It’s best to put the past behind us and focus on the future, or at least on what Niko Kovac will be doing, now that Bayern Munich host AFC Ajax on matchday 2 of the Champions League at the Allianz Arena. Having failed to win two games in a row, the Bavarians are under pressure to perform and dismiss suggestions of a mini-crisis at the club. To that end, how will Niko Kovac decide to line up against a team that is, technically, European footballing royalty?
Injuries: let’s get this out of the way first. Apart from the trio of Rafinha, Corentin Tolisso, and Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich have a full squad available to face Ajax. Yes, that means Leon Goretzka has recovered from his swollen ankle and is ready for selection.
Now, on to the press conference. Let us try to get inside the mind of a top level football manager. Based on subtle hints in his answers, we can deduce that — oh, never mind: Kovac flat-out told us that Jerome Boateng and Arjen Robben would be starting the game. Sometimes, top-level managers make it easy on us fans.
Anyway, the rest of the lineup practically makes itself. Let me break it down, piece by piece:
- Manuel Neuer will be the goalkeeper (for sure).
- In defense, you’ll have (from left to right) David Alaba, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and Joshua Kimmich. Those worried about Boateng’s defensive lapses can rest easy, because the Boa-Hummels pairing has yet to concede a goal this season.
- Given how Kovac has relied on Thiago Alcantara this season, and the fact he was rested against Augsburg last week, Thiago seems almost guaranteed to start. In addition, James Rodriguez is the most likely candidate to start alongside him, because he was pulled off before the full 90 in Berlin. One can assume the substitution was made with this game in mind. If, though, Kovac surprises us and rests Thiago after his gritty effort against Berlin, Leon Goretzka or even Javi Martinez could conceivably take his place.
- On wings, we should have Arjen Robben (right) and Serge Gnabry (left). Franck Ribery has played a glut of minutes these past few days, including a full 90 on Friday against Hertha Berlin. If Kovac’s rotation policy holds true, then this should result in Serge Gnabry’s first ever start in the UEFA Champions League.
- And finally, in attack — Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. A fit Lewandowski is usually the first name on the team sheet, and Thomas Muller was presumably rested against Berlin in order to be fit for this fixture. With these two leading our line, we can be assured that Bayern Munich will be a threat in front of goal.
Ergo, here’s BFW’s predicted starting lineup: