In the Hinrunde of 2018, Bayern Munich’s midfield has probably been its most consistent strength. Despite key players such as Corentin Tolisso, Thiago Alcantara, and James Rodriguez all missing significant minutes, the Bavarian midfield catalyzed Bayern’s recovery after the October wobble, being a source of strength and stability for the entire team.
In spite of having let go of Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Rudy in the summer, Niko Kovac still used a total of seven midfielders this season, which tells how deep Bayern Munich are at this position. A bunch of different combinations were used, mostly alternating between a dual pivot and a midfield three, with different players playing different roles as required.
In an effort to “grade” or “rate” the players individually, a number of factors were considered including statistics, performance, injuries, and consistency. In this series, each author is also using his or her personal “eye test” to assess the players and their performance over the first half.
Thiago Alcantara: A+
Thiago is the best midfielder in the Bundesliga, and no other player comes close. If a Borussia Dortmund fan claims that it’s actually Witsel, then you have my permission to laugh at them.
Stats-wise, Thiago is right up there with all the best. He has been at his best this season in a deeper role, sitting in front of the defense. The Spaniard’s distribution is second to none, which allows him to control the tempo of the game and dictate Bayern’s play. It’s like watching Xabi Alonso at times, except when no passing options are available, Thiago can just choose to dribble past the opposition midfield.
Defensively, the player positions himself to easily win back possession via smart tackles and interceptions. His mobility is perfect for Niko Kovac’s system, which relies on his dynamism to protect the defense. It’s a shame he was injured for the Klassiker; he would have made a huge difference.
Leon Goretzka: B+
Although Leon Goretzka marked his first Bundesliga start for the Bavarians with a goal and an assist against Stuttgart, many were critical of the former Schalke man’s performance. Goretzka was criticized for his indifference to the defensive phase of the game, and his apparent lack of chemistry with his midfield partners.
However, Goretzka worked on these issues, and by the time Bayern faced AEK Athens in November, he was looking like a changed man. The youngster reeled himself in, taking on a more responsible box-to-box role, and it did wonders for his game.
The Goretzka of today doesn’t get many goals and assists, but he plays a key role in making sure Bayern’s midfield is never caught out or loses its tempo. The youngster’s pace and tenacity serve him well as a facilitator for the players around him. He may not be directly involved in the scoring, but he’s more valuable on the whole now.
Joshua Kimmich: B
Surprised to see him here? Kimmich made five appearances in midfield this season, notching up an impressive 450 minutes, so it’s fair to grade his performances as a midfielder separately from his performances as a right back.
The only reason Kimmich gets a B is because of his disasterclass at Freiburg. Even the player himself admitted that he was terrible in that game. Aside from that, his performances in midfield have been sublime. Paired with Goretzka and with Thomas Muller in front of him, Kimmich has put in several excellent performances as a central midfielder this season.
James Rodriguez: B-
I was going to give James Rodriguez a C, but I thought that would be too harsh. The Colombian unfortunately had an injury-riddled season, so he never managed to pick up any kind of momentum. Aside from an excellent performance against Schalke, he hasn’t been able to replicate the incredible heights he showed under Jupp Heynckes last season. To compound James’ issues, a bad knee injury ended his Hinrunde just before Bayern Munich’s resurgence.
Hopefully, the Rückrunde will bring him more luck.
Renato Sanches: C+
Renato Sanches wins the award for “most improved” player of the season. Niko Kovac has done wonders with the youngster, rescuing him from the brink of irrelevance. If a “C+” grade seems low, that’s only because the players ahead of him have been so good, and Renato has yet to truly find a stable role within the team.
So far, Kovac has used Renato as his midfield engine, using the Portuguese youngster’s pace and strength to drive the ball up the pitch. Arguably his most important intervention came against Frankfurt, where Kovac used him as his pseudo-joker. Renato’s introduction in that game turned an average team performance into a great one.
Renato Sanches is improving. For the first time since his arrival, it looks like he has a future in Munich.
Javi Martinez: D+
This may sound harsh, but Javi Martinez has been a liability this season. The main problem is his lack of mobility, which makes it easy for opponents to ignore his defensive interventions. Javi hasn’t been BAD, but the team has just been much better without him. The only reason he played against Eintracht Frankfurt was because he was last fit first-teamer eligible for the game.
Granted, Javi had a great game against Frankfurt, but he had Thiago and Kimmich to play around him. Before that, he had been benched for six games in a row. Martinez played no role in Bayern’s post-Dusseldorf resurgence. The writing is on the wall for the Basque. It’s safe to say that Javi’s skillset is surplus to requirements at the moment.
Corentin Tolisso: N/R
Corentin Tolisso’s Hinrunde was brutally cut short by an ACL injury in his first start of the season. The Frenchman played only 56 minutes this season, which isn’t enough for a rating, though he was on course for a MotM performance against Bayer Leverkusen until he got injured.
While he might come back by March, it’s likely that we won’t see the Frenchman in action again until 2019-20.