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Checking in with Niklas Süle

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The Bayern Munich man is at the start of a road leading him to becoming one of the best defenders in Germany.

RSC Anderlecht v Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Young backup, potential star or equal part of the best defensive center back unit in European football? Three months down the line from our last check in, we look at how Niklas Süle’s season is progressing and what he had to say in a recent interview with Abendzeitung.

Süle on his season thus far

Asked about his first season at Bayern, Süle was very positive:

If you had told me before [the season], that I would get this much game time and trust from the manager [Jupp Heynckes], I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I am completely happy.

But Süle also knows that he can’t rest on his laurels. He related how Heynckes had imparted some important advice to him:

The manager said to me, ‘Niklas, you’re 22, play for the national team and for Bayern Munich. The difficult thing now is to consistently produce at this level and then to get even better.’

They are words that Süle has clearly taken to heart. Süle had the followinng to say about the more experienced players at his position (Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng):

They are World Cup winners who have delivered consistently over years. The most difficult part, especially as a defender: making as few mistakes as those two have in the past years. At only 22 I am lucky enough to always have one of the two at my side. It lets me learn a lot and improve myself. It’s a privilege.

Refreshingly humble words for someone in his position. Nowadays too many young players believe that they have to play every game to get somewhere and disregard how much value there is in learning from those who have already achieved a lot. The same is true for Coman and Gnabry (when he comes back from loan): the two can learn an incredible amount from Ribery and Robben.

Süle’s season by the numbers

But back to Süle. While he is currently padawan to the two masters, he has managed to leave an impression all his own. Altogether he has in fact played in more games (27) and played for more minutes (2008) than either Hummels (24/1976) or (Boateng: 20/1687).

That is not to say that Süle has played better than the other two. Injuries and rest days factored in to the two missing time. Nonetheless, it does show the trust that his managers (yes, including Ancelotti) have showed in him, going back to the start of the season. If you look at Süle’s numbers you can see why:

  • 13 out of 18 games with a pass success percentage of over 90%. That means only 5 out of 18 games below 90%, compared to Hummels (17 games) and Boateng (14 games) who only managed 5 games above 90%. For reference, these stats are similar to Toni Kroos, although it is worth remembering that in midfield you are passing through more traffic. That does not diminish the fact that Süle is a modern defender who can help start the game from the back.
  • However, let’s not get carried away. While Süle may have completed more passes, his two senior peers each have contributed more key passes, assists and goals. What I take from that is that Süle is playing it a bit safer—a completely legitimate approach for a younger player.
  • Süle additionally has more blocked shots than Hummels and Boateng, and he keeps up with them when it comes to clearances. He could improve, in contrast, when it comes to tackles and interceptions.

Süle thus definitely still has a lot of room to improve and grow, especially with respect to anticipating the game and making “big plays” across the pitch. These are two things that come with time, age and experience. For now, Süle is in a great position to do well, keep doing well and continue improving. In his Abendzeitung interview, Süle said that he could see himself playing for Bayern for the rest of his career. If he continues on this trajectory, that dream may become a welcome reality.