Sport Bild’s Tobias Altschäffl was present at Bayern Munich's final training session today before they play Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals tomorrow evening. The journalist may have witnessed the last test run of the lineup Jupp Heynckes may deploy tomorrow. Could Jupp Heynckes unleash five attackers on Real Madrid's defense?
My colleague @altobelli13 was at the final Training-Session before the Match #FCBRMA. This was the line-up of Jupp Heynckes: Ulreich - Kimmich, Hummels, Boateng, Rafinha - Martínez - Müller, James - Robben, Ribery - Lewandowski @FCBayern #FCBRMA— Christian Falk (@cfbayern) April 24, 2018
Training beendet! @SPORTBILD war bei der Abschluss-Einheit vor dem Kracher gegen @realmadrid vor Ort. Die Aufstellung von Jupp Heynckes dabei: Ulreich - Kimmich, Hummels, Boateng, Rafinha - Martínez - Müller, James - Robben, Ribery - Lewandowski @FCBayern #FCBRMA— Tobias Altschäffl (@altobelli13) April 24, 2018
Rafinha at left-back, Javi alone in the midfield?
The final lineup Altschäffl saw consisted of a back line of Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Rafinha. That ominously corresponds to the most significant news to emerge from training: David Alaba did not participate. Bayern's starting left-back has been struggling with sciatica for days. The brief optimism that he had overcome it now seems premature.
Rafinha's performances at left-back this season—necessitated first by Juan Bernat's long-term injury and lately also his form (although Bernat was Meister of the match on Saturday)—have been outstanding. His defense is arguably even better than Alaba's, although he clearly provides less of a threat offensively. Playing both James and Müller between Ribery and Robben could represent an attempt to compensate.
The missing midfield
The midfield and offense contained the most striking surprise: Javi Martinez featured as the sole central defensive midfielder ahead of a firepower-packing front line of Ribery and Robben, while James Rodriguez and Thomas Müller bring their unique interpretations of the 10 spot behind Robert Lewandowski.
Notable omission: Thiago Alcantara, who played all 90 minutes of Bayern’s easy 3-0 victory against Hannover 96 on Saturday, improvising on the left wing while Ribery rested.
It is obvious that Jupp Heynckes would have preferred to have a fit Arturo Vidal in this starting lineup against Real Madrid. Vidal has been Heynckes’s go-to box-to-box midfielder, and Vidal has possibly the biggest chip on his shoulder against Real Madrid in the entire lineup, after his indecorous sending off killed Bayern’s chances of escaping the quarterfinals last year.
But with Vidal unavailable, many (including myself) suspected that Heynckes would pair Thiago with Javi to function as a no. 8. Thiago is not nearly as physical a player as Vidal (who is?), but his defensive contributions should not be overlooked. He is a fantastic tackler, and also possesses the dribbling and passing skills to link up with Bayern’s forward players ahead of him.
How to attack, how to defend with a 4-1-4-1?
If Henyckes really opts to leave Thiago out, Javi will have to give a world-class performance to contend with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Rather than risk an unduly high line, by bringing the center-backs up to support Javi, Heynckes may keep Bayern’s offense and defense relatively compressed to deprive Madrid’s midfield of space. James and Müller in particular would have to drop back somewhat to assist Javi and be ready to receive the ball and distribute it to Ribery or Robben—attacking Carvajal or Marcelo.
Vice versa, Bayern's wings could fall back and assist Javi on defense with an eye to finding one of Bayern's two false 9's: James and Müller could then attack Madrid right through the middle. Many have identified Casemiro as a weak point in Madrid's lineup. If James and Müller (and of course Lewandowski) put him under pressure, they might compromise Madrid's midfield diamond and expose the center-backs. James in particular, as a brilliant distributor who is very strong on the ball, could be the linchpin in the offense.
None of the above
Jupp Heynckes naturally refused to give any details as to Bayern's lineup at the final press conference today:
With David Alaba and Corentin Tolisso, a decision will be made early tomorrow morning as to whether they are available. With respect to the lineup, I won't say anything. I'll make my final thoughts about it this evening.
The final lineup in training is not necessarily what Heynckes will use tomorrow morning. Heynckes may have had any number of reasons for testing this lineup: to see the system in action, to see how individual players perform in certain roles, to test their fitness. The lineup could also be a ruse. This entire season, I have predicted Jupp Heynckes's lineup correctly only twice: no one expected Corentin Tolisso to play in the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, and he shocked us as much as PSG (scoring a brace).
“At the end of the day,” as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge always says, we will have to trust in Jupp and hold our breath.