Bayern set their 2019-20 season in motion already, with the announcement that Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard will join in July. What does he bring to the Bavarians?
Pavard remained a relative unknown outside of the Bundesliga until 2017. Didier Deschamps called him up for pre-World Cup friendlies against Wales and Germany. Pavard played a total of 71 minutes across both games, leaving a good impression. Not six months later, Deschamps named him in the final 23-man squad for Russia. Indeed, Pavard started all but one of France’s World Cup games and scored the goal of the tournament against Argentina.
This stellar rise to the footballing elite got the collective rumour mill of the press into high gear. Bayern always sat comfortably atop the list of potential suitors for Pavard. The player liked Germany, the rumours went and would favour a move inside the country. Of course, the pinnacle of a move inside of Germany would either be Bayern or Borussia Dortmund.
Several months of speculation about when and how the transfer would be executed later, Bayern finally confirmed the news. Pavard will join Niko Kovač et al in July.
A man of many suits…
The first thing that strikes you about Pavard is the fact that, much like Joshua Kimmich, he can play in a bunch of positions. Although he has only played as a centre-back for Stuttgart this season, he deputised in three other positions last year. In total, Pavard played at right-back in four games, at defensive midfield in two games, and at right midfield another two games. Remarkably, he featured in every single Bundesliga minute Stuttgart played in 2017-18.
This bodes well for Niko Kovač. Pavard is, like I said, much like Joshua Kimmich. This gives any manager options in terms of tactical disposition and shape. Pavard is accustomed to playing in a three-man defensive line. We know that Kovač is fond of such a system, and his signing could be a step towards implementing it at Bayern. So far, and due to the nature of the squad, he hasn’t been able to. If Bayern were to add Lucas Hernández to the mix, the recipe would have added spice.
…but are they nice suits?
Saying a player can play anywhere on the pitch does not mean they will do it well. So how does Pavard measure up?
To provide a relevant comparison of Pavard’s performance, I have chosen Niklas Süle as a counterpart. Süle has been consistently touted as Bayern’s top centre-back this season. Both Kovač and the fans recognise in him a mature player with outstanding defensive ability and a proven track record of working on weaknesses. In addition, he is the same age as Pavard.
WhoScored, a football statistics website, ranks players within their club squads by computing their performances. Pavard has an overall rating of 6.67 and comes in sixth in Stuttgart. Süle has a higher rating (6.96), but occupies the seventh place in Bayern’s squad. This helps put in perspective the kind of teammates both players have, and the situation of their respective teams as a whole.
In terms of playing time, Süle has the lead with 1465 minutes in 16 games in the Bundesliga. Pavard has been sidelined for the last four games with a muscular injury and clocks in 1256 minutes in 14.
Here are some other important statistics:
- Tackles per game
- Interceptions per game
- Clearances per game
- Blocks per game
As you can see, Pavard has higher numbers in all but one of the above items. Of course, Stuttgart usually has more defensive work as a whole than Bayern. However, it also indicates that Pavard is weathered in defensive situations. He is a positive player willing to step up and put fires out.
At Bayern, centre-backs also play a crucial part in the build-up. Pavard became known for his offensive exploits in Russia during the World Cup – as a right-back. Now, Stuttgart have scored a measly 14 goals in the Bundesliga this season. Don’t expect Pavard’s offensive numbers to be anything worth displaying in a museum.
- Key passes per game
- Dribbles per game
- Dispossessions per game
The conclusion here is that Pavard doesn’t light the world up with his offensive performance, but neither does Süle. That’s because centre-backs usually help in the build-up, as I said before. Such role is unrecognised in stats like these, which generally take into account play just before a goal and special kinds of passes that take place further up the pitch. As a result, the defenders’ contribution in possession is often underappreciated by sites like this.
The most recent precedent for Pavard at right-back is, well, the World Cup. As I mentioned before, Deschamps started Pavard in all but one of France’s games – the meaningless third group game against Denmark. The manager left him on the pitch for the full 90 minutes in all six games he played, all at right-back.
During the World Cup, Pavard averaged almost twice as many tackles as he has in the current Bundesliga season. However, he made fewer interceptions, blocks and clearances. Being the starting right-back of a World Cup-winning team is no small potatoes. Pavard’s ability to cover that position should not remain unexplored and open up a world of tactical possibilities. Still, with Rafinha leaving and Bayern still lacking a deputy for either him or Kimmich, Pavard’s signing is very welcome.
A step in the right direction
Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have for months created a sense of expectation with the overhaul of Bayern’s squad. Pavard is the first step towards that. If Bayern manages to let its etiquette take a hike and sign Lucas Hernández as well, the defence could be all but complete.
Make no mistake, signing a World Cup-winning player for less than €35m is nothing short of a bargain. This is particularly true of the current market. Pavard is a fantastic player with the top trophy in football in his cabinet. Don’t let Stuttgart’s collectively bad performance put that into question.