Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig – the top three in last season’s Bundesliga – possess three very different midfielders who can play the crucial No.6 role.
How do Thiago, Axel Witsel and Diego Demme compare? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
Club: Bayern Munich
The most creative of the three, Thiago is the perfect deep-lying playmaker. Some players in his position are there to break up attacks, but the Spain international’s main role is to start them. A team can’t hurt you if you don’t give them the ball, after all, and Thiago’s accuracy, balance and movement make him a hard man to win possession from. Averaging 109 touches of the ball per game in 2018/19, the former Barcelona midfielder was on target with an impressive 93 percent of his attempted passes.
Often with an enforcer like Javi Martinez alongside him last season, Thiago has usually been at the base of a midfield three this year – picking out Bayern’s deadly wing pair Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry like an NFL quarterback. He also set up 54 shooting chances for teammates last season, and as a set-piece taker he even poses a threat to the opposition when the ball is stationery.
Watch: See how Thiago, Witsel and Demme differ in the No.6 role
“He can do everything with the ball – there’s nothing he can’t do,” Bayern head coach Niko Kovac said of Thiago this summer.
“He can speed the game up or calm it down. He thinks on the pitch like a coach.”
Contrary to what you might think, Thiago also gets his hands dirty – winning almost 62 percent of his challenges last season. Chiefly a creator, he had six assists for the champions in 2018/19, but he’s a goal threat as well – scoring twice in 26 starts.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Witsel took the Bundesliga by storm after his arrival last season, a vital cog in a Dortmund team that came within two points of Bayern in the title race. The Belgium international is another elegant central midfielder, good off both feet and calmly able to rotate possession to help Lucien Favre’s side build out from the back. He’s another accurate passer, though wouldn’t take as many risks with longer passes as Thiago does. All the same, though, Witsel’s accuracy of 94 percent last season and a league-leading 98 percent in his first two games of 2019/20 is truly remarkable.
With Thomas Delaney as his foil last season and Julian Weigl so far this term, Witsel can provide a solid screen for the defence. With a good sense of positioning and a top speed of over 20 miles per hour in 2018/19, he is also capable of getting back to plug some gaps on the counter. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the only game that Dortmund lost in the first three matches this season was the only one the former Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg player missed.
And Witsel, who has over 100 caps for his country, also contributes further up the field. He had 37 attempts at goal last season – 13 more than Thiago – finishing with four goals.
“Axel can do everything – he has huge quality,” Cologne striker Anthony Modeste – who was a teammate of Witsel’s with Tianjin Quanjian in China – said earlier this season. “With him, Dortmund can win titles.”
Club: RB Leipzig
Demme is perhaps the more traditional No.6, busily putting out fires wherever they emerge. Part of a Leipzig side that prided themselves on relentless pressurising of opponents over the past few years, he covered an average of 7.8 miles per game in the 2018/19 campaign. Doing that kind of dirty work – shadowing key opponents, cutting off passing angles, making recovery runs – involves a lot of hard running. The 27-year-old averaged almost 15 sprints a game last term – more than Thiago and Witsel.
Capped once by Germany in 2017, Demme has been vice-captain at Leipzig not just for his staying power – he joined from Paderborn in 2014 – but also for his leadership ability. The dogged midfielder only took nine shots last season – and has only one league goal in six years at Leipzig – but he knows a well-timed tackle can turn the tide in the same way that a goal can. He won over 50 percent of his challenges on the ground and in the air last season, and Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann will want him to replicate that kind of form in what could be a three-way title tussle in 2019/20.