Next Generation - Dayot Upamecano, the RB Leipzig star attracting interest from Europe's elite

By Sports Desk April 17, 2020

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s. 

For a player who has had to deal with speculation over his future since attracting attention as a 16-year-old for Valenciennes, it is little wonder Dayot Upamecano is so relaxed about recent links with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

"Even though I know there are clubs that want me - that is certain - I am keeping my feet on the ground," he told Foot Mercato last month. "We will discuss my future at the end of the season with my agents and my family."

Upamecano has a habit of making the right choices, seeing him make a name for himself in the Bundesliga and star on the biggest club stage of them all, the Champions League.

With a pick of Europe's top teams to choose from, as well as the option of extending his stay at his current side, Upamecano faces a big decision at the end of the campaign as he enters the final year of his Leipzig deal.

Using data provided by Opta, we examine just why the Frenchman is attracting so much interest from across the continent and look at his next possible career step.


The story so far

Despite supposed interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal at the time, Upamecano opted for Salzburg in 2015 and soon got a taste for first-team football at feeder club Liefering.

Given the links between the clubs, it came as little surprise when the centre-back opted for Leipzig in January 2017, quickly adapting to a new country and a new league with 12 Bundesliga appearances in the remainder of the season.

Upamecano's displays over the course of the next year saw him nominated for the 2018 Golden Boy award, won by then-Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt, but his game has since gone up another level under the stewardship of Julian Nagelsmann.

The Evreux-born defender has been a mainstay at the back, making 29 appearances in all competitions during the current campaign, which has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Leipzig have the joint-best defensive record in the Bundesliga this term, alongside leaders Bayern, with Upamecano playing his part in six of their clean sheets, making the most interceptions and clearances in the side.

Pace, power, passing and positioning

Upamecano boasts a short-pass accuracy of 92.24 per cent in the Bundesliga - an impressive figure - but it is his long passing that sets him aside from the division's other elite players at his position.

Nearly 66 per cent of the 199 long passes he has attempted this season have been successful, compared to 61 per cent for Benjamin Pavard at Bayern, with Borussia Dortmund duo Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji and 58 and 55 per cent respectively.

As impressive as his strength, pace and passing ability may be, the most notable aspect of Upamecano's game is his ability to take the ball off opponents and start attacks from deep.

He has intercepted the ball 35 times this season, five more than Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk - widely considered to be the best central defender on the planet.

They play in different leagues, of course, but Upamecano has also transferred his domestic displays onto the European stage.

Already arguably the most coveted defender around after stifling Bayern's Robert Lewandowski a few weeks beforehand, Upamecano once again stepped up in Leipzig's impressive 3-0 win over Tottenham last month, each of his enduring traits were on display.

With Leipzig successfully overcoming Tottenham to book a place in the quarter-finals, he will now have an even bigger audience to showcase his skills to when the competition eventually resumes.

What have they said and where next?

A number of current and former stars have heaped praise on the 21-year-old, with team-mate Timo Werner comparing him to Jerome Boateng, for a long time a player many youngsters would mould their game on.

Speaking this week, meanwhile, German football legend Lothar Matthaus talked up the youngster while at the same time warning him that he cannot afford to get carried away.

"He's a young player, highly rated, fast, has a good positional game and uses his body well for a 21-year-old. But a year or two in Leipzig would not hurt him," Matthaus told Sky Sport Germany.

"I can still see one or two per cent where he can learn, but he's a huge player and that's why I'm not surprised that top clubs in Europe are after him."

Upamecano would arguably suit a side that looks to get the ball forward quickly, given that is what a large part of his game centres around at Leipzig, but his defensive abilities and dribbling skills means he would not be out of place at any club.

If the rumours are to be believed and Bayern are weighing up an end-of-season move for Upamecano, it may be too big an opportunity to turn down for a player in control of his own destiny.

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