23-year-old Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt is a solid defender, who still has a lot of room for improvement. However, whether the Dutchman is worth his price tag after struggling to reach the expectations in Italy is questionable. Is he the answer to Bayern’s problems?
Matthijs de Ligt – the wonderkid, who rose to the elite a couple of years ago – has continued his development into a solid centre-back at Juventus, picking up traits of two masters of the arts in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci and experiencing the high tactical demands of Serie A football.
The Bayern target is still viewed as one of the most promising central defenders in the world, with the Bavarians reportedly ready to break the bank in order to secure the services of the Dutchman in hope of finally fixing one of their biggest problems of last season.
On Monday, Bayern's sport director Hasan Salihamidzic flew to Turin to discuss the transfer fee with La Vecchia Signora; the FCB have reportedly already agreed terms with de Ligt as he only wants to join Der Rekordmeister.
However, there is still plenty to negotiate. Bayern's first offer of €60 million plus €10 million in add-ons did not come close to satisfy Juventus' demands, but it is reported that there will be another meeting this week.
The objective for Bayern is to have de Ligt signed and ready to travel on Monday with the team for the pre-season stage in the USA.
If the FCB want to accomplish this feat, they will have to go up on the price and receive a little help from Ligt, with the player pressing his current club.
But is the ex-Ajax captain the answer to all of Bayern’s prayers?
The second most valuable centre-back in the world
De Ligt sits second only behind City’s Ruben Dias in terms of market value for centre-backs, according to Transfermarkt.
His age, the five years he already has battling at the highest stages in world football, and his enormous transfer fee from Ajax to Juventus are some of the factors behind Juventus' reported asking price of around €80 million.
The Dutchman might be in the top eight or seven of most complete centre-backs in the world. He is superb in air, winning a lot of the duels he is involved in, while also being a menace offensively at set pieces.
His physicality allows him to fight with any forward without missing a beat, and his passing abilities and vision are well-known.
He also fits better with Nagelsmann’s scheme than with Allegri’s and Italian football in general.
If he ends up moving to Bayern, de Ligt will defend in a higher block, have more possession of the ball, and will be in a much more functional and synchronized team than the Italians.
He fills all the boxes required to succeed, he already is a very good centre-back and if he can keep developing, he could be second to none in a couple of seasons.
But the main trait that seduces Bayern’s bosses is the defender's personality, his leadership, with their hope being that he could be the voice FCB have been lacking since the departure of David Alaba.
Being Ajax's captain at just 19 years old in a season where the team reached the Champions League’s semifinals definitely doesn’t come by chance; his experiences have definitely seasoned him in every aspect to face the challenge at the Allianz Arena.
The Van Dijk effect
De Ligt's price tag is not based only on the Juventus centre-back abilities and promising future, but should also be seen in a footballing context.
The role of centre-backs both on the market and on the clubs’ list of priorities has changed in recent years; they have gained ground and relevance.
Liverpool’s signing of Virgil Van Dijk in 2018 has definitely pushed up the price of centre-backs, especially due to the success of a player who cost a lot of money despite not playing for a top-tier team and that was able to push 'the Reds' over the edge into Champions League success.
And it affected both sides of the equation, the elite team who is ready to spend big on defenders, and the selling team increasing the price by saying they have the missing piece to a championship success; just ask both teams in Manchester or even Bayern themselves, who paid a whopping €80 million to sign Lucas Hernandez from Atlético Madrid in 2019.
Are there other options on the market?
Despite all the positives, it's worth questioning if de Ligt is really worth his price tag. Bayern could buy three centre-backs with the money destined for de Ligt, but that would mean lowering the bar and having to choose in which aspect to focus when looking for a defender on the market.
There’s arguably only one center-back with similar age, quality, and potential as de Ligt and that’s Sevilla’s Jules Kounde.
The French defender is the desire of Chelsea and City and is going to move out of Sevilla this summer; his market value is around €65 million, but his experience and reliability is not quite like de Ligt’s, and Bayern do not seem to have any real interest in Kounde.
Antonio Rüdiger would have been a free transfer, but preferred going to Real Madrid; while Bayern did not show any genuine interest in Schlotterbeck or Ginter.
Milan Skriniar would be the best alternative for Bayern without lowering the quality de Ligt brings to the table, but PSG seems to have the lead on that race.
The 27-year-old Slovenian has only a year left on his contract and has performed incredibly in Serie A, being labeled as the best centre-back in the league ahead of de Ligt himself.
He wouldn’t be cheap by any means, but is a way more financially viable option than the Dutchman, although with less long-term potential, theoretically.
The domino effect on Skriniar’s move to PSG could be Kimpembe becoming available on the market, a solid and experienced player that knows well most of Bayern’s defenders, but his price compared to De Ligt’s means he might not be worth it.
There are other less possible or convenient options, City’s interest in Kounde might open the door for Laporte to move, but it would mean another left-footed centre-back as Lucas Hernandez is the only clear starter at the heart of the defense right now.
Pavard's still not clear between CB and RB, and with Upamecano's performances pushing him clearly out of the starting XI if a heavyweight center-back is signed.
Fikayo Tomori had a breakout season in Italy but has not cemented himself as a top-tier defender yet and AC Milan do not want to sell.
Any other top defender is either too untouchable to try to bid for them (Bastoni, Marquinhos, Dias) or the risk-to-reward ratio is more uncertain than that of de Ligt’s (Fofana, Timber, Tapsoba, Torres).
Plus, investing in another young player that needs time to develop would be another gamble and would probably leave the club in another Upamecano situation, in which the club has a promising player, but that can not generate an impact and that will cost goals and points.
It is not a knock on Upamecano, it comes with the territory of developing a young player, and it makes sense; but having two center-backs in those circumstances is not going to help Der Rekordmeister to win right now.
Not reaching the expectations
De Ligt’s stint at Juventus has not been a failure whatsoever, but he has not fulfilled all the expectations placed in him.
His first two seasons were filled with ups and downs performances, along with some physical problems with injuries.
Serie A really pushed the Dutchman’s weaknesses the first years, although last season showed signs of improvement and had some stages where he looked dominant.
However, the centre-back has some moments where he loses his focus, which leads to making mistakes, whether it be in terms of marking or positioning.
Another thing to consider is de Ligt’s speed and reactions; he is not slow, but he is not fast either, and suffers in an open field when facing quick forwards or wingers.
He has made some great tackles this season despite it being a low point of his game and something he still needs to work on.
The Dutchman is also continuing to improve his anticipation, something he will require to master very soon if the transfer occurs.
With Bayern, de Ligt will face a lot more counterattacks and 1-vs-1 situations than he had in his previous experiences.
Bayern’s pressing line and the Bundesliga’s frenetic pace makes his ability and speed to close spaces and anticipate plays something to really examine before spending €80 million.
Centre-back might be the toughest position to analyze in football, especially with young defenders, because it depends so much on the man next to him, his abilities, and their understanding. That’s why we tend to and should talk about centre-backs in pairs.
De Ligt has always partnered up with a more experienced centre-back next to him at both club and international level. He has played alongside Blind, Chiellini, Bonucci, Van Dijk, who are all players that make the teammate next to them better. This has allowed him to grow his personality and to learn the craft, but also has helped him to shine more and hide some mistakes.
The question lies in whether he will be able to become the player and leader that makes the teammate next to him better, or if he needs to have an experienced commander of the defense for him to showcase.
What's clear is that Bayern will not pay that amount of money just for a solid centre-back, they'll pay that for a generational talent – anything short of that would mean it was a mistake.