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Life without Lahm: Solving Bayern Munich's impending midfield problem

Bayern Munich ordinarily wouldn't have much of an issue losing just one dynamic midfielder, even one as good as Philipp Lahm. However, with David Alaba also sidelined, Bayern Munich have some serious tactical questions to ask themselves in the run to the winter-pausen.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The last time Philipp Lahm was injured I was still in high school. That is both simultaneously a) depressing and b) incredible. It's been a full decade since the Bayern Munich captain has sustained a serious injury, and even then he wasn't a Bayern Munich player when it happened. In some ways you could say, this is his first injury ever with Bayern Munich.

The injury is shaping up to be quite severe and it could cost him several months to theoretically the entire season. If that's the case then Bayern Munich is in serious trouble. With Lahm shelved, alongside fellow injury buddies Javi Martinez, David Alaba and Thiago, Bayern Munich's central midfield is looking especially thin. And that's not a problem thats going to be rectified anytime soon. Alaba and Martinez are out until at least mid-February while Thiago's on a indetermined timeline after 2 re-injuries to his MCL. With only Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger (only just returning from injury) the only "proven" players in the remaining set, Bayern Munich's central midfield is going to start looking to be reliant on how the kids play.

In this case, the kids are Sebastian Rode and Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg, with a sprinkling of Gianluca Gaudino. With Schweinsteiger just returning from injury, it's not entirely unreasonable to think that Pep Guardiola isn't going to throw him straight into the fire. With a Champions League match against a desperate Manchester City sandwiched between clashes with Hoffenheim and Hertha BSC, there's a good bet that Schweinsteiger will not be coming out of the gate at full steam. That coupled with the fact that Bayern Munich have three mid-week matches in the remaining four weeks before the winter-pausen and you can see where Pierre Hojbjerg and Sebastian Rode might be looking a little happy.

The real question is where these pieces are going to fit. Xabi Alonso is aging and despite his still astounding passing ability, his mobility and and durability are question marks. The lone glimmer of hope is that Xabi Alonso can play every match from here on out. He hasn't missed a game yet for Bayern Munich and now with wide open two week breaks for international duty, he may just be able to continue carrying on for Bayern Munich without the need for games off here and there.

However, the sprint to the winter-pausen includes only one game of any serious consequence (the December 6th clash with Bayer Leverkusen) amid a run of 8 games in 30 days, so why take an unnecessary and unreasonable risk? Alonso's so unique that neither Rode nor Hojbjerg are anything close to approaching a tactical swap. Only Thiago (if he's ever healthy again) is truly capable of producing what the Spanish international does so well and that's a problem when you start looking down the available depth chart. While Rode is uniquely suited to spelling Bastian Schweinsteiger, the questions start arising with Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg

While Pierre Hojbjerg has demonstrated the distribution skills necessary to function as a deep lying playmaker, his relative greenness make relying on that ability (which has come and gone in recent performances) a risky proposition. Bastian Schweinsteiger tried to play in this role at the beginning of last season and the jury was still out on those performances when he went down with injury. Sebastian Rode is a non-starter. He's far more valuable to this team playing in that dynamic box-to-box role rather then being wasted as a deep-lying playmaker whoever his partner is (yes, including Bastian Schweinsteiger).

Hojbjerg may be the best option Bayern Munich have available to them after Alonso, even given Gianluca Gaudino's emergence over the summer. The same concerns with Hojbjerg carry over for Gaudino. The 18-year-old made a string of incredible performances for Bayern Munich for his age, but definitely didn't have the creative wherewithal Bayern Munich needed to facilitate play from deep other then via distribution. That's not a skillset that can easily supplant Hojbjerg.

With all that relative uncertainty, maybe it's a tactical simplification that Bayern Munich are going to need. Shifting to an archetype 4-2-3-1, or even an archetype 4-1-4-1, would go a long way towards immediately addressing a lot of the problems caused by the loss of Bayern Munich's dynamic midfield core. Without Lahm and Alaba, we shouldn't expect any of Bayern's tactical developments this season to work correctly. Lose one or the other and you can plug the hole; lose both and now the team lacks their main conduits for facilitating play between the attacking band and the regista. Shifting towards a simpler system might go a long way towards alleviating the tactical and personnel strains that are sure to arise in holding midfield - and that should be just to get Bayern Munich through to the break..

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