Introducing Nico Schlotterbeck: The star man in Freiburg's surprise top-four push


Professional football runs in the genes for the Schlotterbeck family. Niels Schlotterbeck enjoyed a modest 16-year professional career before retiring in 2001. The now 54-year-old is the uncle of current Freiburg pair Kevin and Nico Schlotterbeck and while the former is the older of the two, it's the latter who is shining. 


Nico spent last season on loan with Union Berlin, though injuries restricted him to just 15 league starts. He's following in the footsteps of brother Kevin, who spent time with the Berlin side in 2019/20. However, while Kevin will have hoped to be the Schlotterbeck poster boy, it's Nico who has since established himself as one of the hottest defensive prospects on the continent. 


The younger Schlotterbeck has started all 17 league games for Freiburg this season, starring alongside Philipp Lienhart and Manuel Gulde, depending on Christian Streich's preference for formation on the day. Either way, Schlotterbeck has excelled no matter the system, yielding a WhoScored rating of 7.37, that better than any other Freiburg player and enough to make the Bundesliga team of the season so far alongside Konstantinos Mavropanos. 



The postitional versatility to his game at such a young age has been crucial to his development, but importantly, he has taken to any change in setup with ease. Operating on the left of the centre-back duo or trio, Schlotterbeck has proven time and time again how difficult he is to get the bette of. Of his 46 attempted tackles, he has been dribbled past just nine times, returning a success rate of 80.4%, developing a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of 'tackling' in the process. 


He agressively pushes forward to deny opposing strikers the chance to turn when they do drop deep, and more often than not comes away with possession too. A commendable sense of anticipation has also helped his stock soar with Schlotterbeck ranking fifth for interceptions (31) in the Bundesliga this season. It's no wonder, then, that no team has shipped fewer goals than Freiburg (16) in Germany's top tier this term.


Last season, the Breisgau-Brasilianer finished 10th having conceded 52 times, but Streich has worked up a functional defensive system centered around the return of Schlotterbeck and Mark Flekken's rise to Freiburg number one, the Dutchman also featuring in the Bundesliga team of the season so far having only made three league starts last term. What's notable, too, is that the departure of Baptiste Santamaria hasn't impacted the German too badly, with Maximilian Eggestein becoming a key man alongside Nicolas Hofler in the middle of the park. 


This newfound defensive resolve means that Freiburg finished the Hinrunde third with only Bayern (2) losing more games (4). Crucially is that of those four defeats, three were by the solitary goal. Of those three loses by the sole goal, two were decided late on with Bochum and Hoffenheim scoring 82nd and 94th-minute winners, respectively, showing that Freiburg remain in games up until the end and the competitive nature of the German side means they sit just five points behind second-placed Borussia Dortmund as we enter the winter break. 


It will be a tough to maintain this resolve in the New Year, but with Schlotterbeck exceeding expectations upon the culmination of his Union Berlin loan spell, Freiburg will be confident of the youngster continuing his incredible consistency to both defending his side's goal and instigating attacks from the back. When the 22-year-old does win the ball back, his aim is to shift possession foward, noted in that 366 forward passes is the ninth most of outfield players in the Bundesliga this season. 


Introducing Nico Schlotterbeck: The star man in Freiburg's surprise top-four push


And if a pass isn't on? Well, Schlotterbeck isn't adverse to carrying the ball forward himself to work the angle. 0.7 successful dribbles per 90 is a respectable return for a centre-back and a success rate of 78.6% is the 12th best of the 176 players to attempt 10 or more dribbles in the Bundesliga this season. Yes, this is a risky approach to easing pressure on the Freiburg goal, yet when this pays off; the pitch can open up for Schlotterbeck to help set his side on the front foot. 


Either way, Schlotterbeck's approach to defending and good form in a Freiburg shirt isn't going under the radar. Hansi Flick handed the centre-back his first Germany call up in September and Bundesliga pair Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have been keeping tabs on the young German. It surely won't be long before Premier League sides in need of defensive reinforcements turn their attention to Schlotterbeck, particularly if he can continue to develop at such a rapid rate. 


While Freiburg are unlikely to entertain offers for their star centre-back next month - it would be a shock to see the German side completely derail their campaign at the midway stage - the Bundesliga side must be wary of increased summer interest in their prized asset from across the continent. An elite list of potential suitors speaks volumes of his superb 2021/22 showings and Freiburg will be hoping to see more of the same in the New Year as they continue their surprise push for a top-four finish.

Introducing Nico Schlotterbeck: The star man in Freiburg's surprise top-four push