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Possible Perplexities of Pep's Plans | Central Midfield

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A Lahm-centric midfield may change with a full-fitness squad, even more if Lahm makes another position change

Alexander Hassenstein

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 second of a three part series, taking a peak into what team selections could look like for the rest of the season.

Change. The word that is both dynamic and toxic.

Pep Guardiola brought with him a paramount change in philosophy after the best retirement party Jupp Heynckes could have asked for. It was an unorthodox approach to a successful team.

An airtight, mechanized midfield from a year ago now breathes with the pitch, adapting like silly putty to space that the opponents divulge. Guardiola has shifted the midfield battle higher up the pitch, changing a defensive guardian in the pivot into an auxiliary cavalry.

Philipp Lahm is the face of the change, a man who has ripped up flanks for years before his new manager plopped him in central midfield. He transitioned from a piece of artillery in the back to a blockade in the center of the park, filtering all the play through himself. Lahm has embraced his new role, so much so that he is thinking of a long term move.

"I feel simply well there, it is fun for me. I can also imagine playing there in the next weeks, months, and years," Lahm said before Germany's match against Chile [Focus].

The FC Bayern captain made the double-layered shield unnecessary, but not obsolete. Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcântara are required to play deeper and build up the play when Lahm is in the pivot, but his speed, his field cognizance and his timely tackling fortifies the midfield. He is the super staple to the reams of midfield circumstances, partially assisting in an incredible goal difference in all competitions – FC Bayern has surrendered multiple goals once in the Bundesliga.

With Bastian Schweinsteiger's return, the inevitable query arises whether Lahm should re-assume his long-tenured position or remain the gatekeeper of play. Whether he does or does not stay put, his ability his not replicable.

Schweinsteiger, despite his accolades in midfield a year ago, is not the single pivot player that fits into this system, based on the fact that Guardiola had inclinations of quicker players like Lahm or Thiago commanding that spot. Thiago, with a lack of defensive experience, is not cut out for the role either, and while Javier Martínez is an imposing passer, he never was a conductor of the symphony of attackers in front of him.

Thus came the return of the double pivot which, as previously discussed, was a transition already in the making. While a positive for fitting attacking players onto the pitch, considering the restoration of a central forward play-making spot, the midfield shift could put a cap on playing time; integral players like Kroos and Thiago, the future of critical passing in Bavaria, are no longer game-in-game-out starters. The frequent spectacle of rainbow passes and facilitation will subside into seldom-hood.

How Guardiola can sit the dynamic duo speaks to the vast depth in quality FC Bayern have. Only eight players sit ahead of Kroos in pass percentage; just two attempt more passes than he does, Xavi of Barcelona and Thiago Motta of Paris Saint Germain, and only one, AC Milan's Nigel De Jong, has more long balls per match than he does. Thiago has made similar passing marks on Europe, just behind Kroos in most passing categories, but his dribbling and shooting is in world class as well – he completes more dribbles per match than Lionel Messi.

Midfielder Club App. Passes* Pass Success % Long Balls* Through Balls* Assists
Matías Fernández Fiorentina 18 29.9 93.7 1.2 0.2 3
Xavi Barcelona 20 93.4 93.4 7.1 0.5 2
Sergio Busquets Barcelona 22 75.2 92.8 4.3 0.0 0
Mathieu Flamini Arsenal 19 43.1 92.6 2.6 0.0 0
Thiago Motta PSG 24 83.0 92.4 6.5 0.2 1
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 21 66.0 92.1 4.2 0.1 0
Nigel de Jong AC Milan 23 64.8 91.8 11.3 0.0 3
Blaise Matuidi PSG 26 55.9 91.8 2.3 0.2 2
Toni Kroos Bayern
21 71.0 91.8 7.4 0.1 4
Philipp Lahm Bayern 20 81.6 91.6 4.8 0.3 3
Thiago Alcantara Bayern 12 88.0 91.5 7.9 0.0 3

*Per Game Statistics
**Domestic League Statistics Only
Courtesy of WhoScored.com/statistics

The one man that can displace these two is Schweinsteiger, the German Footballer of the year and perhaps the best pure box-to-box midfielder in the world. While not yet apparent in his play this season, his defensive contributions tip scales into his favor, while also having a comparable passing ability to Thiago and Kroos.

Having Schweinsteiger and Lahm in midfield together would be a bit of a "band reunion." Once partners in crime in the left flank for the Nationalelf in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the two can team up once again in the double pivot. The combination would be a physical-yet-agile force, able to act as supplemental drivers of attack while pledging an iron curtain for the goal stewards behind them. Kroos and Thiago would provide the spark on occasion, whether in front of them or in the stead of one of them.

With a tightly-wrapped clique in midfield, Martínez remains on the outside looking in. Once a pivotal piece, he has now had to apply for work in defense, although the prospect is not so grim for him. His midfield value lies aerially, a short-coming that Lahm and Thiago have thus far had to find ways around. Appearing occasionally as a center attacker, he is the only bulldozer operational after the departure of Luiz Gustavo; a match-up might dictate a requirement for his physical skillset.

Although a different flavor, Guardiola once again has one of the best midfields in football as he did at Barcelona, a child with lots of LEGOs to play with. His construction has thus far changed Bayern for the better, and the new pieces to his puzzle will bring more awe to his masterpiece.