Who is Sven Botman? The centre-back tasked with improving Newcastle's dire defence
When Newcastle United became the richest club in the world last October, fans were understandably excited at what the January transfer window would bring. The takeover by the Saudi backed Public Investment Fund was controversial to say the least, yet supporters were eager to see who would make the move to St. James' Park in the New Year regardless.
Despite the excitment off the field, the form has not massively improved on it. Newcastle occupy one of the three relegation spots and are currently two points off safety. Six of their 11 points earned this season came after Eddie Howe took over the reigns in November, so there has been a minor upturn under the 44-year-old, but a series of sub-par displays from a host of Newcastle stars means the club needs to dip into the market in order to stave off relegation.
As one might expect, considering the riches on offer, the Magpies have been linked with a host of big-name players across the continent and while some may not fancy a relegation scrap, at the end of the day; money does talk, and it's a commodity that isn't in short supply on Tyneside. No team has conceded more goals than Newcastle (42) in the Premier League this season, while only Watford (0) have kept fewer clean sheets than Howe's side (1) so the first port of call this month is set to be the defence.
Two days into 2022 and it seems Sven Botman is closing in a move to Newcastle. The Dutchman is highly rated in France having played a key role in Lille's 2020/21 title success. As Lille conceded fewer goals (23) on their way to domestic glory, Botman played 37 of their 38 matches and a series of assured displays in Ligue 1 saw the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham credited with an interest in the young Dutchman.
However, a summer move failed to materialise and despite his Premier League admirers, Newcastle seem to be in the driving seat to secure Botman's services. A groin injury sustained in October is the reason he has started just 12 of 19 league games this season, but Les Dogues are able to command a hefty fee for Botman should they, as tipped, sell this month.
Lille's poor title defence may have also played a part in Botman's willingness to secure a move away from the French side and if they do allow the 21-year-old to depart for pastures new in January, then their loss will be Newcastle's gain. Six of Lille's seven league wins this season have come with Botman featuring from the off, with their win ratio dropping from 50% to 14.3% when he doesn't start. Lille have only kept two clean sheets in Ligue 1 this season, both of which came with the centre-back starting.
Despite Jocelyn Gourvennec failing to match expectations set by Christophe Galtier, Botman's reputation hasn't taken too big a hit and a £30m move to St. James' Park is rumoured to be set for completion sooner rather than later. Considering Howe's centre-back options, Botman would be a huge upgrade on those currently at his disposal.
👥 Only Nayef Aguerd (188) has won more aerial duels than Sven Botman (148) of Ligue 1 defenders since the start of last season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 31, 2021
A return of 4.6 clearances per game is the fifth most in Ligue 1 this season, proof that in the right place at the right time, Botman is able to successfully alleviate pressure on the Lille goal, a trait that will go down well in Newcastle. In addition, Botman is dominant aerially having won the second most aerial duels (148) of Ligue 1 defenders since the start of the 2020/21 season. Considering Newcastle rank eighth for clearances per game (19.8) and in the lower half of the table for aerial duels won per game (15.1), a defender with his skillset would certainly help push both numbers up in a bid to improve the Magpies' leaky backline to steer them to safety.
What's more, a willingness to get the ball on the deck would be a welcome addition to this Newcastle side that has the lowest possession average (37.1%) in the Premier League. Botman averages 60.2 passes per game - his nearest competitor for Newcastle at present is Fabian Schar (37.9) - while a pass success rate of 85.6%, that the second highest for Lille, is a signficant rise on the Magpies' lowly average of 74.7%, that the fifth lowest.
Granted, Lille and Newcastle implement different styles of play, while Botman arguably has more time in the ball in Ligue 1 than he would in the Premier League, but it's a step in the right direction for the Magpies. The youngster, while not yet the finished article, would be an immediate improvement on Howe's current options at centre-back and while Botman isn't the final piece of Newcastle's defensive puzzle, a move for the Netherlands U21 international is a positive one in the January window.