The sale of Juan Bernat to Paris St. Germain has come under scrutiny recently as Bayern Munich have unexpectedly struggled without him. An injury to Rafinha left the club with no cover at the fullback positions, which resulted in Leon Goretzka being deployed at left-back. Goretzka’s abysmal display, coupled with Marco Friedl’s absence on loan to Weder Bremen and an almost criminal lack of options, thrust an unlikely name into the spotlight and onto the roster: Jonathan Meier.
Position: Left Back
The Munich native is as close to homegrown as it gets, arriving from local rival 1860 Munich at the tender age of only 12 years old. Since joining Bayern, he has risen through the ranks at Säbener Strasse at an accelerated pace, finding himself on the cusp of the first team at 18 years of age.
The German starlet found himself a part of the first team setup this preseason, and he has remained in the picture during the international break. He has been selected for the Bayern bench in their last two Bundesliga clashes, against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hertha Berlin, as well as last year’s Bundesliga finale against VfB Stuttgart.
The injury to David Alaba just prior to the international break and Rafinha’s ongoing recovery gave the youngster some hope of making his first first-team debut, but that now looks less likely following a positive injury prognosis for both of the veteran fullbacks. That being said, Bayern currently only have Rafinha providing cover for both the right and left flank, meaning Meier will likely be granted his first-team debut sooner rather than later.
Although Meier has cemented himself as the first-choice left back for Bayern II, he has not gone unchallenged. Prior to the young fullback’s promotion from the U19s, Derrick Kohn had a firm grasp on the position, showing positive signs of development in past campaigns. The 2017/18 campaign saw Kohn put in some impressive displays, finishing with two goals and five assists in 32 appearances. The 19-year-old had even trained with the first team in the preseason. Considering the former Hamburg youth product’s strong performances, it is all the more impressive that Meier was able to supplant him at left-back upon his promotion to the Regionaliga.
Meier operates primarily as a left-back, but he has also appeared on the left wing and in the central defense, which reflects his versatility and skill on the ball. He has yet to appear for any of Germany national youth teams, but his rapid progression last year could change that relatively quickly.
Basic statistical output is perhaps less significant for fullbacks, whose performances are better understood through advanced metrics, but alas, such advanced metrics for the Regionaliga are out of my grasp.
In 12 Regionalliga appearances this season for Bayern II, Meier has two assists, going the distance in 11 matches. In his previous stints with the U19s, he picked up only a goal and an assist in 19 matches across the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons (transfermarkt).
As you will see in the scouting report below, the statistics from the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons are not indicative of his style of play or his quality on the attacking end of the pitch. It is unclear whether he honed this part of his game prior to the 2018 preseason and Bayern II season or his prior output undersold his performances, but his offensive qualities are what make him such an appealing prospect.
Meier possesses the skills necessary to operate as a modern fullback. In contrast to the more defensive-minded Marco Friedl, the young prospect has embraced the attacking duties of the position, facilitated by his skill and athleticism.
The promising talent stands at 5 foot 10 inches and his skill set is largely offensive, reminiscent of a young David Alaba. He has a cultured left foot and is crafty in possession. He constantly looks for opportunities to play dangerous balls into the box and he is quite accurate on the move. Coupled with his athleticism, he is very much cut from the cloth of a modern attacking full back.
The Bavarian native is pacey and agile, which enables him to be aggressive with overlapping runs and track back quickly. He is also tireless going forward and constantly poses a threat to the opposition’s flank.
His offensive abilities seem to be at the level of a Bundesliga-talent, but his defensive awareness, positioning and tackling could prove a liability, which is common for raw attacking fullbacks. What makes Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba the best in the world at their positions is their ability to do both. Meier has the athleticism and technical ability to be a strong two-way player, but his defensive skills need work.
He too often allows opposing wingers, and even fullbacks, to get in behind him as he fails to orient himself on the defensive end of the field. It is not that he fails to track back; it is rather that he fails to neutralize threats by positioning himself correctly. The German prodigy also needs some work on basic defensive skills. His tackling is often lazy and sometimes rash, which turns into a zero sum game pretty quickly. He makes it difficult for himself to recover from a challenge and keep wingers in front of him, but he uses his speed well to make up for these mistakes. Against tougher and equally athletic opposition though, this may prove costly. Finally, he needs to improve blocking opposition crosses. He can stay with most wingers, but tends to allow balls to be played into the box, but that can hopefully be an easy fix.
Meier has the offensive ability to make the jump, but Niko Kovac will have to justify his youth development bona fides in order to turn Meier’s defensive liabilities into strengths. The potential and ability are definitely there.
As Friedl toils away on loan, Meier may displace him as David Alaba’s long-term backup and potentially even as his heir apparent. Look for the youngster to play a role in DFB Pokal matches this campaign and hopefully in mop-up duty when first place is secured (fingers-crossed) with Bundesliga match days remaining. If an injury crisis hits, as is all too typical, this Wunderkind will be given the chance to show his quality and cement himself as a first-team player.
Up Next: Paul Will