The Bundesliga is littered with star names, potential world-beaters and wonderkids. The German top-flight also boasts a number of undervalued and underrated individuals who rarely get the limelight but without those, teams would struggle to be as effective as they are.
For every Timo Werner, there’s a Diego Demme. The latter is now a Napoli player but for six full seasons, the 28-year-old patrolled the middle third for RB Leipzig. His diligent defensive work allowed Werner to do damage in the attack and secure the headlines.
The Hoffenheim midfielder, previously linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, is reportedly a transfer target for Newcastle United, Southampton and Arsenal. Internazionale are also interested in the 24-year-old.
According to Sport Bild, the Austria international has two release clauses in his deal. If Premier League clubs want the defensive midfielder, they have to part with £22million. For teams from other leagues, however, they can sign the former Werder Bremen man for just £17million.
The additional £5million won’t deter English sides, not when £50million is quickly becoming the norm for midfielders. Paying half of that for a 14-cap international is something clubs wouldn’t even think twice about.
Grillitsch is into his third season with Hoffenheim and he benefitted greatly from the education he received under current RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann.
A composed, technical midfielder, the 24-year-old relishes the dirty side of the game, winning 192 defensive duels (7.3 per 90 – fourth among Bundesliga midfielders) last term. This season his numbers remain high; he’s averaging 6.8 ball recoveries per 90, with the majority of those coming in the middle third.
Quite simply, Grillitsch is the player tasked with putting out fires ahead of the defence so his more expressive team-mates can do their thing. But he’s not just a destroyer.
Grillitsch has an excellent first touch and can spot a pass, whether it’s a long diagonal switch or a piercing through-ball that breaks the lines of the opponent. He sits in front of the defence and acts as a quarterback, spraying seven passes to the right and six to the left on a per 90 basis.
On average this season, he’s attempted 64 passes (per 90) and completed 88 per cent. An impressive rate considering a quarter of them forward. It shows he isn’t purely recycling the ball and he is playing incisive, perhaps even risky, passes. He finds a team-mate with 70 per cent of his long balls, too.
While Grillitsch is not a goal threat in the slightest – his open-play expected goals per 90 average is 0.04 and his expected assists average is only slightly higher at 0.12 – he isn’t in the team to create or to score. He’s there to destroy and set the tempo and he does that exceptionally well.
He’s an adept dribbler, completing 71 per cent of his attempted take-ons, and a press-resistant ball-player with a big presence in the middle third. When you put it like that it’s easy to understand why Premier League clubs are showing an interest in him. The 6ft 2ins Austrian wins 91 per cent of his aerial duels. During certain phases of play, Grillitsch drops in to play as a third centre-back and he’s the sort of player teams can use to build solid foundations.
Southampton may view him as a replacement for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The Denmark international was linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur during the January transfer window and, with his deal coming to an end in 2021, the Saints may have to cash in on him during the summer. Grillitsch shares many similarities with Højbjerg and manager Ralph Hasenhüttl knows all about him from his time in Germany.
Eager to shore up their defensive unit by improving their midfield, Newcastle United signed Nabil Bentaleb on loan in January. There’s no obligation to buy him and the former Spurs man could be viewed as a short-term option until the summer when the Magpies have longer to plot their moves.
Arsenal are the most intriguing one of the trio. Arteta ball is in full swing now, though there are still huge question marks over the centre of the Gunners’ midfield and defence. Granit Xhaka has been restored to the middle third but his days at the Emirates could still be numbered. Grillitsch could and would be an upgrade on the former skipper.
All eyes will be on Sancho and Werner this summer but perhaps the most intriguing battle in the Bundesliga this summer will be which clubs ends up with the 24-year-old. For £22million, he is the definition of a bargain.