With the Bundesliga returning this weekend, FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the top five defenders in the competition in the first half of the 2019/20 campaign.
Considering that a total of 492 goals were scored in the Bundesliga’s Hinrunde – or first half of the season – at an average of 3.2 per match, there has certainly been no shortage of excitement.
Yet, for the free-flowing nature of the competition, the Bundesliga’s defenders continue to shine and play a key role in all the action – from Borussia Dortmund’s evergreen Mats Hummels to Schalke rising star Ozan Kabak.
Top 5 Defenders of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season so far
The centre-backs in particular are now expected to play a key role with the ball at feet with the likes of Nico Elvedi and Sven Bender boasting outstanding pass completion rates, while some like Martin Hinteregger – with six goals to his name already – have even emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the other end of the pitch.
But, at the end of the day, a defender’s bread and butter is still preventing the opposition from scoring.
With duels-won percentage as the benchmark, here are the Bundesliga’s Top 5 Defenders thus far in the 2019/20 season.
5) JONATHAN TAH (BAYER LEVERKUSEN) – 64.8% duels won
As an imposing physical presence standing at 1.95 metres, but blessed with lightning pace and an ability to play the ball out of the back, Jonathan Tah continues to enhance his reputation as one of the premier centre-backs in German football.
The 23-year-old’s closing speed is arguably his greatest asset as he often chases down strikers that have gotten in behind him and somehow ends up reaching in time to make a challenge, even though the race initially looked a foregone conclusion.
With just 21 goals conceded, Bayer Leverkusen boast one of the league’s most-secure defences and the backline almost picks itself these days – with Tah, the Bender twins Sven and Lars, and Brazilian left-back Wendell forming quite the formidable foursome.
4) DAYOT UPAMECANO (RB LEIPZIG) – 65.6% duels won
Every time the transfer window reopens, Dayot Upamecano invariably gets linked to some of Europe’s top clubs – with Barcelona the latest to be reportedly keen on his services.
Still, it is easy to see why the Frenchman is so highly rated even though he only turned 21 last October as he is almost an automatic pick in the RB Leipzig starting XI when fit.
Upamecano plays with a maturity beyond his tender years but also relishes a duel with some of the Bundesliga’s leading strikers and emerges victorious more often than not – as his 65.6 per cent success rate attests to.
3) FELIX UDUOKHAI (AUGSBURG) – 66.0% duels won
After a shaky start to 2019/20, Augsburg have steadied the ship and head into the Ruckrunde – or second half of the campaign – sitting comfortably in 10th position and just five points off the European qualification spots.
A key reason for their form has been manager Martin Schmidt’s ability to settle on a steady backbone through his starting XI, with Felix Uduokhai the one constant presence in the heart of defence.
While he has had to get used to playing with different partners, although Tin Jedvaj has been his most frequent companion, the 22-year-old – on loan from Wolfsburg – always puts in a strong display and has won an impressive 66 per cent of his duels.
2) OZAN KABAK (SCHALKE) – 68.6% duels won
Last year’s Bundesliga Rookie of the Year, Ozan Kabak has no shortage of suitors when former side Stuttgart were relegated to the 2. Bundesliga but it was Schalke who won the race for his services.
Even then, the Turkey international – who is still only 19 – had to bide his time at the start of the season but, after Die Konigsblauen were hit by injuries to Salif Sane and Benjamin Stambouli, the youngster was handed his opportunity and took it up with both hands.
In his first start – against Augsburg on November 3 – Ozan netted his first goal for the club and followed up with two more in the subsequent six rounds to justify the €15million fee Schalke forked out for him, and show he has the same ability that Sane in bullying opponents in one-on-one battles.
1) SALIF SANE (SCHALKE) – 69.2% duels won
Still, when it comes to defenders being absolutely dominant, Salif Sane remains the standard bearer of the Bundesliga.
Even though he has been injured since last November and is estimated to only be back in March, the Senegalese still leads all comers with a 69.2 per cent success rate in duels, which should not come as a surprise considering both his physical prowess, as well as his reading of the game and sheer dislike of losing a contest.
Given Schalke have been resurgent under new coach David Wagner this season and currently lie in fifth, who knows what they could achieve once Sane returns and forms a potentially impenetrable defence with Ozan?