Now, as we all know, the big story of the season so far has been our newfound depth at all positions- Mandzukic has stepped up quite nicely, Shaqiri has made a very nice debut, Kroos and Gustavo have both risen to new levels with the arrival of Javi, and Dante has proven to fit in very well with our defense. And all of this is great! It ensures that injuries won't hit us as hard as they did last year. But the question remains: if we run up against an absolute MUST win match, who do we start?
Assuming that our current injuries (Gomez, Alaba, Contento, DVB, Ribery) are all resolved, what is our best eleven?
For me, it breaks down like this:
GK- No question that this is Neuer. Let's move on.
RB- For me, it's definitely Lahm. I just don't think he feels as comfortable playing on the left, and Ribery has not depended as much as Robben on strong link up with the fullbacks.
CBs- This one might be controversial, but I like Dante and Boateng. Badstuber is probably the best distributor amongst our defenders, but I don't feel like that's completely necessary when the CDMs are such good passers themselves, and I worry about his ability to contain athletic attackers. Dante and Boa are both quick and strong, and I feel that Boa is a better ball winner than Bads. We all know his mental game needs improvement, but I'm confident in Dante's ability to cover for him, and his aggression is (in my opinion) more benefit than detriment.
LB- Given that Lahm is on the other side, this has to be David Alaba. Contento is a solid defender, but much too limited going forward.
CMs- Short term, I think Gustavo might hold on to his spot, but it's only a matter of time before we see Javi and Schweinsteiger together as our permanent top pairing. Not much controversy, let's move on.
LAM- As intriguing as Robben is as a left winger (given that it forces him to pass and interchange more instead of just cutting onto his left foot and shooting), Ribery owns this position for us. Multidimensional, skillful, athletic, and with just the right amount of feistiness, Franck is the man.
CAM- Here's where it's going to get real tough. Toni Kroos has looked phenomenal to this point in the season, moving better than he has in the past, making himself more dangerous in front of goal, and picking out good passes. But still, I feel like this is the best place for Thomas Mueller, and it's really Tommy who keeps our offense from stagnating, with his industry and unpredictable decision-making. Kroos is a wonderful player, and should see plenty of run, both in the hole and in a deeper-lying role- but for me, he's not a part of the go-to starting lineup.
RAM- On the right wing, I actually prefer to see Xherdan Shaqiri ahead of Robben. Robben is a world class talent, speedy, agile, a fantastic dribbler, and a great scorer. But he has yet to prove (to me, anyway) that he is still a world class player. The last couple of seasons, he has gradually reduced his arsenal to a single, predictable move: drift in with the ball from the right wing, cut onto the left foot, one or two touches, and shoot. It's a testament to his talent that he can still make himself influential in this way, but until he proves that he can truly incorporate himself into a team offense, he is a hindrance to the attack. Shaqiri is more versatile, and much more creative at this point. He gets the nod, and Robben joins Kroos as a super sub.
ST- It pains me to say this, as I am a Gomez apologist, but at the moment, I think the job is Mario Mandzukic's to lose. Gomez is a physical specimen and an underrated shooter of the ball, and has an almost preternatural understanding of positioning. But he rarely puts in a mobile shift, struggles at times on the ball, and lacks a great hold up game. Mandzukic is much more able to adapt to varied roles, and is vastly more industrious. Gomez comes in when we need a change of pace, a rest for Mandzu, or a two-striker formation (which I'm hoping we add in as a new offensive wrinkle).
What do you guys think?