Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac hit the nail on the head when he said he had "three world-class centre-backs" in Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Niklas Süle, and that he has something of a luxury being able to rotate the trio.
bundesliga.com has crunched the numbers in the way Bayern's defensive trio crunch into their tackles to evaluate who Kovac's most reliable stopper really is, and to assist the Croatian coach with that headache-provoking conundrum of how to fit three centre-backs into two slots in his side.
Heading into Matchday 4 in the Bundesliga, all three of Kovac's central defenders have had a sizeable chunk of time on the field. Boateng leads the way with 450 minutes – DFL Supercup, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League included – followed by Hummels on 323 minutes and Süle on 270.
Those numbers suggest a preference for Boateng and Hummels – the partnership which has propped up Bayern's most recent Bundesliga titles – but Süle's statistics support his inclusion in this world-beating trio.
The former Hoffenheim defender had a remarkable first season in Bavaria, starting 20 times and bringing an added dimension to the defence: a sublime pass accuracy. With just a meagre 6.4% of his passes failing to find their man, he rarely put a foot wrong in what was a crucial feature of Jupp Heynckes' team's success last term – their ability to build from the back.
Hummels misplaced only 10.3% of his trio-high 1,919 passes and just 13% of Boateng's intended targets did not receive the ball, although the Germany defender was significantly more ambitious in seeking 192 long passes compared to Süle's 78.
Hummels nevertheless stood out last term as Bayern's superior central defender, with an average of 93.4 touches per game, 406 interceptions and 454 challenges, of which 294 were won – all significantly higher than his team-mates. Furthermore, while Boateng looked to play the ball long to the attackers, Hummels preferred to bridge the midfield by dribbling the ball out – a substantial 23 times compared to Boateng's four and Süle's five.
Boateng did commit the fewest fouls, though, with only 13 coming from his 19 starts, while he won more challenges too: 68.8% in total, 75% in the air and 66.4% on the ground. Given such impressive numbers, Süle still has some way to go to establish himself as Bayern's first-choice central defender, but he is already making up ground – and fast.
Watch: How Boateng and Hummels boss the backline
His average of 6.3 miles covered per game was the highest of the trio, and that included 15.7 sprints at a top speed of more than 21 miles per hour. At such a rate, he will be in need of a rest, which is why Kovac's rotation policy could well get the best out of all three and boost all of their performance figures, keeping them physically fit and mentally sharp for when it matters.
"I hope [Kovac] uses squad rotation throughout the season," Hummels said. "There will always be players injured or suspended. We have games every three days between now and Christmas pretty much. So we need a big and quality squad and rotation. And that also includes me."
Rather than highlighting who Bayern's best central defender is, then, the crunched numbers confirm that the collective is key. Kovac has, in his own words, three of the finest around – three players who bring something different to the table and, when combined correctly, complement each other in a way which gives him arguably the best central-defensive pair in world football, whichever two play.