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BFW Analysis: Assessing Bayern Munich’s midfield dilemma

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So many players, so few starting positions.

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So the World Cup has come and gone which means international football must once again take a back seat to the joys and tribulations of club football. Amidst the entertaining, month-long football tournament in Russia, there were many rumors surrounding Bayern Munich’s transfer strategy under new coach Niko Kovač. That speculation is only bound to grow even more, now that the focus of the football world turns towards preseason, and getting players ready for the upcoming campaign.

Kovač, however, is walking into a unique situation at Bavaria. Unlike his fellow managers from all across Europe, the former Eintracht Frankfurt man is seemingly finding himself in a situation where he must decide which players to sell, rather than buy. At least as far as his midfield department is concerned, anyway.

The new arrival of Leon Goretzka from Schalke has added an extra body to a category which was already in danger of overflowing, and the 23-year-old didn’t come along for the ride. Having played a part in Germany’s recent World Cup failure, Goretzka will be keen to continue his evolution into one of Europe’s best midfielders, and will certainly look to push for a starting place. That leaves him, and every other player in his position, with the unenviable task of having to do extra to impress their new manager.

So, why don’t we here at BFW try and make Niko’s job easier and file through the paper work for him as we assess the options he has in midfield?

Leon Goretzka: Well, there’s no better place to start than with the newest addition. Goretzka is a player who likes to sit deep, orchestrate offensive moves and let the play come to him. His tackling is as good as his passing, while defensively he’s also a key part of preventing dangerous set-pieces or high balls from entering the penalty area due to his tall build. He’s able to play in a 4-2-3-1, and having a midfielder like Corentin Tolisso or Thiago next to him in such a system would suit well (more on that later) but could also be deployed in a DMC role in a 4-3-3. Either way, Goretzka’s youthfulness, energy and skillset means he’s almost a certainty to be a starter sooner rather than later. STARTER

Corentin Tolisso: A very fun and exciting player to watch, but his lack of inconsistency can be frustrating. Yet, that is to be expected from a 23-year-old who was just starting to find his feet as a Bayern player towards the end of last season. An impressive display against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals proved what he can bring to the team in important matches, as his fiery style of play and want to push forward would be welcomed by a manager who has insisted he prefers speed over possession. If Tolisso can somehow replicate his good performances more often than his average ones, he could become a very key player for Munich this year. STARTER

Thiago Alcantara: If Kovac could find the right balance in a three-man midfield involving Thiago and both players listed above, I think Bayern would be in a very good situation. Even if that means playing the Spaniard further ahead in a 4-2-3-1, I think it’s something Munich’s new head coach needs to consider. The rumors of a return to Barcelona are concerning as there aren’t a lot of players out there that can bring the same qualities that Thiago does, especially within a realistic price range. Bayern would be best served keeping a hold of the pacey playmaker. He’s a perfect compliment to Goretzka’s possession-orientated style, as Thiago loves to drop the shoulder and push his side forward if the offense becomes stagnant at times. His awareness and anticipation of opposing players closing him down is top notch, and opens up space ahead of him to operate in. If Bayern do nothing else this summer but keep a hold of Thiago, and allow Kovac the opportunity to find that right system for him to excel in, they’ll have done well for themselves. Let’s just hope his injuries can be kept to a minimum. STARTER

Javi Martinez: From one Spaniard to another, Martinez may have to continue to adapt to the center back position he’s been deployed in several times throughout his Bayern career. A true, natural defensive midfielder, Martinez must realize that battling for a spot in this midfield looks to be a bigger challenge than vying for a place in the center back department where the rumored sale of Jerome Boateng would leave the club even thinner in that spot. We may see the former Athletic Bilbao player be inserted into his favored position throughout the season at times, but it’s a much more likely scenario that he’ll be viewed as a center back. At least for the time being. BACKUP

Northern Ireland v Germany - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Sebastian Rudy: Some people had to look twice when they saw that Joachim Loew turned to Rudy as his midfield saviour following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico in the opening group game of the World Cup. But, once the match against Sweden got underway, it was easy to see why Rudy was selected. His ability to play in a midfield alongside a deep playmaker like Kroos is admirable, especially considering the players he finds himself surrounded by in this preseason battle for Kovac’ attention. Rudy can sit deep, disrupt the opposition’s offensive rhythm and pass it off to a midfield further upfield to allow them to create. It’s why Bayern will keep a hold of him, and why Kovac is bound to use him quite a few times throughout the year for several different match-ups. ROTATIONAL

Renato Sanches: Following a disappointing season-long loan at recently relegated Swansea City, Sanches heads back to Bayern with reports that the new regime are keen to work with the once highly-acclaimed Portuguese international. It has been quite the fall from grace for a player that lit up, and won, the European Championships two years ago, as he’s failed to replicate that sort of form during his time in Munich. There’s still hope, however. If Sanches, as it seems he’s going to be allowed to make some sort of impression on Kovac, can take advantage of this offering by Bayern, then he could play himself back into contention on a team that looked as if it had no room for him. If throughout the coming weeks he fails to stand out, you can expect him to become available for a transfer. Your move, Renato. ROTATIONAL (for now)

Arturo Vidal: Once Goretzka signed on the dotted line earlier in the year, all signs (and reports) pointed to Vidal being the odd man out. That made sense when considering the similar roles each player assumes when on the pitch. Goretzka is able to break up play, annoy and harass the opposition whenever they find themselves in possession, not too unlike Vidal, and when comparing the ages of both players it’s easy to see why the Bayern hiearchy view the Chilean as being the dispensable one. I’m sure his injuries have had something to do with his transfer availability as well, as a once explosive player looks to have lost a step in the last year. If he does find himself on the roster come opening week, it’ll come as a surprise to most. SOLD

So there we have it. All the midfield options available to Kovac and his staff as they undertake pre-season with World Cup participating players return week-by-week. If I had to harbour a guess, I’d say the depth chart currently looks as following, assuming it is a 4-3-3 system that is in use:

Leon Goretzka- Sebastian Rudy- Javi Martinez

Corentin Tolisso- Renato Sanches

Thiago Alcantara- Arturo Vidal

Of course, there is the possibility that James Rodriguez, provided he stays, finds himself in a deeper position and falls into the central midfield battle as well or perhaps Kovac could look to convert one of his wingers into this position. We really don’t know how all this is going to unravel, but it sure is fun to speculate. What would your midfield be to start the season?