Following a successful three-year spell with Bayern Munich, Germany defender Mats Hummels is back at the place where he first became a league champion.
bundesliga.com explains why the returning Borussia Dortmund player could be a huge asset for Lucien Favre’s side.
Dortmund came desperately close to winning the Bundesliga in 2018/19, finishing two points behind defending champions Bayern in a title race to remember. Favre’s fantastic runners-up rarely put a foot wrong, finishing with the second-best attack, although they only had the fourth-best defence...
They have already boosted their attack this summer, adding exciting signings in the shape of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard. The pace and direct running of Nico Schulz up the left will cause problems, while he should also help out at the back. Dortmund arguably need some experience in defence, though, and that’s where Hummels comes in.
An old head
It was a long old season for Dortmund in 2018/19, and to meet the demands of fighting on three fronts they used close to 20 different back-four combinations in the Bundesliga. That included seven separate centre-back pairings, with an injury crisis in the new year even forcing midfielder Julian Weigl to be drafted into an unfamiliar role.
Favre trusted two 22-year-olds – Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji – to start the campaign, and when the former was red carded on Matchday 4, 19-year-old Dan-Axel Zagadou was brought in to replace him. Ömer Toprak could have been an experienced option in central defence, but his own injury problems in the first half of the campaign restricted him to just one league start – alongside Weigl on Matchday 17.
As for Weigl, it was hardly ideal for a 23-year-old playmaker to deputise at centre-back in the heat of a title battle. But that’s exactly what he did, and to good effect at times too. After playing in the win over Borussia Mönchengladbach alongside Toprak, he partnered Diallo to take Man of the Matchday honours as Dortmund started 2019 with a crucial 1-0 victory at RB Leipzig.
The Germany international would go on to feature 11 times in that position, with four different partners. As admirable as that was, however, it suggests that 30-year-old Hummels could add a lot to Dortmund in this area. All the more so considering that Favre’s side shipped 44 goals in 34 league matches last season – 15 more than Leipzig and 12 more than Bayern.
Watch: Mats Hummels' Bundesliga Mixtape!
A proven winner
Coupled with the vast experience he has to draw on, Hummels also knows how to win. In the three years since he last played at Dortmund, he has won three league titles with Bayern. He has also lifted the DFL Supercup five times in his career and – by helping Bayern complete the double in May – he now has two DFB Cup winners’ medals.
Hummels is, of course, a 2014 FIFA World Cup winner with Germany as well, so will all that know-how make the difference for BVB’s 2019/20 title challenge? With exactly 300 Bundesliga games and 70 international caps behind him, he certainly seems like a very good choice to guide the likes of Akanji, Diallo and Zagadou along the way.
"For me, he’s been the best central defender in Germany in recent years,” Neven Subotic, a former centre-back teammate of Hummels at Dortmund, said recently. “In an important game, he can play decisive passes, dribble past three men to get to goal, while also doing his job in defence.
"What more do you want from a centre-back? He keeps things tight at the back, he’s good going forward. For me, he’s the complete centre-back."
A top passer
In terms of the basics that you want from a central defender, Hummels is unlikely to come up short. As a Bayern player last season he won an average of 10 challenges per game and nearly 70 percent of his defensive headers.
But what makes the Bayern academy graduate stand out in the modern game is his ability on the ball. A technically gifted player, on average Hummels completes over 70 passes per game – with many of them in a forward direction rather than sideways to his defensive partner.
In 2018/19, 92 percent of his attempted passes from open play were successful and, in that sense, he seems the perfect fit for Favre’s Dortmund. Long, hopeful balls should be few and far between as Hummels’ gift for playing through the lines – and on the ground – will suit Dortmund’s short but swift attackers.
A goal threat
Signed for his defensive contribution, Hummels should also aid Dortmund’s attacking game in more ways than one. As well as his precise passing, after all, the 6’4” defender also poses a considerable threat in the opposition box.
Just ask Portugal or France, against whom he scored in the group stage and the quarter-finals of Germany’s glorious 2014 World Cup campaign. Or, for that matter, Dortmund.
During his first spell at the club, Hummels netted five times in both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons. Much more recently, though, he once again showcased his prowess from set pieces. His only league goal for Bayern in the 2018/19 campaign was a crucial one – a towering header for the opener in a 5-0 Matchday 28 hammering of… Dortmund.
Watch: Highlights of Bayern's 5-0 win over BVB!
A cool head
Another obvious positive to Dortmund’s latest signing is that he will require little time to adapt to his surroundings. Hummels played for BVB between 2008 and 2016, finishing his first period with the five-time Bundesliga champions as skipper of the club.
The son of former Bayern youth team coach Hermann, Hummels ended his first season at Dortmund by becoming a European U21 champion with Germany. At club level he went from strength to strength too, thriving under Jürgen Klopp and wining back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012. He also came to close to helping Dortmund win the UEFA Champions League for only the second time in their history, only to lose 2-1 to Bayern in the 2013 final at Wembley.
Hummels, then, knows all about what makes Dortmund and their famous fans tick. He also comes with the added bonus of knowing their title rivals inside out. The club’s latest arrival is likely to provide precious insight on Bayern’s strengths, their weaknesses, and what they do to combat their title rivals.
On the pitch, while BVB scored at least twice in every home game they played last season, Hummels will likely help them improve on a record of 25 goals conceded in front of the Yellow Wall.
Likewise, while Favre’s team lost three games and drew five on the road in 2018/19, another calm and composed defender could help them turn no points into one and one point into three when the going gets tough.
Experience, knowledge and talent – what Hummels will bring to BVB – could prove invaluable.