The stage in the season that Bayern Munich is entering into is one that the spectators of Germany's greatest team has waited for since the added prospects in the Summer transfer window. The fruit is plentiful, adding several tasty flavors to the world's greatest smoothie. Now manager Pep Guardiola has all the ingredients he ordered, and the combinations he has to work with are plentiful and ripe.
"The Full Complement" was more fable than fact for most of the 2013/14 treble defense, but for the first time the full cast of characters looks as imminent as ever. This analysis of the FC Bayern squad is the first of a three part series, taking a peak into what team selections could look like for the rest of the season.
If Pep Guardiola has revealed one thing to the world, it is how different FC Bayern's victories can be.
Just look at the front. Guardoila has seven very different pieces to man the top and the attacking flanks of his structure. There's the ricochet master in Mario Mandzukic, the double-footed dynamite in Franck Ribery, the quick fire-cracker Mario Götze, the physical-yet-agile Thomas Müller, the slick-footed bomber Arjen Robben, the stocky squirmer Xherdan Shaqiri, and the still vivacious veteran Claudio Pizarro.
All great players, all different skill sets, but all cannot play at the same time. For the first time since his appointment, Guardiola will have to displace healthy players from the team sheet. Determining who stays dressed in their warmups is different than regulating who dresses at all.
Mandžukić, Ribery, and Robben are the incumbents in terms of time together. Those three not only started the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final together (with the caveat that Müller was filling in for Toni Kroos), but also been the most used forward/wing combination under Guardiola even with chronic squad injuries (eight times in all competitions). If the incumbents re-assume their posts in the lineup, that would mean great young world-class frontrunners would be withering away on the sidelines.
Müller and Götze account for scoring 30 of the 110 goals, or 27 percent, that FC Bayern have tallied on all fronts this season. It is not the highest percentage among Bundesliga clubs – Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have scored 38 of the 81 Borussia Dortmund goals (47 percent) – but factoring in that both could see a pitch time reduction. Müller has fielded the eighth-most minutes of anyone in the squad, and Götze has taken part in every match, whether in the XI or off the bench, since his return against Manchester City in September.
Those two players are hard to sit down for any extended period of time, but that fate might not have to come to fruition.
First consider the slow return to the double-pivot system will change some of the squad selections Guardiola will employ. The personnel groupings in recent matches is a blaring signal, but also consider some familiar single pivot ones as well, most notably Thiago Alcântara, Kroos, and Philipp Lahm. The transition started with those three, with Thiago playing more as an attacking midfielder and Kroos sliding into a pivot role. To the left is the player positioning against Borussia Mönchengladbach on January 24, and to the right is against Hamburger SV on February 12.
Inconclusive? Maybe, but the DFB Pokal quarterfinal came in the middle of a sandwich of Bundesliga matches Guardiola selected a double-pivot system. A permanence of it is not as imperative the alternative it provides, one that opens doors for more of the adaptable attacking players to play on the pitch at the same time.
Also consider the experimentation with the front of the formation, as Götze and Müller have both spelled Mandžukić at the top. With the best finishing ability on the team, Mandžukić is and should be the primary option up top. Müller, who began his FC Bayern career as a center forward, adds a similar element to his Croatian comrade in the middle, while Götze adds a totally different element.
Whether considered a "false 9" or a center forward, the added contributions in the center noticeable. Whether it is because he facilitates play in the center, or others take advantage of added central space, the impact that Götze has on action zones playing as a center forward are significant.
|Götze starting at Forward (4 Matches)
|Others starting a Forward (25 Matches)||33.2||26.4||40.4|
What has not followed is the surface results, for the 2.25 goals per match Götze starts at forward is less than the 2.84 average in all competitions. That being said, it does not matter what central role the budding star plays, considering nine of his ten goals in '13-'14 came playing a central role, as well as five of his eight assists.
Because of Götze's centrality, Ribéry is the one staple in the starting XI when healthy. His replacements have left David Alaba to fend for himself on the left flank; Götze is inconsistent, Shaqiri is inexperienced, and Robben is disinterested in staying there for more than five minutes. A man who singularly changes the shape of attack, Ribéry is the one, if healthy, Guardiola has to start when he is fit.
Conversely, Arjen Robben may not be. Between him and Thomas Müller, the two are one in the same. Sure, Robben can pirouette into a good attacking position and has a sharper pass off his boots, but Müller's runs into the box are as beautiful as a stock car on Daytona International Speedway and contributes more tracking back.
Since both are rather interchangeable, what will probably determine who plays is change itself. Guardiola has at his disposal is two players that can match up with a lot of different defensive fronts. Like Jupp Heynckes's rotation before it, Guardiola's rotation of Robben and Müller will be one of intrigue.
The right flank cycle has Shaqiri sitting on the ground waiting for his turn. Linked numerously with exits to England, the sprouting Swiss star was present most in the lineup in the absence of others, either to injury of others or to conserve others for injury prevention. His synthesis between strength and speed is a game-changing attribute off the bench, but the squad player tag will be stuck to him while his game develops at the highest level.
A new attribute on the flank is Thiago's ballroom soiree's with the winger, at times floating over to the left flank in support. Each time he drifted over to the left was a square dance with Götze, so Ribéry's return may quell a shift in roles. Thiago tangoed frequently with Isco during Spain's UEFA U21 Championship, but he would likely not be classified as a pure winger.
As creative as FC Bayern have become on the pitch, Guardiola has become just as clever off it. His supple attacking playhouse has caused one to not rule out any possibility going up field. All the forwards and wingers have scored in multiple matches, and four have scored in all competitions. The question has become not if Bayern will score, but who will receive the credit for one.