When perusing the BavarianFootballWorks.com comments, one subject that constantly draws the most opinions—and most ire as well—is which lineup of 11 works best for this season’s Bayern Munich squad, a team that Jupp Heynckes has called “better than the 2012/2013 squad.”
Everyone has a strong opinion on this...seriously, you all do and we are happy that you express it! Not since Nintendo Ice Hockey gave users “skinny,” “medium,” and, ahem, “husky” options as player sizes has the optimal lineup for a team been debated a fiercely as this season’s Bayern roster.
So we put this question out to our panel, who have slugged many cups of coffee (and perhaps a few Paulaners as well), to develop the “Champagne XI” lineups below. The format we used is as follows:
- Lineup (acknowledging that Manuel Neuer is out of commission for now and the recent disastrous news about Kingsley Coman—leaving them both out of the mix)
- Brief summary on the rationale (if any, in some cases...SHOTS FIRED!)
- Toughest omission
In all honesty, the news that Coman could be out for the season blew up all of our lineups. In our first draft of this roundtable, which was completed, but not published just before the news hit the wire, Coman had been universally selected by the entire panel. His impact on the squad and my liver (given I had to re-do all the graphics and write-ups) will be felt for a LONG time.
After you absorb all of that, we invite you to place your lineups in the comments below. But first, sit back, relax and venture into the dark regions of the (in some cases) demented minds of my colleagues below.
Chuck Smith’s Starting XI
Rationale: the best defense is a good offense
I went heavy on offense and am pretty comfortable with it. For me, Thomas Müller is most effective when played centrally, so I had to be creative as I believe his presence is invaluable to the lineup. The loss of Coman calls for some creativity, and while James will not play like a traditional Bayern winger, he has a dangerous left foot and has shown the willingness to defend. I felt both Vidal and Thiago were just better options than Javi Martinez right now, despite his steady play, with Vidal playing a more defensive role. Niklas Süle was also a difficult omission, but Boateng got the nod because of his big-game experience.
Toughest Omission: Javi Martinez
Ultimately I had to choose between Thiago, Martinez, and Vidal for those central midfield spots, and I am still not sure I made the right call. I honestly thought really hard about rolling with Martinez and Thiago in the 6 and 8 roles, but went with Vidal over Martinez because of the offense he has generated in a box-to-box role. I am trusting that Thiago and Müller will create enough offense and possess the ball centrally, and that James will have room to float a bit and contribute in different areas.
John N. Dillon’s Starting XI
Rationale: creative chaos
Obviously, Kingsley Coman's recent injury completely threw off the lineup I originally envisioned—a 4-2-3-1 with him on the left and Müller on the right. Given his absence, I would rather move James to the left rather than start Franck Ribery. Since neither James nor Müller play as conventional wingers, I would alter the basic system to a 4-3-3 to accommodate their ability to roam centrally. The free spot in the midfield created by moving James from the 10 to the left flank would allow me to put Thiago in the midfield in his best position—as a creative central midfielder who is neither a purely attacking nor a purely defensive player. If Thiago can combine effectively with Müller and James, the unconventional offense might pay off.
While Thiago plays in a somewhat advanced position, Vidal would roam fairly freely, covering him on defense and potentially functioning as an extra offensive outlet up front. I would deploy Martinez in the same defensive “breakwater” role that Heynckes has used him since he was appointed. That decision has contributed significantly to the transformation of the anemic team we all saw playing under Carlo Ancelotti into one of the most dominant Bayern sides ever. I think the defensive line speaks for itself. In short, I think this lineup presents the best offense Bayern can field without sacrificing defensive stability.
Toughest omission: Arjen Robben
Until Coman was ruled out, I seriously debated a 4-1-4-1 formation with Robben on the right wing and both James and Müller inside. That would have left me with just one defensive midfielder, but I don't think Javi or Vidal alone are enough for a “big game.” Robben has declined, but still has much to offer. Yet even with Coman out, I'd rather bring him on off the bench and let him run against tired legs than start him. I think Bayern should adopt a new system with its most effective players rather than attempt to play through the wings with stars in steep decline.
I was originally prepared to drop Thiago, but he was not my toughest omission. To be honest, I've gradually come to the realization that I'm just not a very big fan of Thiago. I think James contributes more to offense, and Vidal more to defense (and offense!). Thiago is just too delicate for me—he dribbles and passes beautifully, makes tackles, but too often he seems to float around the midfield rather than drive anywhere. I would rather put James on the 10 and let Vidal do his thing in the midfield. But with Coman out and no appealing alternatives, I see an opportunity to start Thiago in his best position in a different system.
Tom Adams’s Starting XI
Rationale: balance and stability
For me, the back five picks itself, obviously without the injured Neuer. Under Heynckes, the system of placing Martinez just in front of the back four provides the necessary stability in the midfield that keeps Bayern well organized. With Vidal and James positioned just in front of him, there is a natural ebb and flow between attack and defense as both Vidal and James work on both sides of the ball. On current form, I don’t think there’s anyone more effective on the flanks without Coman than Müller and Robben. Bayern have literally been averaging a goal more per game in the league when Müller is on the pitch vs. when he’s not; Bayern simply score more goals when he’s involved. I don’t think I need to really offer an explanation for the prolific Lewandowski starting up top.
Toughest Omission: Thiago
The toughest omission for me would have to be Thiago or Corentin Tolisso—but I’ll go with Thiago. It’s been difficult to see Thiago out for so long due to injury, since it’s taken him a while to get back to full fitness and back to where he was last season. That being said, I think he’s on the right track now and will most likely be starting a great deal of matches between now and the end of the season. With Tolisso, he’s a player I really want to see get better, especially after he became Bayern’s most expensive signing over the summer. Sometimes the only way to improve your game in a new system is to get regular minutes, and he’s only started 12 times from a possible 23 matches in the league. He’s shown flashes of brilliance with some of his assists and balls into the box, which I’m hoping we see a lot more of before the end of the season. For me, his performance in our 3-1 Champions League win over PSG showed how good he can be for us if he stays consistent.
Valentin King’s Starting XI
Rationale: strength up the middle
The back five plus Javi and Lewandowski are all guaranteed, unquestioned starters, barring an unforeseen drop off in form or quality. This left me with multiple options at each of the remaining four open spots (two CM and two wingers). I decided on Arturo Vidal and James Rodriguez for the two midfield spots, mainly because of how great they’ve both been playing since the second half of the season started. Vidal brings the energy and intensity you need for 90 minutes in important matches. Sure, he’s prone to some mind-numbing mistakes every once in a while, but on the whole, he’s one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world. As for James, his passing and crossing in the final third, to go along with a thunderous left foot, were qualities I just wanted to have in the squad. He’ll be vital in Bayern’s pursuit of another Champions League title this season. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben fill out the two wing positions. I initially had Kingsley Coman in the lineup, but his injury really only leaves Ribery and James for the left side. Since James is occupying the #10 role, Ribery kind of wins out by default. On the right, the choice was between Robben and Müller. I decided to go with my gut and put Robben on the right. I just prefer Müller in the center, and again, there really aren’t any other real, viable options for the right side.
Toughest Omissions: Thomas Müller and Thiago
Müller and Thiago obviously possess a ton of quality, and a lineup featuring Thiago and Müller in the middle, with James out on the left instead of Ribery, could be just as effective, if not better, on any given day. Admittedly, this lineup exercise is very tough, and my optimal lineup changes daily. Bayern have so much depth and quality, it’s hard to pick a “best” XI.
Mike Lynch’s Starting XI
Rationale: capitalize on talent and versatility
I had to make a couple of changes in this lineup due to the recent injury to Coman, who would obviously be in the starting XI. Thus there have been a few tweaks. For one, I still believe in a Thiago/Vidal midfield pair with Vidal providing defensive cover and Thiago able to move the ball forward and link up with the attacking quartet. For this to work, I’m banking on the versatility of Müller to be able to play on the left wing as well as he is able to play on the right. With Coman out, Bayern are very suddenly thin on the wings. Robben gets his usual spot back on the right, with James in the drivers seat of the attack until he proves he can’t do it, which I don’t think will happen anytime soon.
Toughest Omission: Jerome Boateng
The most obvious omission from this is Boateng. Picking Süle and Hummels over him was the toughest call on this list. Honestly I’d be happy with a pairing involving any of the three names but if I had to choose, I’d go with Hummels and Süle as my first choice CB pairing.
Patrick Pintaske’s Starting XI
Rationale: creative balance
This lineup is a bit conceptual, but follows the unfortunate injury to Kingsley Coman. Since Robben and Ribery are not at the peak of their performance and there is no like-for-like replacement on the left wing, this is the idea behind the lineup:
Step one: Lock down the center. With three of the best central defenders in German football on the team, why not let them start together. Süle played a similar position last year at Hoffenheim, so the switch wouldn’t be too dramatic for him, and he has been playing a great season.
Step two: Wing backs. Another benefit of this line-up is that it allows Alaba and especially Kimmich to press forward without having to worry as much about their defensive duties. Kimmich has 16 goal participations across all competitions (from right back!!), Robben in comparison only has 15, although he has also played 6 fewer games.
The rest is quite easy. Martinez plays where he plays best and makes the defense even tougher to crack. James has been playing at an irreplaceable level—Thiago is nowhere near that at the moment. And in this article we summarized why Tolisso is at least as good as Vidal, if not better. He is also more dynamic out on the wings and could support Kimmich, similarly to James with Alaba on the left. Then at the front Lewandowski is irreplaceable for Bayern at the moment and Müller plays in a free roaming role behind him, allowing him to do what he does best.
Toughest Omission: Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben
The toughest omission has to be the decision not to include Franck Ribery OR Robben, despite the fact that Coman is injured and Müller isn’t playing on the wing either. Normally it would have been unthinkable not to include them in this situation, but this season has shown that they are not the unstoppable forces of nature they were in seasons past.
They can be great impact players off the bench, providing an important change of pace, but when it comes to the big games I would go for the team of people who have been performing this season and putting the numbers on the board. Ribery was second choice behind Coman anyway, but I believe that a liberated Kimmich could also be more valuable than an old and often greedy Robben.
Bavarian Football Works Staff Analysis
Lewandowski, Coman (before his injury), James, Alaba, Hummels, Ulreich, and Kimmich were all universally selected (again, acknowledging that Neuer is not available). Müller, Vidal, and Boateng were next with five selections, followed by Martinez and Robben, who both had four selections to beat out Thiago (three selections) for the final spot in the line-up. Ribery and Tolisso each were chosen once.
Here is the best estimate at how that BFW Composite starting XI would work:
Give us your 11 below and tell us how you think we did!