Most of you who have been avid watchers of football since the 90s, or perhaps even the early 2000s, may have noticed a change or dare I say, a revolution, in modern football. Now, of course, the game hasn’t completely changed.
We still have 11 players from each side competing against one another, lined up in the same formations that have been tried and perfected since the beginning of the game.
However, I’m not talking about the technological changes such as the goal-line technology or the “VAR.” Instead, I’m talking about what goes on, on the field. Every few years football sees some tactical changes. However, that isn’t what this article will be discussing today. This was just a build-up from the back.
Today we discuss France and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano. I’m sure by now everyone knows who Upamecano is, in case you don’t I’m here for you. Dayot Upamecano is a 21-year-old center-back who plays for Bundesliga club RB Leipzig and has represented France at U-16, U-17, and U-18 level.
After graduating from the youth academy of Valenciennes FC in 2015, Upamecano moved to the Austrian giants, RB Salzburg’s feeder club- Liefering. Spending just one year at Liefering and then a year at RB Salzburg, he moved to his current club, RB Leipzig and he has been there since 2017.
Upamecano has been impressing scouts from a very young age. He had a number of European clubs interested in him back when he was still at his youth club. He has been a prominent player for France as well, no matter what level he’s played.
Style of Play
RB Leipzig is a flexible side under Julian Nagelsmann who is somewhat of a pragmatic coach. However, one thing that remains a constant is the involvement of defense in buildups.
Leipzig also presses the opponent extensively in all areas of the field. Such a style of play requires immense athleticism, strength, and positional awareness. Leipzig’s football is an example of how modern football is being played and will be played for a while. Also, they’re executing the modern gameplay extremely well.
But why is Upamecano such a sought-after defender and why is he excelling in the modern game? Dayot Upamecano is a strong and powerful, ball-playing defender. He’s also freakishly fast for a center-half, although he rarely has to rely on that, given his brilliant reading of the game. However, what stands out is his on the ball abilities and athleticism.
Most football clubs, RB Leipzig included, are moving towards playing a high defensive line and building up from the back. Clubs that previously weren’t known for that are also moving towards that direction, i.e. Chelsea. In such a case, clubs prefer players who are composed on the ball and athletic enough to press and squeeze spaces as a method to stop attackers.
What makes Dayot stand out is the fact that he’s consistently good at defending and also playing out from the back. Lately, we have seen a number of center half’s who were able to master one of the departments but lack the same quality in the other. Upamecano’s physical ability compliments his mentality. He is a clever defender who knows where he needs to be while defending and also knows how to turn a threat into an attack.
Here you can see Dayot Upamecano being pressed by 2 Borussia Dortmund attackers. What he does next can either excite you or disappoint you if you prefer your center-backs to clear the ball first time.
Upamecano beats the press by a simple dribble by sending the BVB players the wrong way. However, he doesn’t stop here. He shows that he’s capable of even more.
Instead of playing a conservative pass to Halstenberg on the left or Nordi Mukiele on the right. He releases Yussuf Poulsen, starting a counter-attack and turning it into a threat straight away. Many managers may like a defender with such attacking instincts as it allows their midfielders to occupy wider spaces or make forward runs.
As mentioned before, Upamecano is one of the fastest center-backs in Europe. Here’s a slight visual of what he’s able to do.
A through ball to Achraf Hakimi, one of the fastest players in the world, and Upamecano isn’t in a terrible position, however, most center-backs would struggle to cope up with such a situation. However, here’s what happens when you have Upamecano in defence.
He managed to cope up with Hakimi’s pace and managed to intercept a cross that, if not intercepted, would have lead to an open chance for Reus.
However, like every human being in the world, Upamecano also has a few flaws that he’ll have to work on.
A few of the problems that we, here at CrossBar, observed were his usual habit of charging at the opposition’s attacker while they’re receiving the ball. Usually, he ends up committing a foul through a rough tackle.
Here we can see Dele Alli, of Tottenham Hotspur receiving a ball from the deep. Also visible is Dayot Upamecano who is charging right at him instead of waiting for him to turn and proceed. Here’s what happened next.
Upamecano ends up fouling Alli. Although this free-kick didn’t turn into anything dangerous since it was in Tottenham’s own half and they didn’t have the services of Christian Eriksen, who is one of the best Free-kick takers in Europe, on this particular day. But, the problem is that Upamecano didn’t stop here. He went on to foul Alli again.
It’s somewhat the same part of the field, but the major problem is that if Upamecano keeps making such casual and avoidable tackles, he may end up in trouble with the referee. On a yellow, he’d have to be more cautious, and if he continues such aggression he may be sent off putting his team in problems.
Other than charging in to an opponent, he’s also quick to engage in to a tackle.
Upamecano rushed in to the tackle here which allowed Julian Brandt of BVB extra time to exquisitely finish off a very good move.
Such errors dont occur every game but they occur. It’s something Upamecano needs to improve on. Given his dedication and talent, he might as well.
As can be seen in the graph above, Upamecano’s ball progression is off the charts. He averages 2.2 progressive runs per 90 and 13.0 progressive passes per 90.
His progressive passing is the best in Europe’s top 5 leagues and his progressive runs are only bettered by Abdou Diallo of PSG and Benoît Badiashile of AS Monaco.
Although his duel success rate is not very good, at 61%. A reason for that could be his rash tackling as mentioned above. However, he is still very active in defensive duels, having made more ball recoveries than the other 276 players whose stats were collected for the graph above. A lot of that has to do with his immense athleticism.
Upamecano has decent numbers to show for his ground duels, however it’s the aerial duels he struggles at. Although a strong player, he mostly avoids aerial duels and often struggles when put in such a position. He often concedes fouls while trying to nudge players off balance to let the ball fall on to his feet. It often becomes predictable and attackers can be seen capitalising such situations.
Upamecano engages in just 2.2 aerial duals per 90, which is lower than a few CB’s who are in fact shorter than him. Youssef Fofana, 6.8, and Ezri Konsa, who engages in an average of 4.2 aerial duals per 90.
Compared to Similar Players:
I was able to gather a comparison between Upamecano and the Frenchman Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona.
Above is a comparison between Dayot Upamecano’s 2019/20 season in the Bundesliga and Samuel Umtiti’s 2017/18 season in the La Liga. The Barcelona left-footed center-back has been injury-ridden since this season and this was by far the best season of his career which is why I’ll be using it as a comparison. Both Upamecano and Umtiti play on the left of the Center-back pairing. They’re both physically strong, ball-playing defenders. In short, they’re similar in traits and playing style. According to the graph, Umtiti and Upamecano have similar duties and play very similar to each other. Of course, Umtiti excelled at most things compared to Upamecano, but the fact that Umtiti was widely considered the best defender in the world that year, shows how exciting Umtiti is as a prospect.
These were some of the key reasons why I believe that Dayot Upamecano is a center-back for years to come. Not only is he only 21 years old and capable of being in the limelight for many years, but also that this is what a modern center-back should be like. A player composed on the ball and also a solid defender.