Dayot Upamecano has agreed to join Bayern Munich from RB Leipzig at the end of the season. bundesliga.com looks at why the young Frenchman's arrival could make for one of the signings of the summer.
Upamecano has been a revelation since joining Leipzig from Red Bull Salzburg in 2017, racking up 139 appearances and breaking into the France squad despite his tender 22 years, and the fact that a knee injury cost him half a season in 2018/19.
The fastest centre-back in the Bundesliga this term with a top speed of 22 mph, Upamecano really put the rest of world football on notice with a glut of other statistical wins when Leipzig beat Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League last March: 100 percent of tackles won; a 92 percent passes completion; the most touches in the game with 99.
"We're happy that we've been able to sign Dayot Upamecano for FC Bayern München," said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic with a hint of understatement. "We're convinced that Dayot will be a very important member of our team in the coming years."
It's little wonder Salihamidzic is pleased.
Passing of the torch?
Bayern boast two of the best in the world in their position in incumbent central-defensive pairing David Alaba and Jerome Boateng. They first became teammates in Bavaria 2011 and have now made 763 senior appearances between them for the champions, even if Alaba was a left-back earlier in his Bayern career.
In the last 10 years they have hoovered up, among other things, eight Bundesliga titles, five DFB Cups and two UEFA Champions Leagues - the 2013 continental treble bettered only last week by the 2020 sextuple, sealed with victory over UANL Tigres in the FIFA Club World Cup final.
The decade-defining duo remain the most prolifically paired partnership at the heart of Hansi Flick's defence, starting 17 of Bayern's 32 competitive games together so far this season. But they are also both out of contract at the end of it.
While their potential absences would be felt, Bayern still boast a stable of central defenders that would be the envy of world football, even before Upamecano walked through the door.
Niklas Süle is first choice for Germany, and although Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez won the 2018 FIFA World Cup with France on either side of les Bleus' defence, both were weaned as centre-backs earlier in their careers. Tanguy Nianzou, signed from Paris Saint-Germain, is considered one of the game's brightest teenaged prospects in the position, meanwhile.
But Upamecano does bring his own style.
He grew up playing football on the streets of Evreux, northwest of Paris, alongside Ousmane Dembele. The two remain firm friends, but the experience of rubbing shoulders with, and sometimes against, the Barcelona and former Borussia Dortmund winger means that despite his hulking 14-stone frame, Upamecano is a master dribbler.
"We played for two hours without a break," he explained to bundesliga.com. "That's where I developed my aggression and my technique. "[Dembele and I] were teammates at U13 level and also lived in the same neighbourhood. We had a lot of kickabouts together in the cage."
Quarter-back vs. running back
Boateng all but invented the position of quarter-back on a soccer field, his laser-sighted long distribution making a mockery of the notion that defenders only had to be physical specimens there to break up play. Still capable of the darker defensive arts, Boateng's build-up play is nonetheless what set him apart over the last decade. To have completed 89 percent of his passes this term whilst averaging six long-balls per game is quite some feat. Former midfielder Alaba, perhaps less surprisingly, posts similar numbers.
Watch: Upamecano, Leipzig's defensive diamond
But Upamecano is a defender who is capable of beating the press by dribbling past the first - or indeed second - attacker before finding a teammate nearby. His natural speed and street football-honed touch means that he doesn't have to launch the ball forward before trouble arrives. The continued presence of Manuel Neuer - a goalkeeper who can distribute like a midfielder - means that Bayern can also go short or long building out from the back either way.
"He's used to playing the ball forward fast to create a counter-attack," explained current coach Julian Nagelsmann. "He grew up like this during his first year at Leipzig, when this was the main tactic. Now the next step has to come. Recognising this situation is a learning curve which he'll succeed in, simply because he's that talented."
A stylistic fit
That's with the ball, but what about without? Bayern may be top of the table with a five-point cushion on Leipzig, but they have conceded 11 more goals than their erstwhile rivals and Upamecano's current employers.
Watch: A case for Bayern's defence
Part of the problem - if a goal-difference of +32 can be described as such - has been their high defensive line. Pushing the game up into the opponent's half can backfire if they win the ball back and ping it in behind for a pacy attacker to latch onto. But Upamecano can also shine here. Of the four players to have posted a faster time than him this season - Alphonso Davies, Kingsley Coman, Rabbi Matondo and Paulo Otavio - two of them are Bayern teammates; one has left on loan to Stoke City and the other is a Wolfsburg full-back.
There is not a striker in the division who can beat Upamecano in a footrace.
The French connection
Upamecano will slot right into Bayern's tactical setup, but what about away from the field of play? It is now six years since he swapped Valenciennes for Austrian second-tier side Liefering as a 16-year-old in 2015, so the young defender can get through the day in German already.
Yet it is an obvious bonus that no club team in world football is better represented among the squad of defending world champions France than Bayern. Pavard, Hernandez and Corentin Tolisso all lifted the trophy in Russia in 2018, and there is little doubt that Coman could have been among their number if not for injury.
If anyone can, Upame-can
He may be young, with some decision-making to develop; Bayern may be well stocked in defence with or without Alaba and Boateng, and the champions may be lazily accused of primarily weakening their nearest challengers with the acquisition of Upemacano.
But he will be a fine fit on and off the field, which is an invaluable combination as Bayern look to evolve their sextuple-winning team as seamlessly as possible.
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