Jupp Heynckes had some key decisions to make against Hannover 96. Who to rest? Who needed to stay sharp? Who could use an extra day of healing? In reality, none of these decisions were driven by an insatiable need to trounce Hannover 96; but to set the squad up for its healthy members to be in peak condition for the Champions League contest against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Heynckes set out the lineup below, which helped claim a convincing 3-0 victory over Hannover 96, but what hints—if any—could we glean about who will start against Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and the rest of a Champions League-ready Real Madrid side?
Who’s likely in?
While it is extremely tough to read the mind of Heynckes, we can probably say relatively safely that the following players will be in the starting XI:
- Robert Lewandowski: A no-brainer, he is the most effective no.9 on the planet.
- Thomas Muller: The engine driving the Bayern machine right now. His presence in the lineup is crucial.
- Franck Ribéry: Heynckes has made it clear that Ribéry is the left wing for big games; at least until Kingsley Coman regains his fitness. Even then, however, Ribéry may get the nod.
- Javi Martinez: Martinez is a Heynckes staple at the defensive / holding midfield position.
- Mats Hummels: Perhaps the top center-back in the world right now with a knack for making spectacular defensive plays.
- Jerome Boateng: Perhaps not what he used to be, but a world-class option nonetheless, who has succeeded on the world’s biggest stage.
- Joshua Kimmich: Another no-brainer, Kimmich has established himself as one of the top fullbacks in all of Europe.
- Sven Ulreich: Maybe the most valuable player for Bayern this season; Ulreich has the confidence in himself and of his coach for any big game.
Even if there is a bit of assurance that these players will start, Heynckes relies on his gut instinct and his inherent knowledge of his players to guide his decision making. For that alone, the squad has responded and bought into how Heynckes has utilized each of them; pushing aside some big egos out of respect for one of the few coaches who could absolutely command it.
- Sandro Wagner: Wagner has been a blessing since transferring from Hoffenheim in January. While some may have scoffed at what Wagner could gain by playing second fiddle to Lewandowski, it is clear that the relationship has been mutually beneficial. For Bayern, Wagner has allowed Heynckes to rest Lewandowski and replace him with a legitimate striker; while for Wagner, his game has elevated to new heights and his production has been stellar even in a limited role. All that said, he’s going to be like the rest of us in this one; watching Lewy do his thing from the sidelines.
- Tom Starke: Barring an injury to Ulreich, Starke will not see field time in this tie with Madrid.
- Sebastian Rudy: After a strong start to his first season in Munich, Rudy had a little bit of a midseason slump. Lately, however, Rudy has regained his form and once again looks like he could an asset off the bench if a defensive-minded option is needed in the midfield.
- Juan Bernat: Bernat had a rough stretch prior to the Hannover 96 game. His talents, however, will likely only be needed if David Alaba can’t go and Heynckes opts against using Rafinha on the left side.
- Niklas Süle: Süle is an enigma and has been thoroughly impressive with Bayern this season. His talent could easily land him in the starting XI for nearly any other squad, but he is currently behind two veteran, battle-ready, world-class center-backs in Hummels and Boateng. If for some reason either center-back cannot play, Süle would provide Heynckes with a confident and athletic replacement.
- Corentin Tolisso: Tolisso missed the Hannover 96 game due to a lingering shin injury. Even if the Frenchman is recovered in time for Real Madrid, it is extremely unlikely Heynckes pulls the trigger on Tolisso over Muller, Thiago Alcantara, or James Rodriguez for the starting XI.
Who is on the bubble?
The left-back spot comes down to health for sure, but it is the trio of Thiago Alcantara, James Rodriguez, and Arjen Robben that leaves Heynckes with the toughest choice. Only two of the three will be in the line-up; meaning that there will be an uber-talented presence seated on the bench. Having a substitute that can provide what any of those three can offer is not necessarily a bad thing.
- David Alaba: Let’s be clear, if Alaba is healthy, he will start over Rafinha. But what condition is Alaba in at this stage? If he is not fit, would it be more wise to go with Rafinha, who has been nothing short of excellent this season?
- Rafinha: The Brazilian has certainly made a strong case to be in the XI if Alaba is not physically ready to go. Frankly, Rafinha is one of the more valuable players on the squad because of his versatility and reliability. If he has to go, he will no doubt be ready to put in an excellent performance.
- Thiago Alcantara: Thiago is a composed and creative midfield presence that would help Bayern try to establish control of the central midfield. This is an area where Bayern needs to combat the likes of Isco, Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro. This is no small challenge for Die Roten and is absolutely an area where Thiago could prove vital.
- James Rodriguez: This redemption story for James could not be set up any better than it could possibly play out with this tie. Real Madrid soured on the Colombian’s performance to the point where it loaned him to one of its primary Champions League competitors. For James, his ability to create offense is unquestionable, but can he provide enough defensively to hold down the “8” if Heynckes opts for an offensively aggressive formation? Or, should Heynckes shift Muller to the right wing in place of Arjen Robben to give James more free reign to create offense from the “10”? The talented left-footer definitely gives Heynckes some options to think about for setting up his most strategic alignment.
- Arjen Robben: Despite his advancing age, Robben still plays with the pace of a man much younger. His stamina and thunderous left foot make him an attractive option to challenge the offensively-superb but (at times) defensively-aloof Marcelo. Robben is the player available to Heynckes that can most make Marcelo uncomfortable on the right wing.
Chuck Smith’s Lineup (with all apologies to Jupp Heynckes)
The choice that Heynckes would conceivably have to make between Thiago, James, and Robben is not an easy one, nor is it clear-cut. Each player has a skill-set that is desirable for this match-up, but assuming only two of the three can make the XI, Jupp has a tough call.
To provide the optimal offensive firepower, Lewandowski and Muller need to be flanked by true wingers like Robben and Ribéry. In addition, to combat the midfield diamond of excellence that is Kroos, Modric, Isco, and Casemiro, Heynckes will need to have Thiago at the “6” and Martinez at the “8” to provide a retort.
I like what Heynckes did against Bayer Leverkusen and despite the obvious instinct to put James in the starting lineup, I feel like he can be best utilized as a super-sub in this opening game of the tie with a 4-1-4-1 alignment.
Surely, Heynckes has his ideas on how to combat Madrid and you probably do as well. Assuming Heynckes has to choose two of three between Thiago, James, and Robben, let us know who you would go with:
What two-player combination should Jupp Heynckes go with against Real Madrid assuming only two out of Thiago, James, and Robben can start?
This poll is closed
Thiago Alcantara and Arjen Robben
Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez
James Rodriguez and Arjen Robben
All 3 should start and someone else should be a sub