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BFW Postseason Breakdown: Jerome Boateng - Most Improved Player

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Once a man seemingly destined for departure, Jerome Boateng has made a complete turnaround this season.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Bayern Muenchen - DFB Cup Final Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

At the end of the 2018/19 season, few people expected Jerome Boateng to stay at Bayern Munich the following year. The defender had lost his place in the starting lineup under Niko Kovac, and his absence was not missed as Bayern cruised to a domestic double. While Boateng went missing from the team’s celebrations after winning those titles, it was considered almost inevitable that Bayern’s no. 17 would put an end to his then-eight-year spell in Munich.

Things took an unexpected turn, though, when starting center-back Mats Hummels abruptly left Munich for his old club Borussia Dortmund, and Bayern was forced to hold on to Boateng for at least another season for squad depth. While Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernandez, and Benjamin Pavard rotated in central defense, Boateng had to ride the bench for most of the Hinrunde, and on the few occasions that he played, he was not very impressive, the crowning jewel being his hasty tackle and sending-off in Bayern’s momentous 1-5 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.

However, after Kovac’s departure, and as injuries plagued Bayern’s defense, Boateng nailed down a permanent starting spot, and he began to make leaps and bounds of progress under new coach Hansi Flick. Gone was the shaky, nervy Boateng who made everyone hold their breath when the ball came his way. No more was the Boateng who gave away a penalty every other week. In his place was a new, improved Boateng who showed why he deserved to start for Bayern week in week out. When the Rückrunde rolled around, the Boateng that we saw was almost comparable to the Boateng who had won the Champions League with Bayern, and the World Cup with Germany.

One of the most notable aspects of Boateng’s resurgence is that the timing of his tackling improved dramatically. In 2018/19, Boateng was prone to diving into reckless challenges, only for him either to miss the opponent completely or get nowhere near the ball and give away a silly foul. Now, however, Boateng has re-learned how to wait for a tackle, how to make sure that he is in the right place at the right time. He no longer makes the first move unless he is absolutely sure of what he needs to do.

Moreover, it is clear that Boateng is now using his vast experience to his advantage. What is impressive about this is that he is using it not just to boost his skills, but also to compensate his weaknesses. Once one of the fastest defenders on the planet, Boateng has considerably slowed in his twilight years, a negative point when compared to his competitors. In order to cancel this out, Boateng has changed his style of play, analyzing his opponents first and being in the right place to cut them off. Instead of acting on the spot, it now appears that Boateng is thinking one step ahead of his opponents, and then selecting the right option necessary to counter them. It was through this thought process that Boateng was able to keep a red hot Erling Haaland under wraps when Bayern faced Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.

When the Bundesliga restarted after the COVID-19 lockdown, a lot of teams were expected to be rusty. Boateng, however, had somehow progressed even more. Some of his best performances of the season came after the lockdown. The aforementioned Dortmund game, for one, was one of Boateng’s brightest moments. Dortmund had scored six goals in two games prior to the Bayern clash, but Boateng & co. made sure that tally did not increase after matchday 28. In the DFB-Pokal semifinal against Eintracht Frankfurt, Boateng was Bayern’s only aerial threat, almost single-handedly saving the defense from the Eagles’ long balls into the box.

Fast-forward a few days and Boateng delivered another brilliant performance in rainy Bremen, assisting Robert Lewandowski’s winner to ensure that Bayern won the league with two games to spare. In the Pokal final against Bayer Leverkusen, he made a brilliant tackle across the face of goal to deny Leverkusen a surefire goal-scoring opportunity. It is probably no wonder that Bayern’s defense rapidly began to waver when he was subbed off with a minor injury.

The results speak for themselves. Ever since the Rückrunde kicked off, Boateng has started all but two of Bayern’s league games, missing one when he had to serve a yellow card suspension, and the other when he was rested following the draining away trip to Dortmund. In those fifteen games, Bayern conceded only 8 goals, roughly once every other game, thanks in no small part to Boateng’s performances.

But what is most important about Boateng’s second coming is that he has stayed professional throughout the entire season. Despite the rumors that he would be leaving the team, he gave it everything he had to fight for his spot when it became clear that he was staying in Munich. Never did he complain about having to play second fiddle to his younger teammates, and when he got his chance, he took it. The way he has played in the latter half of the season, especially after the restart, just shows how much effort Boateng has put into his progress, and it has paid off enormously.

The World Cup winner’s future at Bayern is still unclear. His contract is set to run out in 2021, and so far there have been no news on whether he might extend. That said, it would be imprudent not to consider giving Boateng a new contract, because he has earned it big-time. It’s remarkable, considering how this time last year many fans were clamoring for his exit. If anyone deserves the Most Improved Player title this season, it is Jerome Boateng.