Every weekend we pick out one under-23 player from around Europe and analyse their performance to provide you with an in-depth scouting report.
This week, we shine the spotlight on Niklas Sule – a £17.4million signing from Hoffenheim – who marked his Bayern debut with a headed goal after just nine minutes at the Allianz Arena.
He may only be 21, but much is of expected of the 6 ft 4inch towering centre-back.
Here, we look at how well he fared in commanding Carlo Ancelotti’s defence on his Bundesliga bow for Bayern.
Goals – 1
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 1
Tackles – 4
Aerials duels won – 3
Touches – 58
Passes – 49
Key passes – 0
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 1
It’s easy to see why Bayern were in a hurry to sign the defender on a pre-contract arrangement in January – and on this evidence – he was a shrewd buy to replace Medhi Benatia, who joined Juventus this summer.
Having had four seasons of Bundesliga football at Hoffenheim under his belt, he didn’t seem fazed by the bigger stage at Bayern.
Sule does lack any kind of pace and is slow when turned – as Bayer managed to get him facing his own goal on a number of occasions in the second period.
Generally, he operated as a deep-lying centre-back to combat the threat of a striker getting in behind but against top-class opposition, especially in the Champions League, he could be exploited.
From a traditional defensive perspective, he reads the game well, is powerful in the air and isn’t afraid to put his body on the line for the cause. His style is actually similar to that of John Terry.
Technically-speaking, he was calm in possession and eager to always pick out a pass – but Italian boss Ancelotti will definitely be working with his new signing to make sure he gets his head up quicker and doesn’t dwell on the ball.
9th min – GOAAAAAALLLLL! Sule met Sebastian Rudy’s pin-point free-kick centre from the left-hand side, climbing highest (and virtually unmarked) to head Bayern into the lead. It was the perfect way for the new signing to mark his debut and he showed tremendous aerial power to head the ball back across goal and into the net.
26th min – Displayed intent and aggression to make flying challenge on Kevin Volland, winning the ball near the half-way line. It was a well-timed tackle, sliding on the soaked Allianz outfield, and it had to be otherwise the referee would have needed to go into his notebook.
33th min – Dallies on the ball too long – luckily for him, the opposition couldn’t exploit his slowness in bringing the ball out of the backline.
44th min – Sule’s physical stature is obviously a great attribute in one-to-one combat in the air and when ushering attackers off the ball, but it also means he doesn’t possess fleet-of-foot.
Admir Mehmedi almost exploited that at the end of the first-half when his sharp turn in the box helped him get away from the Bayern man. Sule managed to get his body in the way as the ball trickled out of play but on another day his trailing (and clumsy) trailing leg could have caught the Swiss forward.
56th min – Bundesliga opposition will be trying to turn the youngster and get him tracking back towards his own goal all season. He had a shaky start to the second 45 minutes and was caught ball-watching, as well as on his heels, when Dominik Kohr’s clever through pass sent Julian Brandt steaming in on goal. However, the German’s shot went inches wide.
65th min – Bayern’s backline was all at sea as the away side got a goal back to make the match more than competitive for the remaining minutes under lights. Although Sule wasn’t directly involved, he was guilty along with his Bayern team-mates of ball-watching from inside the penalty area as no-one closed down Mehmedi quickly enough, with his bullet of an effort smashing in beneath the underside of the crossbar.
As far as debuts go, it couldn’t have gone much better for Sule – a man Chelsea tried to sign before he agreed terms with Bayern. A goal to adhere himself to the Bavarian faithful just a few minutes into his bow was the stuff of dreams and he followed that up with a decent defensive performance, helping the champions kick-off the campaign with a clean sheet and 3-1 win.
A slight negative is that question marks will persist over his pace and movement as Bayer really tested him in the second-half. That’s certainly an area to keep watch on moving forward.