Bayern Munich are in the midst of a centerback crisis. With just Holger Badstuber available and the threat of Bayer Leverkusen looming on Saturday, the Bavarians have serious questions to answer. The most pertinent one is how they're going to stop Javier Hernandez who has been a man possessed lately, notching a brace last weekend against Hannover 96 after a strong Hinrunde.
Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen has undergone a tactical resurgence this season with the arrival of Chicharito and the departure of Heung-Min Son for Tottenham Hotspur. Rather than the dynamic run and gun, high pressing style that Son so perfectly suited, the side has adopted a more reserved stance focusing on accentuating the strengths of the Mexican international. Their style of play hinges critically on how Chicharito and Stefan Kießling interchange up front and the effectiveness of that partnership is going to determine whether Bayern Munich have any chance of beating Bayer Leverkusen.
The pair of Leverkusen strikers function in concert with both taking turns dropping to pick up the ball in midfield. Both prefer operating in the space between the opposition centerbacks and the defensive midfield. Kießling for his part prefers a more physical approach, challenging for each ball. This has the main effect of pulling apart the centerbacks while simultaneously Chicharito drops off into the vacated spaces to occupy a free lane with an eye to making a run on goal. And that either player is equally adept at fulfilling each role doubles the threat, especially for any centerback pairing that isn't experienced together (which is Bayern every game it seems).
This action of pulling apart the opposition backline is particularly dangerous when you consider that into these open spaces flood the likes of Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Calhanoglu. Both players are fast on the counter, technically adept, and equally capable of both creating or scoring. That's to say nothing of the threat posed by Cristoph Kramer advancing out of midfield like a human wrecking ball.
The space between the Bayern centerbacks and the single pivot is simultaneously one of their greatest strength in possession and it's biggest weakness in defense. Their fullbacks propensity to tuck centrally gives them enormous control in this sphere, but without multiple dominating aerial presences, the ability of strikers exactly like Chicharito and Kießling to bring down balls in the air and drive counters forward is a potent weapon that could expose Bayern. They are likely going to lose the aerial battle on Saturday and that is okay as long as they stay compact in midfield on defense, bottle the lanes for bringing Bellarabi and Calhanoglu into play.
For Bayern Munich this challenge might define just how far they can go this season. With just one healthy centerback and fullbacks masquerading around the rest of the backline, how Bayern Muncich need to figure out how to deal with the threat posed by two dynamic strikers. That experience -- or how they learn from it if Saturday goes badly -- is going to determine if they can get by teams like Juventus, Atletico Madrid, or Manchester City just as obvious examples of sides who play with dynamic two-striker sets.