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Alex Blinston looks at Mats Hummels’ recent drop in form which culminated in him being dropped to the bench by Thomas Tuchel recently.
Besides a few anomalies Borussia Dortmund have simply been scintillating this season. Some may point to the mortification in Munich and hiccup in Hamburg, however, under Thomas Tuchel BVB have been back to their high-octane, free-flowing best. The buzz is back in Dortmund but someone who isn’t benefiting from that winning feeling is Mats Hummels. The leader, the captain, the man that used to ooze class now only resembles a patch of his former self.
Borussia Dortmund captured the heart of football’s neutrals back in 2013 – myself included – blazing a trail on their way to the Champions League final and it coincided with Mats Hummels establishing himself among the world’s finest. He was the blueprint of the modern centre-back, coupling the technical ability of a midfielder with phenomenal positioning and elegant, yet imposing challenges. It was form that only carried through to the World Cup as Hummels and the Nationalmannschaft made it a fourth World Cup for Germany.
Now, however, Mats Hummels is unrecognizable and this isn’t a miraculous fall from Dortmund’s no. 15 either; rather than jumping, he has taken the stairs on his fall from the top. This is a slump that dates back right to the start last season where his underlying weaknesses came to the fore.
His avant-garde style of defending always fell in to the high risk, high reward category, however, last term the former began to outweigh the latter. He was repeatedly found out of position, stepping up to try and win the ball but all too often there were disastrous consequences. The jewel in Hummels’ crown has always been his passing from deep but in 2014/15 his passing percentage fell – 4.1% from the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign – as did his average passes per game and key passes per game.
The beginning of this term will have provided Dortmund’s Yellow Wall with a great deal of nostalgia; not just because their beloved BVB were back to their best, but also their captain. The pinpoint cross field balls were back, as were the rampaging runs out of defence providing the link between the back line and midfield and he was finally stellar in his defensive duties once again.
However, it was just a flash in the pan and Thomas Tuchel’s decision to bench Hummels for the visit of Stuttgart last Sunday – and this isn’t hyperbolic – was certainly just.
In the 5-1 trouncing at the hands of Bayern Munich, Hummels was caught out of position from two Jerome Boateng long balls of which Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski were the beneficiaries. At Hamburg he scored an own goal as BVB fell to a 3-1 defeat and in the Europa League loss to Kuban Krasnodar, he gave away the all-important penalty. Per Squawka, Hummels has made two defensive errors in the Bundesliga this term, both of which led to goals – the most in the Dortmund ranks. The critics have inevitably come.
BVB Chief-executive Hans-Joachim Watzke described the criticism as ‘excessive’ and Hummels said, “The criticism has developed its own dynamics. Bad things sell better than positive reports. When there is chance to slap on someone, in my case the chance is embraced,” and of Tuchel dropping him for the 4-1 win over Stuttgart he said, “We don’t have any problem with each other. We can openly and constructively discuss and swap ideas, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Hummels has certainly been on the defensive regarding the critique of his latest showings, and yes it may be ‘excessive’ but has it been deserved? Absolutely. When on form few in the centre-back role are as dynamic or as aesthetically pleasing but in recent times he has been average, call me excessive Mats, even below average.
Almost inevitably rumours of a reunion with Jurgen Klopp have surfaced and it is a rumour that may hold some truth. While Mamadou Sakho has flourished under Klopp, ‘The Normal One’ will still be yearning for the man to lead his back line and he will likely see the BVB captain as that man even with his stuttering form.
As cliché as it is ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ usually proves to be accurate and this is something to keep in mind with Mats Hummels. Whether he is plying his trade in front of The Yellow Wall, The Kop or anywhere else for that matter, I for one just want to see Hummels return to his scintillating best when he’s simply a joy to watch.
Written by Alex Blinston