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Is Niko Kovac about to abandon rotation at Bayern Munich?

Recent comments by the manager suggest that he is going to scale back his rotation policy even further.

FC Bayern Muenchen v SL Benfica - UEFA Champions League Group E Photo by Alex Hassenstein/Getty Images

Speaking to the press ahead of Saturday’s game against FC Nurnberg, Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac revealed that he will take a new direction with his rotation policy moving forward. Here’s what he said (via Bild):

There will be no more rotation in that form because it didn’t work very well. There will still be rotation, but only when someone is injured or totally wiped out. It’s not pleasant for those at the back, but everyone will have to deal with it. It doesn’t matter who.

The question about rotation was asked in connection to Mats Hummels, who had missed two previous games due to an illness. Kovac responded by saying this:

Mats was also sick, and the team did very well against Benfica and Werder. So I won’t change anything there either.

In the short term, this confirms that the lineup we’ll see against Nürnberg tomorrow will be the same one that we saw against Werder Bremen last week. The long term implications, however, could be more serious. Assuming that this isn’t a one-time thing, let’s discuss how Kovac’s revamped rotation policy may affect the team composition going forward:

Mats and James banished to the bench?

The players most likely to be adversely affected by this new rotation policy are Mats Hummels and James Rodriguez — but Hummels more so than James. James is still a valuable and versatile player who can play on the wings and in central midfield if need be. Hummels, however, will be stuck waiting for an injury to Jerome Boateng or Niklas Sule.

Both James and Hummels are reportedly upset with Kovac because of their lack of playing time already, so this new rotation policy probably will not inspire them to do their manager any favors. Will we see more Kingslayer stories come out in the near future? Perhaps. ^But Kovac may also be making this decision in the confidence that he has the support of the front office.

Kimmich the midfielder?

When Joshua Kimmich moved into the midfield against Benfica, most people thought that it would be a stopgap option until Thiago Alcantara returned to fitness. However, Kovac’s recent comments have called that notion into doubt. It seems that the coach is a big fan of Joshua Kimmich in defensive midfield, and not without reason.

Kimmich has put in a couple of stellar performances in midfield this season, his playstyle strongly resembling that of PSG’s Marco Verratti. He shows excellent chemistry with Leon Goretzka and Thomas Muller, and together they make a midfield that is stronger than the sum of its parts. Thiago is individually better than all three, but Kovac might consider the collective to be more important. Of course, before his injury, the Spaniard was Kovac’s go-to defensive midfielder.

Leaving the Thiago issue aside, playing Kimmich in midfield means Rafinha has to play at right back, making Bayern dangerously thin at fullback. If we settle on a formation reliant on Kimmich as a midfielder, and a single injury happens, the whole system could suddenly be thrown into disarray. Will Kovac risk it, or play rather on the side of caution?

Limbo for the youngsters?

One aspect of concern about this low-rotation policy is how Kovac will balance minutes for Bayern’s youngsters going forward. Kingsley Coman will likely see ample playing time, but depending on how the formation shapes up, Renato Sanches and Leon Goretzka could be left out in the cold.

It’s less of an issue for senior players like Javi Martinez and Sandro Wagner, because they don’t need the development time. Kovac has done a really good job this season with rotation, giving minutes to the younger players and most importantly giving Renato a chance. It would be a shame if this ended now, just when they were picking up some momentum.

All in all, Kovac’s new rotation policy at Bayern is likely to cause more problems than it solves. While he was criticized for over-rotation in the past, this feels like an overcorrection. There’s a balance to be maintained here — while you can’t possibly keep everyone happy, there’s a way to keep most players happy. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, the coach revises his stance on the issue and adopts a more balanced approach, otherwise Bayern might face some serious problems down the line.

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