Who could possibly replace Mats Hummels?


In continuation of my previous article,on whether Mats Hummels is actually replaceable or whether he needs a replacement at all, we discuss some players capable of starting alongside Sokratis and take the empty seat that Mats Hummels has left behind.

The players discussed as follows are done keeping in mind that the player to should also be capable of fixing the explosiveness and agility that Mats Hummels lacked during his previous season at the Black and Yellows. Also, he must come young to be an option for BVB in the long term.

Hence,the defenders in this list were chosen also if their style of play is characterised by their athleticism and agility. But of course, to replace an overall package like Mats Hummels, you need more than that.


1. Niklas Süle

One hot branded candidate could be Hoffenheim defender Niklas Süle. Standing at 1.94 meters tall and having a physique that is quite remarkable for a 19-year-old, he could be a wax model of Mertesacker at Tussauds, with an excellent heading ability in both defensive and attack situations. Another special attribute of the German is his speed, which is good enough to not leave his teammates vulnerable in the scenario of an opposition attack. Ah well Mertesacker, you are beaten at that.

But what sets him apart from most defenders of his age is the fact that he has both remarkable interception and tackling rate, joining Raphael Varane, Jonathan Tah(comes later in the list) and Aymeric Laporte in that list, majority of the defenders of the same age bracket are specialized in only one of these areas. He also shows an  improved concentration since his hellish debut (4-1 Hamburg defeat), high body stability and very good reading ability. Sporting 69 Bundesliga appearances as a regular starter, despite not crossing the age of 20, is a remarkable feat itself.

sule (1)
Niklas Sule watches on

So far so good. Niklas is also a ball playing centre-back, having shown his progressive abilities, but they are rather unspectacular. This might be an area of improvement for him, added to a need for bettering ball handling/control. Though he is in every way a perfect solution as Mats Hummels’ successor in defensive scenarios and remains one of Germany’s best defensive talents.

2. Jonathan Tah 

Leverkusen’s towering centre-half is a physically built specimen, standing at around 192cms, Tah also weighs 90 kgs, which is impressive enough for any CB, at least of his age, thus bringing a factor of agility with him.

Last year he received the Golden U19 Fritz Walter Medal and 2 months back he made his debut for the German men’s national team. Now, he’s travelled to Evian for the Euros as a solution for injuries to Antonio Rudiger and Mats Hummels himself!

Tah’s special and the best attribute is his confidence and composure,which never fails him. He has an excellent reading ability, owing to his tall stature, and knows how to get the ball out of the dangerous areas. Never has he lost his calm on the pitch and shows a maturity well beyond his age.

Like Süle, Tah has a high body stability, making his upper body stiff which helps him in duels on the sidelines thereby making him a good solution for teams with ultra-attacking fullbacks. He uses his physique to make body contact and to act as an inhibitor to opponent counter attacks, but sometimes even a slight body contact earns him a foul. So far, he fits Leverkusen’s game plan.

Jonathan Tah

But Tah isn’t suitable for the construction game due to his natural tendency to press the opponents while his teammates are on the ball, in the sense, he is more defensive minded. He occasionally makes hectic decisions while on attacking phase. Nevertheless, the player has great potential in him and many more years to develop himself into a world class defender.

3. Ömer Toprak

We aren’t forgetting Leverkusen very easily, are we? They have a godly centre back pairing indeed, with Tah’s centre-back colleague, another rock in defence! Omer Toprak. Though he is in the same age bracket as that of Mats Hummels, Toprak’s positioning is world class. It complements Tah’s menacing physique and reading skills for the Bayer 04’s robust defence.

Omer Toprak bursts into celebration

He barks orders at the back line and thereby shows the qualities of a leader. As mentioned before, his positioning skills help Bayer 04 to block passing lanes for opponent attacks. He is the man for the last ditch tackles and a player who is always at the right place and the right time. He launches long balls for forwards like Chicharito and wingers like Karim Bellarabi to follow. Thus, he is a perfect fit for the positional play system of Thomas Tuchel.

4. Yaroslav Rakitskiy

Mircea Lucescu’s Shakhtar Donetsk  plays a relentless high pressing system with the attack force relying on their defence, as the team highly relies on upon build-up play from the back. Yaroslav Rakitskiy is an integral part of that very defence. Being a long ball specialist, he throws many balls forward trying to find the team’s pacy flankers with acres of space to run into.

Rakitskiy’s versatility is one of his greatest strengths. Originally a left-winger, he converted to full-back then central defence and has even been used in central midfield, where his pace, good passing ability and powerful left-foot shot are prominent. Physically strong, with good positional sense, he can start an attack from the back with one sweeping pass out of defence.

Yaroslav Rakitskiy

But he is only a Hummels replacement from this aspect. His defensive side of the game is not as pretty as it should be to succeed Hummels with his partner in crime, Oleksandr Kucher providing the defensive cover at the back. But he is a player in his primes and is at the peak of his career, so he should be able to develop the defensive side of his game in some time.

5. Aleksandar Dragovic 

Meanwhile, Shakhtar’s title rival Dynamo Kyiv sports an equally capable and a more exciting prospect in the form of Austrian international Dragovic. He is a consistent performer who plays football of the highest level.

The Austrian is 186 cm tall which is very good for a central defender and weighs 76 kilogrammes. A thing which stands about him is the awareness he has about what’s happening around him. He would hardly play a misplaced pass or lose the ball in dangerous situations or make a hurried clearance which gives the ball away. His concentration also plays a good part in this.

He’s a very good header of the ball and makes headed clearances without any hassle or mistakeAs per Squawka, the Austrian has won 50 percent of his headed duels in the Europa league. More so, he’s that ball-playing centre-half who can spread the play from one side to the other.

Aleksandar Dragovic

Another positive point about his play is his speed to latch onto loose balls. Even otherwise, he can run with it and dribble it past the half way line, indicated by the stat that he makes 0.8 average dribbles per game. Looks like a good fit for positional play.

6. Samuel Umtiti

He is a choice on the list as a defender entirely different from the ball-playing defender like Hummels in case BVB want a totally different option at defence as a pure Center back.

The first thing that one notices about his game is that Umtiti is a ‘no nonsense’ defender. He never takes any unnecessary risks, rarely charges out of the line to tackle or intercept, and if anything, always stays in his zone of the field.

His no-nonsense attitude on the ball means that he doesn’t play the ball out of defence very well. Indeed, the fact that 68% of his defensive actions are clearances is a testament to the fact that Umtiti looks to minimise risks. Umtiti  has also shown that he is a very good reader of the game, he ensures that he wins the ball. He makes an average of 2.5 interceptions per game which is a healthy.

Samuel Umtiti in action with Lyon

Umtiti is rather short for a central defender who is exactly 6 feet tall. Yet, Umtiti is an outstanding header of the ball with a high success rate the air battles.

7. Kalidou Koulibaly 

Kalidou Koulibaly has been the most captivating ball-playing defender in the Serie A this season. He can attack with a series of pass types from the defence line. It does not matter to him if he has to carry a high ball, a high half ball  or a flat vertical through ball. Located in a deeper position, he is more of a simple ball distributor. He delivers the game-killer pass but not with a vengeance. He is also far more athletic than the German international Mats Hummels. But in the air, he is not so good. From 140 duals, he won only 78 in the current season of Serie A.

Kalidou Koulibaly
Kalidou Koulibaly

8) Shkodran Mustafi

The Valencia man is often highly underestimated but yet, a very valuable player for any team that he runs his engine for. The 24-year-old has the almost perfect blend of lightness and stability. He has won many duels in the air and is equally effective on the ground. His tackles are precise because he is awaiting the moment generally, signifying his good positioning. He locates himself  in a suitable lateral position relative to the opponent before he plunges for the tackle. If Mustafi gets in bad position, he can proceed with his pace and with the use of slight body contacts, slow down the opponent. He also makes this trademark attractive vertical pass of his often that overcomes at least the first pressing line. Occasionally Mustafi is too ambitious in the opening game, but these are small defects that can be rectified.

download (2)
Mustafi in action for Die Mannschaft

He is already proving to be a Mats Hummels successor for the national team, commandingly finished the recent match against Ukraine with a performance worthy of the man of the match, scoring one and involving in the build up for the second.

9) Timo Baumgartl 

The 20-year-old central defender of VfB Stuttgart is primarily a future promise. Currently, he lacks consistency, but the positive approaches that can be seen, give hope. Baumgartl is a strong anticipation-defender like Mats Hummels. Since he can read the movements of opponents early and also guess ground passes and flank movements of wingers, he is able to clarify many situations unchallenged head or foot without having to fight a duel. But Stuttgart’s defence being the worst in Bundesliga this season, a typical average striker can simply push off Baumgartl. In the game build, the 20-year-old already appears self-confident which is reflected in him advancing with the ball in attacking vertically. In a more ambitious body structure like BVB, Baumgartl could get better.

Timo Baumgartl

10) Joel Veltman 

It would be surprising if I don’t pick a ball playing defender from the Ajax football club of Netherlands, for that’s where men of possession and build up play are frequently found. The 24-year-old Veltman has been Ajax’s best player this season according to Squawka ratings and his playing style is pretty similar to Mats Hummels, making him a perfect replacement for the former BVB captain.

He is a tailor-made for Thomas Tuchel’s possession involved style of play because the same tactic is used by Franck De Boer at Ajax.

Like Ajax, Dortmund also focuses on switching play on a regular basis creating spaces, and Mats Hummels played an integral role of switching play by acting as a defensive playmaker. De Boer also uses this kind of tactic, but with a tweaked formula in Ajax first provokes the opposition, inviting them forward and then applying quick pressure resulting in the ball going to the CBs or CDMs who then makes a vertical pass. Veltman’s job, playing as a ‘number three’ or a ‘ball playing defender’ is of tremendous importance in Ajax’s game plan just like Mats Hummels for Borussia Dortmund.

Joel Veltman

Joel is also versatile, playing at right back for the entire second half of the season while Kenny Tete was out injured. Veltman lacks pure speed, so he depends upon his positional sense to resolve matters. When he makes 3.3 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per match, it’s because his positional sense is really good and he knows where the ball is going. Also, he is improving his aerial abilities year by year.

11) Marc Bartra 

This transfer has already happened. Marc Bartra is brought into the team by the clever BVB management but can he be a Mats Hummels successor?

In principle, he got very less operating time in the past with the Catalans and yet has shown more consistent performance. Bartra is a smooth defensive player who has strengths in advancing out from defence. He can specifically attack the opponent ball receivers and clean up situations quickly. The rather frail 25-year-old rarely lacks stability in intense duels since he can hide that disadvantage of physique with clever positional play.

download (3)
Marc Bartra signs for Borussia Dortmund

In play-making, Bartra, like almost any other player who has had his training at FC Barcelona, has a strong hold. He prefers to give strong flat passes up front rather than long balls. He often sees appropriate zones in offensive third and possesses a hawk’s eye. However, his vertical balls fly every now and then a little too far, though the ball does reach its target wingers while the Catalan switches play. Also against teams strong on the counterattack, Bartra’s bad pace seldom helps. Nevertheless, Bartra is an elegant centre-back who brings many skills about which the BVB certainly has studied.

12) Emmanuel Mammana

A classy, elegant, ball-playing defender, River Plate’s Mammana’s calm and composed style immediately makes him stand out from his peers.  His time spent as a midfielder when he was younger has bestowed him with technique, a comfort in possession and passing skills that are uncommon in other players in his position and as such Mammana is always looking to play out from the back.

One of Mammana’s main strengths is his ability to intercept and snuff out danger, born out of his exceptional timing and great positional sense.  This in turn means, he rarely has to fly into challenges but when he does, they are well anticipated and pretty clean. Mammana is also very versatile, being played at the right back by his coach Gallardo multiple times.

Mammana stars for local club Riverplate

There is a big room for improvement, especially due to his tendency to bring the ball out from the defence has occasionally caught him out and the play was reverted. Also, his physique has been sort of underwhelming and would fail him in extreme situations when he might get out-muscled.