Abdou Diallo and Manuel Akanji: Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic 2.0?
Received wisdom states that “defence wins championships”, and Borussia Dortmund appear to be taking that mantra to heart after the signing of Abdou Diallo to accompany Manuel Akanji among the stable of centre-backs at the club, in a move that has distinct echoes of the Mats Hummels/Neven Subotic axis during Jürgen Klopp‘s trophy-filled tenure.
No, really. Cast your minds back to July 2008. Klopp has just taken over the reins at BVB and one of his first moves is to dispense with seasoned central defenders Christian Wörns and Robert Kovac, preferring a pair of 19-year-olds in Hummels and Subotic.
Hummels had arrived at the club from Bayern Munich six months earlier, while Subotic followed his coach to Dortmund from Mainz that summer. They would go on to form the foundation upon which Klopp’s Gegenpressing machine was built, both key members of a side that won the Bundesliga title in 2011, a league and cup double in 2012 and were beaten UEFA Champions League finalists in 2013.
Fast forward a decade from Klopp’s arrival and Dortmund’s history of looking to the future with young defensive signings appears to be repeating itself. In 2017/18, Dortmund largely relied on grizzled veterans Sokratis and Ömer Toprak, but following the recruitment of new coach Lucien Favre they can now bank on Akanji – who signed on six months previously – and Diallo, both of whom are much younger at just 22.
Last season Dortmund conceded 47 goals in the Bundesliga, only the ninth-best return in the division. Moreover, it was the highest total they have shipped since – you guessed it – 2007/08 (62), the campaign that preceded Klopp’s arrival.
If the similarities are uncanny, the benefits could be even greater this time around. Whereas Hummels and Subotic were promising – if unproven – teenagers, this latest Dortmund defensive duo boast a wealth of experience despite their youth.
Akanji joined from Basel in January, already a Swiss league and cup winner and having already played in the Champions League – including in a notable 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the 2017/18 group stage.
Watch: Dortmund’s 2017/18 season review
After making 11 Bundesliga appearances for the Schwarz-Gelben in the second half of last season, he is currently at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where he helped Die Nati reach the knockout stages, playing every minute of their Group E encounters.
As well as excelling in the traditional virtues required in his position – tackling, positioning and aerial strength, among others, Akanji is comfortable in possession and unafraid to bring the ball out from the back. He completed almost 90 per cent of all his passes for BVB last term, and is admired by Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc for, “his great potential to improve.”
Akanji’s soon-to-be partner in defence is no less impressive. “Abdou Diallo has many of the qualities we expect in a newcomer,” said Zorc at the Frenchman’s official unveiling. “He’s a modern player who’s good on the ball and is a very intelligent centre-back. He can also play at full-back or in defensive midfield. This combination of potential and versatility is what made him so interesting to us.”
It was also what brought him to Mainz‘s attention when they completed his transfer from AS Monaco in July 2017. Thrust straight into the first team, the former France U-21 captain started 27 Bundesliga matches in 2017/18 and soon repaid the club’s faith in him with consistently imposing performances at the back, as well as chipping in two goals and two assists at the other end.
So will Dortmund be able to replicate the achievements of the Hummels/Subotic era at its peak? The signs of a second coming are there, after all.
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