The uncertainty surrounding the summer transfer window may deprive him of a move away from Germany at present, but Dayot Upamecano seems destined for big things after his steady progression at RB Leipzig.
Linked with a host of Premier League clubs, among which are Arsenal and Manchester United, the 21-year-old Frenchman looks set for a big money move after establishing himself among the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga.
Under the auspices of Ralf Ragnick, who has served spells as both sporting director and manager, RB Leipzig have embodied a distinct style of football predicated on intense counter-pressing and direct counter-attacking. Upamecano’s playing style has been moulded in such an approach, and it reflects in his various qualities.
He is an incredibly aggressive centre-back, frequently stepping out of the backline to pressure opponents and win the ball back higher up the pitch. By placing himself in a position of dominance through this aggression, Upamecano is able to either win back possession or force opponents into backwards passes. It’s a useful asset for a side that seeks to defend as proactively as Leipzig does, and would translate well into a variety of the elite high-pressing teams in Europe.
Such aggression does come with drawbacks though. Aside from conceding a high number of fouls, Upamecano is often caught out of position when he fails to win his defensive duels. These situations may be rare, but they can nevertheless be devastating as they can leave the backline hopelessly exposed to opposition attacks. Fortunately, Upamecano is usually able to mitigate such risk through his remarkable pace and awareness, which enables him to recover his defensive position swiftly.
Another facet of Upamecano’s game that has developed as an imperative of Leipzig’s approach is his passing ability. Given the directness with which Leipzig attack, they often encourage their defenders to launch long, raking passes from the back to find their strikers and initiate attacks as rapidly as possible. With 6.2 accurate long passes per 90 in the Bundesliga this season, Upamecano excels at performing this function. He has the willingness, vision, and ability to execute long passes with impressive accuracy, playing a crucial role in the Leipzig attack.
He has further developed this dimension of his game under the tutelage of the innovative Julian Nagelsmann, who has supplemented Leipzig’s direct, counter-attacking style with a greater emphasis on patience in possession. As Die Roten Bullen seek to build attacks methodically through the thirds with greater frequency, Upamecano has become a more complete ball-playing defender. He is comfortable carrying the ball himself, with 1.4 dribbles per 90 at 79% accuracy.
The France U21 international is assured and composed enough to find teammates with short passes even when put under pressure while also being able to break the lines of the opposition press with penetrative passes along the ground. In an era in which there is a greater premium on the offensive contribution of defenders, Upamecano’s passing prowess makes him an invaluable asset for any side.
The 21-year-old has also demonstrated an impressive level of tactical intelligence for a player of his age. Players under Nagelsmann are expected to be comfortable in a variety of systems, and Upamecano has had to get accustomed to regularly shifting from playing in a back three, a back five, and a back four. Working with a manager as astute as Nagelsmann will help any player, but the head coaches’ demand for adaptability, in particular, has highlighted Upamecano’s tactical acumen. It’s an underappreciated quality players can have, and it will no doubt ease his transition into a new club.
🌟 Bundesliga wonderkid 🌟
Speed, skill, composure and strength.
Dayot Upamecano is the perfect modern centre-back 👊
📺 The Bundesliga returns live to BT Sport on Saturday 16th May pic.twitter.com/49sm7nTNST
— 🇩🇪 Ja! Watch the Bundesliga live on BT Sport🇩🇪 (@btsportfootball) May 12, 2020
In terms of prospective buyers, Upamecano has been linked to a vast array of elite clubs. Bayern Munich seems a likely destination given their proclivity for purchasing the best talents within the Bundesliga and their need for a centre-back, although Leipzig are unlikely to sell to a rival without a huge fee.
Manchester United have been regularly mentioned, but they will likely have other priorities in the market and may not be able to attract a player of Upamecano’s quality should they fail to qualify for the Champions League – assuming it will take place next season.
Arsenal has been the most heavily linked with the Frenchman, and there are clear stylistic parallels with Upamecano’s playing style and the early indicators of Mikel Arteta’s philosophy. However, the club’s financial limitations and lack of Champions League football could serve as serious barriers to the signing.
While not consistently linked to the same degree, Manchester City and Barcelona would both suit Upamecano perfectly. Should he prefer a move to England, perhaps no club would suit him better than Pep Guardiola’s side, who desperately need a quality centre-back. With the allure of being among the richest and best sides in the world, City could be an attractive destination for the young Frenchman.
Barcelona would also be an interesting move, as an ageing Gerard Pique and injury ravaged Samuel Umitti leaves them short in central defence. Upamecano’s ball-playing prowess will no doubt enable him to excel for Quique Setien’s side, and both parties could benefit significantly from the deal going through.
Upamecano has established himself as one of the best young centre-backs in the world, and whether it is this summer or the next, he is destined for a successful career at one of Europe’s elite clubs.