When Arjen Robben pulled up a little lame after contorting himself to try to get on the end of a Robert Lewandowski cross, he was seen grabbing his left hamstring, raising concerns about a possible long-term injury. However, the diagnosis came back today, revealing a pinched nerve in the Dutchman's back, and Pep's guess in the after-game press conference that the injury was not serious was confirmed. However, the speedy left wing will be forced to sit on Saturday against a resurgent Werder Bremen team.
His partner in crime on the other side, Franck Ribéry, lasted about 40 minutes longer, but also had to come off after taking a knock to his ankle. Again, it turned out to be "only" a sprain of the ankle, along with some fluid buildup, which should not keep the Frenchman out for very long, but will also sideline him in Bremen. Coupled with Xabi Alonso's suspension due to receiving his fifth yellow card of the Bundesliga season, what effect will that have on Pep's lineup?
Pep has options
Blessed with a very deep roster, the Spanish coach has a lot of options on coping with these absences, and the possible lineup combinations are almost endless. One thing is almost assured, though: None of the other three forwards from last night's game will have to sit: Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, and Robert Lewandowski will be part of the attacking force, while Bastian Schweinsteiger is almost guaranteed to start in the middle, due to Alonso's suspension. Chances are that Pep will not field five attacking players again, partly because he doesn't need to for a regular league game, and partly because he's a little short on offensive talent. Let's take a look at some of the options:
Option 1: Bernat and Rode
Plug in Müller for Robben, and Götze for Ribery on the wings, playing on each side of Lewandowski. Let Schweinsteiger move into a more offensive role behind the forwards, while Sebastian Rode takes care of the defensive duties behind him. Put Bernat and Rafinha in as wingbacks, while defending with a three man backline of Alaba, Boateng and one of Benatia/Badstuber/Dante. Neuer remains in goal, unless Pep thinks it's time for Pepe Reina to get a start.
Variation: Mitchell Weiser instead of Rafinha, Lahm instead of Rode (show of hands, who wouldn't want to see the captain back on the field?).
Option 2: Pizarro and Rode
Lewandowski and Müller up front, while Claudio Pizarro gets a chance to play, slotting in behind the forwards, despite being a striker by trade himself (we've seen Pep use him in that spot before). Schweinsteiger and Rode/Lahm in the middle, with Götze and Rafinha on the outside, and a backline of Alaba, Badstuber and Boateng.
Variation: Pizarro up front, with Müller behind the forwards, Weiser instead of Rafinha.
Option 3: Pizarro and Gaudino
Put Pizarro between Müller and Götze, behind Lewandowski, and put Gaudino in the middle behind them. Schweinsteiger does his usual thing, either cleaning up behind the teenager, or rampaging all over the field, while the four man backline consists of Alaba, Boateng, Badstuber and Rafinha.
An exercise in futility?
As you probably noticed, I tried to stay away from naming actual formations, because trying to guess formations with Pep is like trying to define the shape of an amoeba. For all we know, Pep might put Reina in goal, and see what Neuer can do on the wing. There is always a chance of some rotation being done as well, with possibly Benatia getting some playing time, and giving Boateng or Badstuber a well-deserved rest.
Which of these options do you think is more likely (none of the above is a legitimate and probably correct answer)? Share your thoughts below.
Bonus injury news (if you clicked the FCB website link above, you would have seen it): Thiago took part in some of the team practice this morning, before he went off to continue his individual rehab training. It will be so nice to see him make a comeback.