Borussia Dortmund and Germany center back Niklas Süle hasn't had an easy season by any measure. He is both among the club's highest paid players and most talented defenders, and yet, has only been able to lay claim to 615 minutes in the Bundesliga across 12 appearances. Many of those appearances have come off the bench.
The reason for Süle's decline in involvement has been chalked up to a few factors. For one, head coach Edin Terzić has seemingly preferred the partnership of Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck when both are fit and available. This comes down to Hummels showing that age is only a number, rolling back the years and putting in some very strong showings at times this season.
Aside from general preference, Süle's fitness has been questioned on numerous occasions this season, putting a wrench into the German international's bid for more time on the pitch. If accurate, then of course it would be hard for a coach to trust the player in the starting 11 week in, week out.
In an interview with Sky90, Sporting Director Sebastian Kehl shed some light on the situation after the game against SV Darmstadt, claiming he very much understood Süle's frustrations, and that the club will stand by him moving forward:
"I think that [Terzić] made a big decision with his decision to put Emre Can in central defense. This was his reaction to the last few days in training camp...Niklas has big goals-and we will support him in achieving them. But he has to step on the gas at one point or another. I feel like it's going to click now...we had hoped for more in the last few months, but Niklas can do more. That's what I hope and expect."- Sebastian Kehl
Kehl's words markedly express the club's support, but underline the need for Süle to do his part in the process. His statement's also strike home the point that there's still significant room for the player to improve as he has not met the club's standards over the last few months.
In many ways, Kehls words make sense and bring to light an important part of the equation: effort on the end of the player. That being said however, the approach Terzić has taken hasn't always fostered the ability for the player to make that effort.
Lack of rotation is something that has been an irking aspect of Terzić's time at Dotmund this season. It's seen players like Hummels, who usually look efficient and imperious on the ball, look very tired and over-worked which has led to some costly lapses. Despite the player's overall form, which has been fantastic, there is a need to rotate and provide relief to these players so that they can stay fit and at the top of their game.
Even if Süle hasn't been in top form, rotating him in for Hummels in particular could have been an advantageous decision for everyone involved, particularly against pacier opponents who would put Hummels under intense pressure. Süle showed his quality in the Champions League game against PSG, blocking Mbappe's attempt on goal, which highlights to me that if this isn't a player at the peak of his powers, he certainly needs the minutes to get to that peak as he could be extremely phenomenal.
Süle's minutes could have been increased by also playing him at right back. Borussia Dortmund don't have a starting quality right back in their squad by any measure. Süle, while perhaps not a natural right back, has shown more proficiency in this position than Thomas Meunier or Marisu Wolf, Dortmund's other choices for the role in the first half of the season. A lack of center back depth could be used as an excuse as to why he didn't see more minutes in this position, but giving him more minutes would have been a valuable way to increase his confidence and overall fitness, while at the same time upgrading the quality in the position for more important games the likes of Wolf or Meunier aren't able to handle.
Overall, the hope is that moving forward, Süle is able to reach peak form for Borussia Dortmund in the second half of the season. The club will need all hands on deck as Champions League qualification is crucial to the club's financial and competitive future for next season.