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Know your competition: A back three or back four for Borussia Dortmund with Niklas Süle, Mats Hummels, and Nico Schlotterbeck?

Edin Terzić has some decisions to make.

Nico Schlotterbeck, Niklas Süle, and Mats Hummels warm up alongside their teammates ahead of a friendly against Villarreal. Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s chief challengers in the Bundesliga have had quite the transfer window. Among Borussia Dortmund’s acquisitions are two center-backs: Niklas Süle from Bayern and Nico Schlotterbeck from SC Freiburg. They’ll be joining former Bayern maestro Mats Hummels, which has some — including Holger Luhmann and Patrick Berger of Sport1 — speculating a change to three at the back for the Bees.

But will that happen? Recently, BVB manager Edin Terzić was quoted by kicker as saying he might lean toward back four because the team feels very “comfortable” in that alignment. Using a back four, however, would put one of Süle, Hummels, and Schlotterbeck on the bench when all three are healthy.

That situation could get dicey.

So...back three? Back four? Let’s take a look what it might look like if Terzić eventually opts to use all three central defenders in one formation.

The upshot

Hummels is 33 and slowing down, and although age is less important than defensive nous, he could use the additional cover of an extra center-back. Süle and Schlotterbeck are both starting quality, and represent significant investments.

The new BVB duo are also a complementary set: Schlotterbeck is left-footed, an increasingly valued trend due to favorable passing angles in build-up. Süle is fast, physical, and able to slide right — from where could launch his trademark Sülinho forays.

Finally, per the Sport1 writers, wing-back rather than full-back roles would favor Raphaël Guerreiro and Thomas Meunier. Thorgan Hazard might man a wing-back role as well, as he’s done for Belgium. Up front, captain Marco Reus could command a fresh, exciting, and rotating front three cast. Reus will thrive anywhere

This would help convert weakness into strength; Dortmund have long had issues at fullback, and a back three would give freer attacking reign to those positions.


The obvious one is that Dortmund don’t have a lot of other center-backs. Marin Pongračić’s uninspiring loan has ended. Manuel Akanji is on his way out. Dan-Axel Zagadou is already gone. Even their other defenders are decidedly outside players — with the exception of midfielder Emre Can, who has fared poorly when asked to play center-back.

Additionally, Dortmund have better numbers in midfield. A 3-4-3 would demand sacrifices there — most likely newcomer Salih Özcan, who was brought in to play the six. More likely Özcan will anchor a three-man midfield with a pick-two of Judge Bellingham, Julian Brandt, Mohammed Dahoud, and Giovanni Reyna ahead of him.

A midfield three is still possible with a 3-5-2. However, that leaves one spot between Donyell Malen, Karim Adeyemi, and Sébastian Haller; the latter two are new signings. Reyna is also more of a forward player than central midfielder. With Haller’s recent health scare, though, he will not be in the mix for quite a while.

Lastly, there’s the small matter that coach Edin Terzic himself doesn’t seem to favor a back three — though that may have been due to personnel in the past.


With the caveat that the rubber hasn’t yet hit the road, it just does not look like a team ready for or building towards a back three. Nonetheless, if they don’t go this way, it will be a conundrum: who sits? All three players have a strong claim to membership in their best XI.

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