On Friday, Bayern Munich landed Qatar to start their annual 10 day training trip to the middle east. This five-year tradition has allowed the club to increase their global outreach, as well take advantage of the six-week winter break in the middle east. Players can keep the form, the injured can get fit, and some youth players will get a chance to strut their stuff.
The club announced on Friday that 26 players made the trip, including recovering players David Alaba, Holger Badstuber, and Javi Martínez. Philipp Lahm and Thiago Alcantara were the two notable players that the club elected to leave behind.
Pep Guardiola uses his ingenuity on a day-to-day basis, but opportunities such as these is where he can really orchestrate the ideas rattling around in his big, bald head. What are the important things that us outsiders need to keep tabs on? Here are five things to follow during Bayern's trip to Qatar:
1. New formations
As much of a hubbub the three-back system made in the preseason, Guardiola actually debuted his new set-up in his first trip to Qatar a year ago. Against Al Merrikh, he utilized David Alaba, Rafinha, and Javi Martínez in central defensive roles, paving the way for the manager to occasionally use this tactic in matches with more meaning. Guardiola tried to find a way to put two players up front as well, an approach he might experiment with more as he tries to keep as many of his top attackers on the field simultaneously.
2. Alaba's Badstuber's, and Martínez's rehabilitation progression
Badstuber trained fully with the team on Wednesday, an indication that he could be ready to progress into friendly competition. David Alaba could join him by the end of team training as well, although whether that will happen two months removed from a knee operation is unclear.
Alaba soll bis Ende des Trainingslagers vollständig ins Mannschaftstraining integriert werden, Martinez wird nur individuell arbeiten— BILD FC Bayern (@BILD_Bayern) January 9, 2015
Martínez is four-and-a-half months removed from his knee surgery, meaning he could start doing more rigorous activities. That said, he will likely be only a bystander, doing his own exercises as the team trains. To what limit his workouts can reach is worth monitoring.
3. Where Mario Götze plays
Guardiola will undoubtedly tinker and twist the side in these exhibitions, and the player with the most fascinating positional prospects is Götze. He has played several different positions in attack since he moved from Borussia Dortmund, and has shouldered different responsibilities as well. He could play up top by himself or with a partner (he and Thomas Müller paired together in Doha a year ago), or Guardiola could slip him back in midfield to see how he does in a deeper playmaking role. Where Götze plays in a few meaningless friendlies will not determine his role for the Rückrunde, but it could open the tactical possibilities on Guardiola's drawing board.
4. Who the next fullback candidates are
One of the reasons Guadiola was probably comfortable playing Ylli Sallahi and Mitchell Weiser in a Bundesliga match a year ago was because of what he saw in the Winterpause from those players. With Lahm and Alaba both on the shelf, Bayern are very thin at the fullback spots, and the Bayern manager now has an opportunity to seek out other candidates for those positions. Lahm not traveling to Doha is great news for Weiser, who has a lot to prove before his contract expires in the summer. Other experiments, such as Sebastian Rode and Jérôme Boateng, could turn into viable options should the fullback depth get any more strained.
5. The usage of Bayern's U19 players
Not only did pro-contract players Gianluca Gaudino and Sinan Kurt make the trip to Qatar, but U19 teammates Michael Eberwein and Marco Hingerl did too. The three friendlies Bayern will play in the Winterpause will give the teenagers to play with the players they look up to. A year ago, Guardiola mixed several youth players in separate first-team clumps, fitting them into roles that they could eventually play if called-upon into the first team. What those roles are, and who these youngsters play with, could be foreshadowing to how the club sees these players fitting into the senior side.