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Player Review: Sokratis Papastathopoulos

It was a mostly successful year for the Greek center-back, capped by a performance for the ages.

Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Final 2016
Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

For the most part, it was a solid, successful season for our beloved Papa. He was a defensive rock that swallowed attacks whole and shut down opposing forwards with ease. He averaged 2.1 tackles per game, and fielded a solid 84% tackle-success rate (to put that in perspective, Mats Hummels had 2.3 tackles per game and a 71% success rate). Here are some of the negative and positive moments of Papa's year:

The Negatives

Marring his statistically solid year was the 27-year old's dubious record in important matches. His play was poor during Dortmund’s 5-1 thrashing in Munich, in the Rückrunde Revierderby, and the away leg against Liverpool in the Europa League Quarterfinal. None of those losses were necessarily his fault, but those still aren't the types of results you'd want one of your star defenders to display, especially during matches that matter.

Additionally, there were points during the season where he struggled to stay healthy. At one point, he even surrendered his spot in the starting XI to Sven Bender. After a season plagued by injuries and inconsistent results, and with the uncertainty of Mats Hummels’s future at the club, it would have been perfectly reasonable to question whether or not Sokratis would be able to handle the pressure that was sure to come during Dortmund’s final clash with Bayern in the DFB-Pokal Final.

The Positives

In what was without a doubt one of the greatest defensive performances of the season, Papa played a game for the ages in the final against Bayern. Like a Spartan Hoplite from an earlier era, Papa Sokratis held firm like a wall, and threw back every wave of men in red with ease. Lewandowski? Stonewalled. Müller? Stymied. Ribéry? Neutralized. He won aerial duels, one-on-one’s, and plenty of tackles.

He fought-on even when captain Mats Hummels and workhorse Marcel Schmelzer strutted off the field with injuries, leaving Dortmund’s defense hanging precariously by a thread. As the match pushed into extra time, the 27-year old Greek international threw himself fearlessly into seemingly endless clashes with Bayern attackers and midfielders. He effectively shut them down, to their increasingly visible frustration and anger.

Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Final 2016 Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images

He showed all the determination, willpower, and desire that coaches dream of and fans idolize. His performance was marvelous. Over 120 minutes Dortmund held a team, that averaged over 2.35 goals per game, to a clean sheet, and 0.8 expected goals. Sokratis was the definition of  a "man of the match". Perhaps, then, it’s the cruelest twist of irony that it was his missed penalty, a dart off the post to Manuel Neuer’s right side, that stuck the dagger in the heart of Borussia Dortmund’s last chance at 2015-16 silverware.

The Future

As heartbreaking as that moment was, there is still more football to be played, more tackles to be won, more attacks to be halted. With Mats "Benedict Arnold" Hummels's departure now a certainty, there are doubts about what Dortmund's defensive capabilities will look like next year, and whether they will be able to play at the level necessary to win the Bundesliga.

There certainly is at least a hint of merit to these doubts; any time your longtime captain and defensive anchor leaves, there is going to be uncertainty. However, if Sokratis can recreate his performance against Bayern consistently next season, the effect on the club is going to be huge.

When healthy and truly match fit, Sokratis was, in my opinion, Dortmund’s best pure defender. Mats Hummels may get a lot of credit for his flashy tackles and brilliant through balls, but if I had to choose one player to shove Arturo Vidal away from an incoming cross and smash the ball back where it came, I would choose the center-back who’s going to be donning Black and Yellow next year.