Manchester United have tightened up their defence considerably since the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City. But the loss of Nemaja Vidic for the season is a tough blow to cope with. Sir Alex Ferguson has said that the club won’t panic buy in January, but if a central defender is on their list, it should be Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels.
Since Nuri Sahin left Borussia Dortmund in June after captaining the side to their first Bundesliga title since 2002, Borussia have struggled to replace him. This season, however, they are still going strong domestically at least. Their exit from the Champions League, during which the lost four of their six games and conceded twelve goals in the process, was seen by many in the German press as an utter embarrassment. And indeed it was a huge disappointment. But, in actual fact, it may prove to their advantage in their quest to defend their Bundesliga title. They have a bigger squad than Bayern and are will not be burdened with European games after Christmas. If they are successful, it will be in no small part down to the form and fitness of two players in particular. Mario Götze has been a revelation in the last eighteen months, and has taken on the mantle of the ‘new Lionel Messi’, at least according to Franz Beckenbauer. But of no lesser importance to Dortmund’s recent success has been defender Hummels.
He started his career at Bayern Munich, signing his first professional deal in 2006 after graduating from the Säbener Straβe youth academy. Behind Daniel van Buyten, Lucio and Martin Demichelis in the pecking order, he was restricted to just one first-team appearance for Bayern, coming at the very end of the 2006-07 season. Still unable to force his way into the first team at Bayern he was loaned out to his current club Dortmund for a year in early 2008, and managed to make 25 league appearances. This prompted Dortmund to sign him on a permanent deal for €4.2 million in the summer of 2009. And it has been in the last two seasons that he has really made his mark, domestically and internationally.
Under the tutelage of Jürgen Klopp, who revels in fielding young players – the average age of Dortmund’s title-winning squad was just under 23 – Hummels has been made a fulcrum of the team, and it’s a role he has taken on seamlessly. Most people are familiar with the statistic that Dortmund conceded just 19 goal in their 34 league games last season, forming the bedrock of their championship victory. This season they have been just as tight in the league. The partnership Hummels forged with Serbian international Neven Subotic was interrupted in early November, when the latter suffered a horrible facial injury at the hands of ex-Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, now at Wolfsburg. He has been out of action since then. Brazilian defender Felipe Santana has since stepped in to replace Subotic, and done exceptionally well, it should be noted.
In the last two seasons that he has really made his mark, domestically and internationally.
But Hummels, barring a moment of madness or two in the Champions League (the goals conceded in the two games against Marseilles away and at Olympiakos don’t make kind viewing for him) has been his consistent self in the Bundesliga. The team is unbeaten in its last 11 league game since losing to Hannover in September, and that run includes wins against Schalke, Bremen and, of course, away to FC Bayern last month. Indeed the Bayern game was a perfect example of why Hummels is such a good player. It was game in which neither side had many chances, and it was decided by a goal scored by Götze in rather fortuitous circumstances; a lucky ricochet off Jerome Boateng allowed the 19-year-old to poke home from eight yards. Defences were on top, but watching Hummels didn’t make it a boring game to watch by any means. On the contrary, the battle between himself and Mario Gomez, which he won by a clear margin, was an enthralling contest.
Hummels is competent in the tackle, but usually anticipates the game so well that he can merely intercept, as opposed to commit himself to a 50-50 challenge. This ability to read the game was especially evident in the Bayern game, where he cut out countless through balls from Thomas Müller and Franck Ribéry & co. He never shies away from an aerial duel, neither in his own penalty area nor in the opposition’s, and he has an impressive ten league goals to his name in the last two seasons. And like most Germans, he takes a decent penalty, as evidenced against Marseilles recently.
Hummels is competent in the tackle, but usually anticipates the game so well that he can merely intercept, as opposed to commit himself to a 50-50 challenge.
The elegance with which he strides out from the back with the ball at his feet evokes memories of the aforementioned Beckenbauer in his prime. Internationally, Hummels has also made his mark, having won twelve caps for the national team. There is stiff competition for a starting place in Joachim Löw’s first eleven for the Euros next summer, with Per Mertesacker, Boateng, Holger Badstuber and even Benedikt Höwedes vying for a place. But another successful, possibly title-winning, season for Hummels and he could be one to look out for in Poland and the Ukraine next year. Defence remains, in my opinion, one potential area of weakness for Germany’s team; dropping the painfully slow Mertesacker, first of all, would go a long way to eradicating that weakness. I would go a step further and make Hummels a shoe-in for a starting berth against Portugal on June 9th. He would also be someone whom German football fans would feel good about watching in English football, considering the criticism of Mertesacker that I’ve encountered in Germany since he joined Arsenal.
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