With Borussia Dortmund quickly moving to strengthen their defensive options for a title assault in 2022/23, bundesliga.com takes a look at what new boys Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck will bring to the table in black and yellow.
With two games to go in the 2021/22 campaign, just seven sides have conceded more Bundesliga goals than Dortmund. The 50 strikes against the second-place side's record is matched by second-bottom Arminia Bielefeld at the other end of the table and were it not for their prolific form in attack, Dortmund could easily have found themselves mired in mid-table.
Similarly, had they not shipped so many goals, Marco Rose's team may have run Bayern Munich even closer in this year's title race. Instead, a comfortable Der Klassiker defeat to their rivals saw Bayern wrap up a 10th successive championship with three games to spare.
Both Bayern's grip on the Bundesliga and a porous defence has been an ongoing cause for concern for Dortmund in recent years, and the capture of goalkeeper Gregor Kobel in the summer was the club's first serious move to address the defensive frailties of a team that loves to play its football on the front foot.
Kobel's return of eight clean sheets this term - just two behind Koen Casteels, Mark Flekken, Manuel Neuer and Robin Zentner at the top of the league's list - is certainly something to build on, and Dortmund have laid further foundations with the additions of Süle and Schlotterbeck.
They offer thoroughbred pedigree at centre-half and the powers walking the corridors at the Signal Iduna Park clearly believe that both have the ability to help close the gap to Bayern.
Just ask soon-to-be sporting director Sebastian Kehl, who said of Süle after it was announced the 26-year-old would swap FCB for BVB: "He's got a lot of experience, is calm on the ball and has the necessary physique to be able to take the next step with us from the summer onwards."
Coach Marco Rose added of Schlotterbeck: “He has had an excellent development in recent years and has become a national team player. He has an excellent left foot, recognises the spaces well and is very strong with the ball at his feet. On top of that, he seems very composed, has a very good positional game and is a strong tackler. All things we needed and were looking for.”
The pair may both be premium defenders but, as noted above, they enter the fold at different stages of their careers.
Watch: The best of Niklas Süle
Süle has five Bundesliga titles, a UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, two DFB Cup trophies and 37 international caps to his name. Schlotterbeck, meanwhile, is a newly-capped Germany international and the 22-year-old has enjoyed a breakout campaign with Champions League-chasing Freiburg.
Their playing styles are also contrasting but, crucially, should be complimentary.
The right-footed Süle is much more a ball-player of a central defender, as reflected by his 92.3 percent successful pass completion this season - a number that comfortably outstrips left-sided Schlotterbeck's 84.7 percent return.
While Süle is most at ease sitting slightly off from first contact with the opposition and operating as a ball-playing centre-back, Schlotterbeck is much more of an aggressor - as highlighted by his matchday average of 20 won tackles per 90 minutes, compared to Süle's 12.
League-wide, Schlotterbeck's record of winning 371 challenges is the best of any centre-back this term and only four players can say they've won more, while he also ranks sixth for the most wins in the air (119) across the entire division.
As a result, this should allow Schlotterbeck to go and get the ball and for Süle to then make the most of it once his teammate has won it back. For a team that prides itself on quick transitions, this could prove to be a game-changing combination.
And that's not to say one can't do the other. At 6'4", Süle is an intimidating physical presence, and his move to Dortmund was described by Germany coach Hansi Flick as "enormously good for the league"; Die Mannschaft boss also holds the 6'2" Schlotterbeck in high esteem, particularly when he has the ball at his feet.
"Left-footed, a player you obviously want to see playing at centre-back but is also very versatile and can play in different positions," said Flick, who handed Schlotterbeck his senior international debut in March. "He can play in a back three but also, because of his footballing quality, can play in midfield."
Flick's view on Schlotterbeck's capability in a back-three could prove particularly pertinent.
Watch: Nico Schlotterbeck - Rising Star
Freiburg coach Christian Streich has preferred a four-man defence for the majority of the season but opted for three central defenders in 11 of 32 matchdays to date. And, with Manuel Akanji and Mats Hummels already in the Dortmund ranks, Rose could see a back-three as the way to go next year.
The Dortmund boss has already used it on eight occasions in the league in 2021/22 and by flanking Hummels with Süle and Schlotterbeck, it could rejuvenate soccer's original quarter-back by adding more quality on the ball and extra mobility either side of him.
At 33, Hummels is no spring chicken and his top speed of 19.5 miles per hour this season comes in just below both departing Dan-Axel Zagadou's 19.6mph and - quickest of the lot, as well as the second-best passer in the division - Akanji's 21.3mph. Süle (21mph) and Schlotterbeck (20.9mph) register just below Akanji, proving that Dortmund's defence will immediately have an injection of pace when they arrive at the club in the summer.
Süle has talked about the club's "vision" as a decisive factor in his move, while Schlotterbeck - still very much focused on getting Freiburg in the top four for now - mentioned the "challenge" of making the step up at Dortmund as his major motivation.
For a number of reasons, the signings of both players should mean that Dortmund, too, can approach next season with a realistic vision of making the step up from Meisterschale challengers to Meisterschale winners.
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