Diego Demme, Mr Leipzig, moves "home" to Napoli

breakdown and scouting report (mostly) for Serie A fans

With the reported 12 million Euro move from RB Leipzig to Napoli, Diego Demme, aka Mr Leipzig, finally gets his lifelong wish of playing in Italy. What is more, the German-Italian is going to do it playing for his idol, Gennaro Gattuso. Naturally, it will be for SSC Napoli, the team that his Maradona-worshipping father, Enzo supports - after all where do you think the Herford born 28-year old got his first name from? Oh by the way, Enzo and the Demme family is also from Calabria, just like Gattuso. It's a story that sounds almost too good to be true. But just who and what kind of player is Diego Demme and what does Gennaro Gattuso see in him? Let’s find out:

Profile and strengths

Well, the easy and sort of wrong answer would be Gattuso himself, because positionally Demme plays the number six (in German football context) or defensive midfielder role that Gattuso sometimes assumed, though everyone's Rino became more known as a box to box destroyer (incontrista) while the deep lying playmaker or regista duties fell on Andrea Pirlo.

While positionally he can fall in between the two Milan legends, in terms of playing style, Demme has more Pirloesque qualities - his long chipped balls with both feet, high footballing intelligence (perhaps not as high as Pirlo, but there's no shame in that).

But he also possesses strong anticipation skills in defense and can press really well like Gattuso.

Another similarity is the ambipedal (two-footed) abilities that Pirlo and Demme share. Diego's father ,himself a former player, was his first coach and supposedly alongside teaching him to chest the ball at age 2, emphasized the ability to use his left and his right. As a result Demme is comfortable in short spaces with both feet.

Another vital skill that Demme possesses is creating early offense with ambitious, but at times devastating long passes - he actually led the Bundesliga in his category, per Dustin Ward's research for multiple years - a skill that transition-focused coaches appreciate.

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Speaking of coaches, he has worked with some of the best: Roger Schmidt, interestingly used him as a fullback in 2012\13, while Ralph Hasenhüttl who once said about Demme: “Even if he loses a tooth at every goal he will still have his fangs at the end of his career," played him as the deeper lying midfielder in a double six. That was also Demme’s position under Ralf Rangnick, both in the second Bundesliga and last season. While Rangnick has called on Jogi Löw to include Demme in the national team, it was also under the RB architect that Demme was not always a regular starter. Julian Nagelsmann, renowned for making superstars out of not always the most talented players at Hoffenheim has also made great use of Demme, who shows some similarities with Florian Grillitsch.

In short, Demme is highly coachable, extremely reliable, consistent. Moreover, due to his language skills and personality he unites the dressing room, and is extremely popular. All of his coaches rave about him, praising his amazing motor, excellent attitude, superb passing and great ability to press. Let’s take a look at those skills in more detail, with some more images and stats:

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Passing and pressing

In terms of passing, he is quite good at the short game, which under Nagelsmann has been a mainstay of the previously press and counterattacking Leipzig: his medium completions of 5-25 yard passes are at 91%, on the level of Joshua Kimmich, Thiago and Axel Witsel, considered to be the premium DMs in the Bundesliga. He is extremely comfortable playing quick one touch passes all over the field, and because he passes the ball off so fast is hard to press.

In pressing, not only does he know when and where to press, he can close down a lot of space very quickly and due to his low-center of gravity can tackle even the elite dribblers like Jadon Sancho. While he had some success against Sancho, the Englishman did juke him out of his shoes prior to Weigl’s goal. Regarding Demme’s 1v1 skills, Julian Brandt found this out the hard way, losing two pretty clearly advantageous duels:

Regarding his motor and attitude, many thought that he would not be in Nagelsmann's plans this season - with Leipzig boasting Tyler Adams, Kevin Kampl, Amadou Haidara and the Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu at the DM spot - but old reliable Demme took advantage of injuries and together with converted RM/RB Konrad Laimer, created a dynamic double pivot. Due to his excellent ball progression, Demme is also comfortable playing as  the lone number six, as he did under Hasenhüttl. He likes to drop back into the defensive line, but also move into either halfspace, to help ball circulation and beat the first line of pressing. Moreover, he often just looks to progress the ball as quickly as possible, preferably into the final third right away:

In buildup, Demme can find open spaces without the ball, but is not as effective off the ball. Nor is he a willing\good dribbler, with about 0.7 attempts per game. His slight frame could be helpful here, but he doesn't possess superb speed to go with it, albeit he can use said speed in pressing high and covering range. Whether or not he will be able to do that as a long DM in Italy is an interesting question, though with the pace being slower  than in Germany and Demme being schooled in the RB style pressing, it should work.

Weaknesses

The negatives to Demme’s game are his frame, which make him a target on set pieces - Dortmund exploited this 2-3 times in the first half of their 3-3 thriller, and the occasional lapse in possession that leads to turnovers. In addition, while he is an active defender and tackler and his 65% success rate vs dribbles is good, he can look out of his depth vs the elite players like Jadon Sancho, etc. Also, he is not a guy you are going to expect assists or goals from, his offensive contributions come via elite final third entries and high xGChain numbers, which are a little harder to notice. But, like many really good DMs, his contributions become evident to those who follow (German) football closely.

What it means for Leipzig

In short he is also one of those guys that seems to go underappreciated, even by Jogi Löw, who called on him for 14 minutes in a seven goal route of San Marino 3 years ago for his lone Germany appearance. Leipzig are losing an icon, since aside from Yussuf Poulsen, no one has been at Leipzig longer than Demme. It looks like he wont be finishing out his sixth season, having joined RBL in the third division, from Paderborn for just 350.000 Euros, so Leipzig are understandably okay with selling. Given that Demme also was the captain this season after Willi Orban's injury (and for a long time before), it might seem like a strange move that Leipzig are letting him go, amidst a shot at the Bundesliga title. However, given his wishes to leave this summer, and how RBL usually allow their players to leave for the right amount and his contract expiring next summer (2021), he would've likely left in the summer. It could also be that at age 28, Leipzig are uncomfortable tying him up long-term in a position where his presumably waning athleticism in his 30s is going to hurt. It could also be that the 12m offer was too good to pass up and they wanted to do a club legend a favor. In terms of need, it’s actually not a massive loss: with Laimer’s surprising development into a 6, the strong belief that Amadou Haidara could still develop into a Naby Keitaesque player, USMNT’s Tyler Adams being rated highly, they have a lot of younger options. That’s before we speak of 29-year old Kevin Kampl, a cerebral genius who can play multiple positions. For those reasons, this deal made sense for Leipzig, while Napoli are getting a fantastic little player for the time being and one who could help repair the damages done to the clubs image and fix the dressing room issues. On the human side, it’s also a superb story, so perhaps a win-win for all parties involved.

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