Scouting World Cup Stars: Benjamin Pavard

In recent years, France has produced a striking amount of young defensive talent. Whether we’re talking about Raphaël Varane from Lens, Samuel Umtiti from Lyon, or Clement Lenglet from Nancy, we are now seeing many of France’s defensive exports lead defenses from all over Europe to success. This is no different for Stuttgart’s new defensive rock Benjamin Pavard, who has quickly become a promising central defender in Hannes Wolf’s backline.

Benjamin Pavard was born in the small commune of Maubeuge on March 28th, 1996. Pavard is a product of Lille’s youth academy and played for them until 2016. The move came after Pavard felt he was no longer in the plans of then-manager Frederic Antonetti. Pavard then joined Stuttgart for a reported fee of 5 million euros. At Stuttgart, Pavard was cautiously brought into the starting XI during the early stages of the 16/17 season and eventually became a regular starter to help them secure their Bundesliga 2 title. Since being promoted to the Bundesliga, the young centre-back has yet to miss a start and has clearly become Hannes Wolf’s most trusted defender.

Benjamin Pavard plays as a sweeping right centre-back in Stuttgart manager Hannes Wolf’s usual 3 man backline. He is an incredibly intelligent, yet cautious player who reads the game in a way that you would expect to see from a seasoned veteran. He’s always quick to cut out or clear dangerous balls that come into his area. Standing at 6’1, he is very aware of his height, and he often uses his head to clear and cut out aerial balls. The 21-year-old defender excels in 1v1 situations and it is very rare to see him get beat as his positioning always seems perfect. He is very aware of his positioning. If he has to come out of position, it is not rare to see him communicate to one of his defensive partners to cover the space behind him. He is also very versatile, he’s able to play as a defensive midfielder and as a right-back. Because of this versatility, Wolf likes to describe him as a “Swiss Army Knife”.

Offensively, Pavard is elegant and confident on the ball. As both a ball carrier and a passer, he’s able to move the ball into the midfield and break the lines of the defense, but only does so in certain situations due to cautious nature. Usually, he will look for the short pass to one of his fellow centre-backs or fullbacks, and if he can’t find a clear pass at all, he’ll play it back to the goalkeeper.

Pavard is sound in almost every department you would want for a modern centre-back, and it’s clear why Stuttgart are holding out for at least €50 million for the player–because they know a team will pay it.. He is a tall player and is a major aerial threat, winning 3.2 aerial duels per game. He’s composed both offensively and defensively; even when he makes a mistake he keeps his head up and continues to perform for his team. His aforementioned intelligence and positional superiority make it very difficult to get anything past him, in addition to his rigid zonal-marking. The French U-21 is also a very smart tackler: he only commits to tackles that he knows he’ll win. In fact, he attempts 1.9 tackles per game and completes 1.6 of them. He is a quick decision maker on the ball and is more than capable of dealing with Germany’s trademark high pressing.

Furthermore, it is very difficult to get the ball off him, and he is quick to deliver the ball to a teammate when he is being pressed.

The 21-Year-old doesn’t have many parts of his game that one would call weak but there are some concerns. Sometimes Pavard is too conservative in the offensive phase of play. He clearly likes to go for the safe pass a lot, passing to his centre-back, fullback, or goalkeeper. But sometimes there are pockets of space that he can drive the ball into, but he chooses not to most of the time yet when he does, it usually turns into a positive phase of play for Stuttgart’s offense. He’s able to break the lines of the opposition’s defense, but chooses not to too often. To improve as a ball-playing centre-back, he must take a couple of risks and try to disrupt the defense’s shape. Another weakness that could get targeted is his weight. He is thin for a defender, weighing in at 168 lbs, and that could get exploited by a more physical attacker. Luckily for him, he has not run into this problem very much so far in his career, but if he has ambitions of playing in more physical leagues, it will be his prerogative to bulk up.

Nevertheless, these are relatively minor issues that can get fixed as Pavard grows into his game. Pavard is an intelligent defender with a bright future. In the last international break, he was called up by Didier Deschamps to fill in at right-back for the injured Djibril Sidibé. Deschamps had nothing but positive things to say about the young Frenchman’s performance, so there is a good reason to believe that his future with the French national team is far from over, and if he continues to perform the way he is now we may see him starting for Les Bleus in Russia.

By: @falsecb

Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images