There has been some concern lately on these pages that Borussia Dortmund are short a quality central defender for the current campaign. With Dan-Axel Zagadou’s injury lingering, and first Akanji and then Emre Can missing games after testing positive for Covid-19, Favre has been forced to adapt his plans. Two consecutive clean sheets behind masterful performances from Hummels and Akanji have relieved those concerns somewhat, but it seems like a good time to check in on our young friend, Leonardo Balerdi.
BVB purchased Balerdi from Boca Juniors for a reported fee of 15 million Euros in January of 2019. Dortmund claimed they had to move quickly to get Balerdi, with other clubs beginning to show interest. But Balerdi never seemed to fit Favre’s plans at Dortmund. He only got a few late-game appearances, and usually as a defensive midfielder rather than in his natural position. His one start at center back was the disastrous loss to Hoffenheim at the end of last season, and he got yanked before the end. So it was no surprise when Dortmund decided to loan Balerdi out this Summer, even if we could have used some more competition at the position.
A loan to Marseille, however, was a bit of a surprise. Marseille is a strong team. Ten time winners of League 1, and runners up to PSG last year, they are competing in the Champions League. After an early season start for Balerdi, he was pulled at half-time of his next start, and it looked like he may be destined for another season on the bench.
This week, he finally got another opportunity when starter Duje Caleta-Car missed time with an injury. Balerdi got the start alongside Alvaro Gonzalez against Lorient and impressed. They kept a clean sheet, and Balerdi even scored a header on a free kick. In an interview Balerdi stated, “There was wind, that’s true, and the goalkeeper didn’t read it well, but it still needed scoring. It was difficult but the conditions were the same for both teams. I feel better and better every day at Marseille, and I’m very happy to be here.”
Marseille’s manager, André Villas-Boas did not hold back in his praise: “I think he’ll become one of the best centre-halves in Europe in the years to come, as he has all the qualities to do that, and little by little he is affirming himself with us.” Following on that positive performance, Balerdi earned a start in the Champions League against Manchester City.
Against one of the best teams in the world, he wasn’t able to recreate the excellent performance from the weekend. But he went the full 90 in a back three, as Marseille tried to sit back and kept the score close until late in the game. Marseille will have a busy schedule, just like Dortmund, and it looks like Balerdi has positioned himself well to earn more starts in the future.
What do you think, does Balerdi have a future in central defense at Dortmund?