Borussia Dortmund were meant to strengthen defensively over the summer transfer window. The club had lost Abdou Diallo to Paris Saint-Germain and were short of a defender. The signing of Mats Hummels wasn’t exactly seen as a huge step-up. But Lucien Favre has done enough to prove those doubters wrong.
Hummels wasn’t seen as a popular signing by Dortmund fans either. He had lost the trust of many after he had joined Bayern Munich and their inability to see him as ‘loyal’ saw the signing get played down.
For a good part of the season, it was rightly not seen as a big signing. Dortmund did concede goals, but the usage of Favre’s 4-2-3-1 shape saw Hummels get exposed a lot of times. In the 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich, for example, Hummels endured a real struggle.
He scored an own goal. He got dribbled past once and got dispossessed once. He won just a single aerial duel, winning two tackles. His defensive partner Manuel Akanji had a poor game too, as Dortmund took another damaging defeat.
But a tactical change around the second half of the season has been changing how Hummels plays. In Dortmund’s 2-1 win over Hertha Berlin, the club used a 3-4-3 shape and that’s what they have done pretty much in every game since then.
On a regular basis, Hummels plays in the centre of the back-three. He is flanked by Akanji and fellow defender Dan-Axel Zagadou. This has made sure that while the younger defenders shore up attacks, Hummels gets less exposed to the pace of opposition forwards. That has been eliminating weakness in the way he has been playing these days.
There is a lesser risk of being dribbled past by players, in this case. Hummels can use his ability on the ball in a more composed manner, not fearing the tendency to struggle when he’s without the ball.
While Hummels was sent off in that game against Hertha and the club’s defence hasn’t improved as a whole. But Hummels’ individual performances have gone up a level.
In the club’s 5-3 win over Augsburg, Hummels was one of the best players despite the club relying on a late comeback. He won three aerial duels, winning two tackles in the game too. He made two interceptions, playing as many as 100 passes in the game. It brought out the German’s strengths.
Hummels was impressive in a 5-1 win over Koln too. He won six aerial duels, making as many as six tackles for the side. He made as many as five clearances, winning two interceptions. He completed a total of 67 passes as well. It was again a representation of how the change in the formation has made him look like a player at his peak once again.
Even when the Dortmund defence as a whole hasn’t been at its best, Hummels has stood up and has made an impact. Akanji and Zagadou are still young and will only learn. When they don’t do enough in defending, Hummels makes use of his positioning and tackling to very good effect.
With a crucial part of the season set to come along, Hummels will be very crucial. Be it in the UEFA Champions League or the in Bundesliga, Hummels’ experience and abilities will still be very vital.