Bayern's forward line has been performing well lately, making big plays and tearing apart opponent's defenses. This gives manager Jupp Heynckes a tough decision to make ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash vs. Lille: who has to sit?
First of all, I think we can agree that FC Bayern is in a better place than last season as far as depth. Given the likelihood of injury, suspension, and fatigue when playing in 3 tough competitions, as well as the fact that even the best players go through periods of patchy form, you need to have solid, reliable backups who can come in and get the job done. By bringing in Shaqiri, Martinez, Dante, and Mandzukic (and ... fine, also Pizarro), the board definitely did everything they could to avoid the problems of last year. It's very unlikely that a single suspension or injury - or even 2 or 3 - would leave us thinking "damn, now what do we do?"
So this shouldn't be seen as a complaint about the club. I like the roster we've assembled, and most Bayern fans would agree that we're ready to weather the injury-suspension-rotation storm. At the same time, I have to admit I don't envy Jupp Heynckes ahead of our midweek clash vs. Lille. In our standard 4-2-3-1 formation, there are currently hard choices to be made at every level except the front and back (Neuer is clearly the starting GK, and until Gomez gets back, I think most would agree that Mandzu has to start up top). But the defensive line and CDM decisions are still mostly straightforward. The really tough question comes when fixing the "3" line - the 3 attacking middie / wing spots that play behind the striker.
Before we get into the choices, I should acknowledge that we could possibly change things up by, for instance, doing something like a 4-1-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1. And it's also worth noting that Shaqiri is an awesome talent who will be scoring big goals for years, hopefully im der rot. For purposes of this week's match, though, the choice is basically to figure out 3 guys who will get the start from a possible 4. Let's break it down man-by-man ...
Probably the most consistently great player of the 4. He can score, dribble, and pass with just about anyone in the world. He's almost impossible to guard with one defender, because if you lay off him, he can blast a dangerous shot from distance, but if you try to close in and cut down on the shooting angle, he can slip by you with a quick dribble.
If we had to name some negatives, perhaps we could say (1) he sometimes tries to dribble through 3 or 4 defenders, instead of trusting his teammates, and (2) he can pretty much play only along that left flank / left channel (even Robben has worked on diversifying his game, and has proven dangerous from both sides recently). But this is just nit-picking; obviously, Ribery is an excellent player and gives Bayern a good opportunity to score every time he gets the ball in space.
Twenty months ago, when I starting writing over at the old Bayen blog, it would be inconceivable that Kroos would be in the discussion with these other 3. Ok, maybe not inconceivable, but at least very unlikely. But he's been playing at a high level for 2 seasons now, and has expanded his skill set to make himself a versatile and useful player for both Bayern and for the national team. Kroos has always had a dangerous long shot, and he's also been known for precise passing touch. Newer to his repertoire, though, are a bit more aggression and vision. His assist this past weekend, when he ran though a headed pass from Müller, waited out the GK, and lofted a nice cross to Bastian for the header was the kind of play he wouldn't have made 2 years ago.
Nonetheless, I think we could probably identify some holes on Toni's game. He's probably the slowest of the 4 (both he and Müller are pretty slow, actually). He's not the most energetic runner. And he's the only one who sometimes disappears from the game for long stretches. Robben gives his critics plenty of ammunition, but I can't recall the last time Robben played a full 90 minutes and, when it was over, people said "yeah, I forgot he was out there."
Probably the only one of the 4 that could line up at any of those 3 forward-line positions. He could actually do a decent job at striker, too, if he really had to. Has great vision and understanding of the game for a guy who just turned 23. Makes smart runs away from the ball at just the right time to undress the defense. And, as we saw last weekend, he has better touch on the ball than he used to (that curving shot from the end line was a thing of beauty).
Of the 4, though, Müller probably has the weakest shot from distance. In fact, most of his best plays come from inside tight areas. In open space out in the middle of the field, he probably offers the least. Not bad overall, of course - just not as impressive compared to these other 3 guys.
Robben clearly offers a lot of things you can pick at. He's often been known as a "selfish" player - whether that's entirely true or not, there is certainly some reason for that reputation. He gets easily frustrated, which could be an especially big problem against a team like Lille that's determined to hack and push all day. Although his passing has gotten better, he still looks to dribble first, even if there's an open man he could hit. And his injury problems are enough to test anyone's patience.
So why is he still in the discussion? Because when he's healthy, locked-in, and being fed the ball, Robben is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the world. Between his dribbling moves, his speed, his touch, and his long-distance shot, he can give opposing teams nightmares. With Ribery on one side and Robben on the other, we can break down almost any defense if we can just get them the ball in the right spots.
Most of this is review for long-time Bayern fans, so let's cut to the chase: make your selection in the poll below. If you were in charge for this week's CL match, what 3 do you like behind Mandzukic?
Your starting wing-CAM-wing line vs. Lille?
Ribery - Müller - Robben (88 votes)
Müller - Kroos - Robben (7 votes)
Ribery - Kroos - Robben (55 votes)
Ribery - Kroos - Müller (62 votes)
212 total votes