As the business end of the season inches closer and closer, Bayern Munich have yet to really field their best possible XI in any competition. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the lineup was always a victim of questionable squad selection and poor player management, while under Jupp Heynckes the Bavarians have been beset by injuries.
However, the team has now played enough games for the coach to have an idea of what the squad’s best eleven players should be. So, if Bayern were facing a top team in the Champions League - Barcelona, for instance - and every player was fit (as unlikely as that may sound), who is Heynckes likely to pick?
Well, first of all, Robbery are out
It’s hard to say this, but Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are no longer shoe-in starters for Bayern Munich. Ribery has clearly lost a step in his quality of play, and all his stats are down this season - considerably so. Kingsley Coman has been Bayern Munich’s best performer on the left wing by far, and he should be the one to start any big game. Between the two Frenchmen, Coman beats Ribery in every single measurable way, even defensively. While inexperienced, Coman’s has more goals, dribbles, and assists per 90 minutes than Ribery this season - a gap in performance that is impossible to ignore.
Robben’s decline hasn’t been as drastic, but with the arrival of James Rodriguez on the scene - his claim to a starting position seems tenuous at best. Thomas Müller can occupy the right wing just fine, and the team has looked solid with him and James both in the starting XI.
Now, this is not to say that Robben couldn’t start a big game - his left foot is still lethal - but upon weighing up the pros and cons, it would make more sense to start Müller on the right wing and James behind the striker. With Kimmich’s incredible attacking output at right back, this won’t impact Bayern’s presence on the wing. In fact, it could even provide Bayern a boost - since Kimmich has visibly demonstrated better chemistry with Müller than he has with Robben.
Therefore, Bayern’s attack should look like this:
Coman - James - Muller
Now we move onto the midfield, where we encounter a big problem ...
Thiago or Vidal: Who gets the nod in the midfield?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Under Jupp Heynckes, Javi Martinez will play all big games that he’s fit for. It comes down to a question of who partners Martinez in midfield. With all due respect to Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso, they’re not really in this conversation. They’re both very good players, but unless there are injuries, they won’t start the very biggest games.
So it comes down to a competition between the two best midfielders in the squad - Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal.
Thiago seems like the obvious choice to start any game. When fit, the Spanish maestro is arguably the best midfielder in the world. Tackles, interceptions, passes, throughballs - the former Barcelona man does everything. However, there is a catch. Thiago has been sidelined for large parts of this season, which might hurt his form. When he returns from his most recent muscle injury, there’s no telling how he’ll play.
Vidal on the other hand has been nothing but a beast in Bayern’s midfield this season. While Thiago has spent most of his days injured, the Chilean has put in lung-busting box-to-box performances week in, week out. Although Vidal lacks the maestro’s silky passing moves, he brings hard work and grit to the Bayern midfield, and his contribution to the team’s goal scoring is invaluable. Thiago’s importance is further diminished by the rise of James, who can replicate a lot of what Thiago does while putting his own spin on things. Therefore, this is a difficult choice, but in the end the answer is this: Arturo Vidal should start in midfield.
And, to finish off, we have the defense ...
It isn’t hard to choose the defenders
Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels must play together if fit. This is no slight against Niklas Süle - he is an excellent defender. However, one does not separate a world-cup-winning center-back pairing lightly. If you have any doubts, go watch their performance versus Real Madrid last season. Joining them should be David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich - the obvious candidates for the left- and right-back positions. At goalkeeper, we have to have Manuel Neuer. Despite his long injury layoff, he is still best goalkeeper in the world.
Therefore, what does the final lineup look like? A bit like this:
Of course, there are other considerations. Jupp could select players based on the opposition. Against teams that like to press aggressively, a controlling presence like Thiago could be more valuable than Vidal’s work rate. Meanwhile, a faster defensive midfielder like Sebastian Rudy might get the nod over Javi Martinez. In the end, the lineup is under the control of the manager - and Bayern have the best man for the job.
Who do you think should be on Bayern’s champagne XI? Comment below.