From the Handbook: Dayot Upamecano
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook: 2018 Edition, originally published in March 2018. You can buy get a digital copy of the book for free here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Ousmane Dembélé is a worldwide name. A Barcelona player, a DFB-Pokal winner, the fourth-most expensive player in football history, and a probable member of France’s 2018 World Cup squad. Had someone reeled that substantial achievement list off upon his Stade Rennais debut in November 2016, one would have noted its ridiculous optimism. Ousmane’s rise to sensational stardom has been quicker than rapid.
Dayot Upamecano is a close friend of Ousmane Dembélé. Infants of Évreux, both were educated at the same primary school and played in the same youth team. Upamecano has experienced an exponential rise too, albeit on a lesser and distinctly Germanic scale.
Dayot Upamecano has made more interceptions in the Bundesliga (51) than any other player
The then 18-year-old’s move to Leipzig in January last year signified a scaling of the Red Bull system like no entry-level player had ever done before: 18 months separated his debuts in the Austrian Erste Liga and German Bundesliga, for FC Liefering and RB Leipzig respectively, with 11 months at Red Bull Salzburg sandwiched in between. Last year saw him amass 20 league starts for the second-best club side in Germany, contributing to a burgeoning game tally.
Only two RB Leipzig players – Timo Werner and Péter Gulácsi – have made more appearances than Upamecano this season; only the latter has played more minutes. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s centre-back pairings have almost invariably featured the Frenchman, with club captain Willi Orban and an 18-year-old compatriot, Ibrahima Konaté, revolving in and out of the team with increasing frequency.
Upamecano epitomises the extremely successful Red Bull system. His profile, background, and abilities all amalgamate to form what the mastermind of the entire operation, Ralf Rangnick, would likely consider to be an exemplary example of Red Bull recruited talent. A highly-rated talent at both junior domestic and international levels, and educated by a good Valenciennes academy, he can be moulded into a player who – with effective coaching and efficient utilisation of state of the art facilities within an club and league environment which exacerbates development – will contribute to Red Bull’s success and, eventually, bank account.
STYLE OF PLAY
Most will be familiar with Upamecano’s principal profile: an exceptionally athletic, right-footed centre-back, supplemented by an ever-improving technical and tactical aptitude. Hasenhüttl has almost exclusively used him on the left-side of central defence which forms the bedrock of his trademark 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape. The Frenchman’s physical capacity is the standout component of his exciting skillset. You can not escape it and he exploits it extensively in the defensive phase. He is not a tall central defender, standing at an inch over six-foot, but he is a very quick, deceivingly large, and pretty well-rounded as an athlete.
Said athleticism is key to how RB Leipzig defend as a team and Upamecano defends as an individual. Hasenhüttl’s Leipzig are athletic across every area of the pitch: powerful accelerators, physically dexterous, good engines. As a collective, they characteristically press with intent and intensity for the duration of every game. Upamecano is perfectly capable of holding his own in that regard, comfortably shifting horizontally and laterally as the ball dictates.
It is in isolated situations where the 19-year-old gains tangible advantages. His frame makes him a considerable obstacle to overcome aerially and on the ground. He wins the majority of his aerial engagements, testament to his timing as much as physique. He is more than capable of involving himself and standing his ground in direct physical altercations with opponents too. On the ground, he gobbles up yards of space at an exceedingly quick rate, allowing him to reach balls behind him swiftly or regularly chase down attackers with relative ease, including someone of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s physical talents. His speed allows him to dominate space and opponents in defensive situations. He is a hugely promising shut down defender; adept at stopping attacking movements before they even have an opportunity to form as attacks. This is a huge asset for player and team and a quality which often conceals systemic deficiencies, although that is not really applicable to Leipzig.
Utilising the aforementioned physical attributes as effectively as Upamecano does requires a certain level of tactical nous. This is an area of his game which is developing with each training session and competitive outing. His first instinct is to quash danger before it can develop, stepping into passes, confronting opponents or by dominating space, as alluded to above. He ordinarily posititions himself, reads and reacts to situations well, but he does succumb to lapses of focus and examples of poor decision-making, especially when confronted with a situation he must solve in a split-second. Upamecano often struggles to defend intricate movements effectively; he can be dragged out of position by tracking the wrong run, or be bypssed by a quick passing sequence. His physical capacity often gives him a chance at immediate redemption, but said issues are consistent with his age and experience too. He has explicitly said on many occasions that he needs to work on his positional gameplay – in Hasenhüttl, he has a coach who appreciates and mitigates for such deficiencies.
Upamecano’s technical proficiency is generally of an above average standard—and he is making visible improvements. He is composed under pressure and perfectly fine at reconfiguring his position, body shape and receiving the ball on either foot, which gives his team-mates more secure passing options. Even when caught out in possession, panic does not set in and a burly frame makes it difficult for opposition players to lever him off the ball. He usually moves the ball on quickly with punchy and risk-averse passes to centre-back, full-back, or into mid-field, but Upamecano has assumed an interesting tactical role in Leipzig build-up phase this year. He deliberately positions himself within the wide left channel, allowing a midfielder to take up deep positions and left-back to move into advanced zones. It is from such positions have where he fires a handful of passes into team-mates in advanced positions in most games, something made easier for him by Leipzig’s impressive positional play, but that is not to say he has a catalogue of line-slicing passes or dribbles he can reel out. He does not—yet.
What makes the Frenchman such an exciting talent is the visible progression he is making technically and tactically, all of which has been underpinned by an exceptional athletic ability. He is becoming a more complete centre-back, relying less on his physicality talents and more on a better balanced skillset.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
“I’m playing a lot and I feel I’m getting better all the time. I’m definitely on the right track,” is the Frenchman’s assessment of his own development since joining RB Leipzig. He is most certainly on the right track. Him choosing to join the Red Bull Salzburg as a 16-year-old in 2015, supposedly rejecting elite level clubs in order to do so, is a decision which has facilitated his awesome rise. Staying on that track is what Upamecano needs to do this year. Another year, minimum, at RB Leipzig is the most sensible career choice he could make this summer. His seemingly humble character likely means he has already realised that.
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