In recent years, France has produced a striking amount of young defensive talent. Whether we’re talking about Raphael Varane from Lens, Samuel Umtiti from Lyon, Dayot Upamecano from RB Leipzig or even Issa Diop from Toulouse. We are now seeing many of France’s defensive exports lead defenses from all over Europe to success. This is no different for Stuttgart’s new defensive rock Benjamin Pavard, who has quickly become the central defender in Hannes Wolf’s backline.
By Jordan McElderry (@lilregista)
Benjamin Pavard was born in the small commune of Maubeuge on March 28th, 1996. He’s a product of Lille’s youth academy and played for them until 2016 when he moved to Stuttgart. The move came after Pavard felt he was no longer in the plans of then-manager Frederic Antonetti. At Stuttgart, Pavard was cautiously brought into the starting XI during the early stages of the 16/17 season, but eventually became a regular starter to help them secure their Bundesliga 2 title. Since being promoted to the Bundesliga the young centre-back has yet to miss a start and has clearly become Hannes Wolf’s most trusted defender.
Benjamin Pavard plays as a sweeping right centre-back in Hannes Wolf’s usual 3 man backline. He is an incredibly intelligent yet, cautious player who reads the game in a way that you would expect out of a seasoned veteran. He’s always quick to cut out or clear dangerous balls that come into his area. Standing at 6’1, he is very aware of his height, and he often uses his head to clear and cut out aerial balls. The 21-year-old defender excels in 1v1 situations and it is very rare to see him get beat as his positioning always seems perfect. He is very aware of his positioning. If he has to come out of position, it is not rare to see him communicate to one of his defensive partners to cover the space behind him. He is also very versatile — he’s able to play as a defensive midfielder and as a right-back. Because of this versatility, Stuttgart manager, Hannes Wolf, likes to describe him as his “Swiss Army Knife”.
Offensively, Pavard is elegant and confident on the ball. He has the ability to carry the ball into midfield and break lines with his passing, but he only does so in certain situations due to his cautious nature. Usually, he will look for the short pass to one of his fellow centre-backs or fullbacks, and if he can’t find a clear pass at all, he’ll play it back to the goalkeeper.
Pavard has almost everything you would want in a centre-back. He is sound in almost every department you would want for a modern centre-back. He is a tall player and is a major aerial threat, winning 3.2 aerial duels per game. He’s very composed both offensively and defensively, even when he makes a mistake he keeps his head up and continues to perform for his team. His aforementioned intelligence and positional superiority make it very difficult to get anything past him. This is in addition to his rigid zonal-marking. The French U-21 is also a very smart tackler, he only commits to tackles that he knows he’ll win. In fact, he attempts 1.9 tackles per game and completes 1.6 of them. He is a quick decision maker on the ball and more than capable of dealing with Germany’s trademark high pressing. Furthermore, it is very difficult to get the ball off him, and he is quick to deliver the ball to a teammate when he is being pressed.
The 21 year-old doesn’t have many parts of his game that one would call weak but there are some concerns. Sometimes Pavard is too conservative in the offensive phase of play. He clearly likes to go for the safe pass a lot, passing to his centre-back, fullback, or goalkeeper. There are pockets of space that he can drive the ball into, but he chooses not to. However, he clearly has the ability to do so, as most of the time he does it, it usually turns into a positive phase of play for Stuttgart’s offense. To make him better as a ball-playing centre-back it is necessary for him to take a couple of risks and try to disrupt the defense’s shape. Another weakness is that he is not the most physically imposing defender. He is thin, weighing in at 168 lbs and that occasionally gets exploited by more physical attackers. Luckily for him, he has not run into this problem very much so far in his career but if he has ambitions of playing in more physical leagues than it is on him to bulk up.
Nevertheless, these are relatively minor issues can get fixed as Pavard grows into his game. Pavard is an intelligent defender with a bright future. In the last international break, he was called up by Didier Deschamps to fill in at right-back for the injured Djibril Sidibé. Deschamps had nothing but positive things to say about the young Frenchman’s performance so there is a good reason to believe that his future with the French national team is far from over and if he continues to perform the way he is now we may see him at the World Cup in 2018.
Article written by Jordan McElderry (@lilregista)