players in the league butbest arguably Germany’s best defender, Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels.
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2. Mats Hummels
In football it is common knowledge that defenders rarely ever receive the same credit that attacking players do. They are less glamorous, do more of the dirty work and don’t necessarily fill the headlines. Every now and then certain defenders come along whose personality and abilities catapult them alongside their offensive counterparts but for the most part it is the strikers and midfielders that garner most of the glory. That said, few defenders have been as impressive or as important to their side in recent Bundesliga history as Hummels has to Dortmund this season. Alongside Nuri Sahin, Hummels became the leader of Klopp’s championship winning side and led from the back formidably. Bayern Munich supporters let out a collective sigh as they witnessed Hummel’s ascent in the last 2-3 years. Since leaving the record champions, first on loan and eventually on a permanent basis, Hummels has risen from the ranks of discarded Bayern youth products to Germany’s most dominant defender and this was a defining season in cementing that.
The Bergisch Gladbach born defender was part of Dortmund’s nearly impenetrable defense and while much of the attention went to their energetic attack it was the rock solid defending that provided the foundation for their historic season. Thanks to Hummels, Dortmund kept a league high 14 clean sheets and was just a goal away from equaling the best defensive performance in a single season in league history, set by Bayern in 2007. As it stands, it is still the second best defensive performance in league history, conceding just 22 goals. Jürgen Klopp’s men moved into first place on the 10th match day and never looked back, playing a dynamic brand of attacking football coupled with sound and equally capable defense. At the heart of both stood Mats Hummels, a center back that in many ways transcended his role while remaining an unceasing presence throughout the campaign.
Hummels stands apart from his peers for several reasons. Over the past couple of years supporters of the Bundesliga have for the most part become accustomed to a certain kind of defender. The arrival of the 2000’s meant the end of the sweeper that was so commonplace in German football for decades. The adventurous sweeper, or libero, who was both the last line of defense as well as the first line of attack became outdated with the disappearance of the 3-5-2 formation and all across Europe teams became more linear in their defensive approach. The focus shifted away from allocating more responsibility to a single defender to a more collective approach. The result was a smaller portion of defenders who took initiative on the field or emphasized the technical aspect of the game. Players like Per Mertesacker, Arne Friedrich,and Christoph Metzelder, all good players in their own right, represented that more conservative demure contingent of German defenders that subsequently began to pop up. Since Germany has been looking for a defensive counterpart to their newly infused brand of attacking football, players that not only compliment their style of play but supplement it as well.
The arrival and development of Hummels has suggested a seeming return to the forgotten days of the ball playing defender, perhaps not a definitive comparison structurally but sufficient to warrant an analogy. Players like Bayern Munich’s Holger Badstuber, Freiburg’s Ömer Toprak or Manchester City’s Jerome Boateng all represent defenders reminiscent of that era, players comfortable on the ball and eager to initiate attacks and step outside the comfort zone of the sixteen yard box. Hummels spearheads this new group of players and has shown that the new generation of German footballers, so coveted for their attacking play, is not just confined to offensive players.
Hummels’s characteristic playmaking out of the back was vital to Dortmund’s style of play and on field success. Their play depended heavily on quick transitions from defense to attack and often Hummels would carry the ball out of the back himself and initiate plays or make decisive passes to his attacking players, sometimes even bypassing play in midfield. No other defender was more involved in his side’s attack than Hummels, registering a total of 33 shots on goal, more than any other defender, including the attack minded fullbacks of the league. Hummels had 2144 touches on the ball in 32 games, an impressive number for a center back and an indication of his frequent involvement during a match. It was not uncommon to see Hummels involved in both halves of the pitch on a regular basis, always ready and confident in possession and willing to take responsibility.
That is not to say that playing the ball is his only quality. Far from that, Hummels aerial game is one of the best in the league and was rightfully praised by National Team coach Joachim Löw. Dortmund only conceded 2 goals from headers, a league low, thanks to his prowess in the air (Hummels won 62% of his aerial duals). That also made him one of the most dangerous players on set pieces, scoring more goals than any other defender in the league. His goal threat aside, he has also shown discipline beyond his years. Dortmund never lost a match and won a total of 23 after leading in a game, a testament to the concentration of their backline. Most impressive is the fact that as a team, Dortmund collected the least amount of yellow cards (39) in the league while Hummels himself only accounted for 2 of those, giving away a mere 24 fouls all season. Many Dortmund supporters were impressed with Hummels maturation and leadership this season, a promising development considering the departure of Sahin and the aging of goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller.
After being somewhat controversially snubbed by Löw prior to this season Hummels integration into the National Team has been quite promising. After years of defensive uncertainty, Germany may finally be ready to make those problems of the past and who better to plug the proverbial hole than the league’s most complete defender.