Niklas Süle, Jonathan Tah and Germany's emerging generation of centre-backs
Ever since the days of Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer, Germany has produced elegant centre-backs who are comfortable in possession but steely in the tackle. The conveyor belt shows no signs of wear and tear all these years later, with a handful of young players currently making waves in the position: Niklas Süle, Jonathan Tah, Niklas Stark, Waldemar Anton and Jordan Torunarigha.
We take a closer look at the quintet set to marshal Bundesliga backlines for years to come....
Club: Bayern Munich
International appearances: 16 (1 goal)
The term 'man mountain' was surely coined with Süle in mind. A muscular 6'5" hulk, he can intimidate even the most experienced of attackers. And if you think a player of his size would lack agility, think again; with a top speed of 21.6 mph this season, Süle is among the quickest players in the Bundesliga.
Having made his breakthrough at Hoffenheim in 2012/13, he moved to Bayern in July 2017 and wasted little time in becoming the club's go-to centre-back. “Niklas does really well with his pace and doesn’t ponder too long," said head coach Niko Kovac this season. "He’s first-choice ahead of the other two [Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng]. They will have to battle it out.”
Süle has repaid his coach's faith out on the pitch, completing 94 per cent of his passes, winning 64 per cent of all duels and earning just one yellow card all term. Already a firm fixture in the Germany squad, he looks well on the way to becoming a cornerstone of the team for the foreseeable future.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
International appearances: 4
It is hard to believe Tah is still only 23 given that he already has well over 100 Bundesliga appearances to his name, since making his top-flight debut for Hamburg at the age of 17 back in 2013. Legally still a child at the time, he already had the physique of a heavyweight boxing champion, his muscular 6'5" frame allowing him to cope with even the most robust centre-forwards. After leaving Hamburg he had a loan spell at Fortuna Düsseldorf before arriving at Leverkusen in 2015, where he has been first-choice ever since.
While occasionally error-prone in his early seasons as a pro, Tah has gained consistency over the years and is now one of the most reliable of his craft. He has won more tackles this season (69.5 per cent) than any other centre-back on this list, while he has also scored twice in 2018/19 - both times against Borussia Dortmund. His displays have caught the eye of Germany coach Joachim Löw, who fielded Tah in the team's last match, a 3-0 win over Russia on 15 November 2018. It was his first outing at senior international level for exactly two years.
Club: Hertha Berlin
International appearances (U21): 18 (2 goals)
After working his way up through the youth ranks at Nuremberg, the 6'2" defensive specialist made his first-team debut a few weeks after turning 18, towards the end of the 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign. Indeed, so highly rated is Stark that he won a Fritz Walter gold medal in 2014, the prize given to Germany's most promising talents and previously won by the likes of Mario Götze and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Hertha came calling in August 2015 and Stark has been a guaranteed starter ever since. It is easy to see why. His statistics this season read: 90 per cent pass completion, 58 per cent of tackles won and a top speed of 21.4 miles per hour. "Niklas is exactly the sort of player every coach wants to have," said Hertha boss Pal Dardai. "If he continues to develop the way he has, he’ll be a real force - even at one of the big clubs."
He has one goal this season and, unsurprisingly, has come to Löw's attention after helping Hertha take points off Bayern, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and Gladbach, among others: "There are some exciting players at Hertha and Niklas Stark is one of them. He’s physical, versatile and focused."
Watch: Stark's winner against Nuremberg on Matchday 24
International appearances (U21): 10
Erm, who? If you've never heard of Waldemar Anton you're not alone, even if he is well on course to becoming a household name. At the age of just 21, the Uzbekistan-born centre-back is captain at Hannover and has not missed a single minute of action this season. And before you dismiss him out of hand for playing in a team second-bottom of the league, just imagine where Hannover would be without his involvement: Anton wins 56 per cent of all duels and has made a whopping 369 interceptions - considerably more than any of his colleagues on this page.
He is pretty handy at the other end of the pitch too, finding a teammate with 64 per cent of his long balls forward, while also contributing 16 shots at goal. Although he has yet to be called up to the senior Germany squad, former Hannover boss Andre Breitenreiter was in no doubt about the U21 international's ability to compete at that level: "He performs superbly and I believe he's on a par with his competitors."
Club: Hertha Berlin
International appearances (U21): 3
Torunarigha is Hertha through and through, having joined the club at the age of nine in 2006. He was a striker up until the U15s, when his then coach, Ante Covic, converted him into a defender. It proved to be a masterstroke. Four years later Torunarigha made his Bundesliga debut, and he has not looked back since.
“Jordan's a really competitive kind of guy – we can always rely on him in important matches,” said Hertha coach Dardai of the youngster, who has two goals and one assist in 12 Bundesliga matches this season. Left-footed, mobile and comfortable on the ball, the 6'3" Germany U21 international isn't afraid to get stuck in, contesting an average of 19 tackles per game and winning 55 per cent of them.
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