France U21 defender Dayot Upamecano has signed a new contract with RB Leipzig ahead of the 2020/21 campaign. - © imago images
France U21 defender Dayot Upamecano has signed a new contract with RB Leipzig ahead of the 2020/21 campaign. - © imago images
bundesliga

Dayot Upamecano: RB Leipzig's exceptional future France international centre-back

The lightning-quick Timo Werner couldn't beat him and the giant Yussuf Poulsen can't shift him. Is it any wonder that RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has taken the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League by storm?

Following his stunning display in the win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final, it's clear that Upamecano is the type of player you would rather be playing with than playing against. Leipzig attacker Emil Forsberg has previously suggested that "no one" gets past the French centre-back in training, and it appears that's been the case for quite some time.

Recently departed Chelsea striker Timo Werner had a habit of knocking the ball by a teammate in training matches and racing past him, but - according to German sports magazine kicker - Upamecano soon made him think twice.

The Bundesliga's top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski (l.) had a rare goalless day when he came up against Dayot Upamecano (r.) in Bayern Munich's 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig in February 2020. - ULMER via www.imago-images.de/imago images/ULMER Pressebildagentur

"What’s up, Timo?" joked then Leipzig head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl when he watched the scene unfold at one of the defender's early sessions with Leipzig in January 2017. "Are you sick?"

Germany international Werner would later reveal that Upamecano was his "most uncomfortable opponent" in training. "I've not seen a faster centre-back, and he has an unbelievable physique," Werner added.

Upamecano wasted little time making his beefy presence felt to teammates like Werner, and he has been doing so with adversaries throughout Europe ever since. "Beast" is a word that's often used to describe the imposing France U21 international, but 6'4" Leipzig frontman Poulsen thinks that doesn't go far enough.

Watch: Check out Upamecano's Bundesliga mixtape!

"I'm relatively tall, relatively physical and relatively strong," the Dane told kicker. "But I can't move him an inch."

Leipzig defender Lukas Klostermann describes Upamecano as a "beast", Forsberg reckons no one wants to play against him, while former club head coach and sporting Ralf Rangnick calls the former Salzburg stopper a "phenomenon of nature."

Current Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann, meanwhile, describes Upamecano as extremely fast and strong, someone he feels is an "exceptional defensive talent" who still has an "incredible amount of potential."

The statistics back those comments up, as the 6'1" centre-back won well over 60 percent of his one-on-one battles with opponents in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season - including 68 percent of aerial challenges.

As uncompromising as he is off the ball, though, Upamecano is also calm and precise on it. A whopping 91 percent of the 21-year-old's passes found a teammate - placing the ex-Valenciennes academy player just outside the top 10 in the league-wide ranking.

No wonder Leipzig were happy that Upamecano extended his contract at the end of July, after playing 111 games since his arrival and helping his team to qualify for the Champions League in three of the past four seasons.

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann (l.) is happy to have Dayot Upamecano (r.) to rely on for what will be the defender’s fifth season at the club. - Christian Schroedter via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Christian Schroedter

"Dayot has become a top defender at RB Leipzig over the past few years and can still develop at the age of just 21," sporting director Markus Krösche said. "It's great that he will continue to grow as a player here with us."

Leipzig finished third in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, and Upamecano was part of the second-best defence in the league with only 37 goals conceded in 34 matches. Minor injuries meant that the defender missed six of those games, but he feels Nagelsmann is the coach that can bring him to "the next level."

"I never had any doubt that I would stay," Upamecano said soon after putting pen to paper on his new deal. "RB Leipzig is my club and I can develop well here. There are a lot of players who I've played with for a long time now, and the club has become like a family to me."

Watch: Learn more about Upamecano's upbringing in France

A Bundesliga runner-up in 2016/17 as well as a DFB Cup finalist in 2018/19, Upamecano has shown time and again that he rises to virtually any challenge. Learning the game on the caged neighbourhood pitches and hard surfaces around Evreux in Normandy, he had problems with stuttering as a child which his footballing talent helped him to overcome.

Leipzig's No.5 was a European U17 champion with France in 2015 and has earned 15 caps for his country's U21 team. Either as part of a four-man defence or more recently as the rock at the heart of a three-man backline, the imposing centre-back has been a Bundesliga regular since moving from Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg in 2017.

It's surely only a matter of time, then, before Upamecano joins childhood friend and former Borussia Dortmund attacker Ousmane Dembele as a senior international. The case for his inclusion by the world champions is strong considering how much he has improved in his three-and-a-half years with Leipzig. His first start – against Hamburg in February 2017 – lasted little over 30 minutes, and he was again withdrawn a few weeks later in a game against Mainz.

It is surely only a matter of time before Dayot Upamecano's performances for RB Leipzig earn him a senior international appearance for France. - imago

Guided by Hasenhüttl – who was worried his teenage defender might be red carded – Upamecano has learned to channel his aggression and enthusiasm, choosing when to use both to great effect now that he has filled out even more.

"He's developed extremely well with us and has become much smarter," Germany defender Klostermann told kicker. "He sticks to his man and clears everything."

A knee injury sidelined Upamecano for four months between January and May 2019, but that has proved to be merely a bump in the road on the outstanding central defender’s upward curve.

Described by those who know him as down to earth off the field, the former Salzburg stalwart sometimes cycles to training and makes regular visits to see the lions at the Leipzig zoo.

Upamecano is courageous and fearsome on the pitch, though, characteristics that help with shackling deadly attackers like Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Nagelsmann believes Upamecano can be "unstoppable" when he gives his all in training, and Klostermann says it's a good sign for everyone at Leipzig that their star defender is willing to stay for longer.

The player himself, meanwhile, is keen to keep reaching new heights. "Our young and hungry team is part of an ambitious club," he said. "I want to take the next step with Leipzig and reach our goals - because I'm convinced by the way we play our football."

Upamecano has convinced too, but you get the feeling he's only getting started.