Despite missing most of Bayern Munich’s preseason, one of the players who has really shown serious promise is 18-year-old center-back Lars Lukas Mai. Since he picked up a knee injury at the end of June, Mai has not featured in any of Bayern’s preseason friendlies, but he is no stranger to the first team.
Mai was called up to start by Jupp Heynckes towards the end of last season for Bayern’s wins against Hannover 96 (3-0) and Eintracht Frankfurt (4-1). Mai played for the full 90 minutes on both occasions. He impressed Heynckes in his first team debut vs. Hannover and the former Bayern boss had high praise for him (via AZ)
What impressed me so much in training and in the friendlies was that he is calm, plays very businesslike, is strong in the air. He has a relatively good way of opening the game.
- Lars Lukas Mai dukes it out with Hannover’s Niclas Füllkrug (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)
- Lars Lukas Mai during Bayern’s 3-0 win over Hannover in April 2018. (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)
- Lars Lukas Mai jostles with Hannover’s Niclas Füllkrug (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)
- Mai goes for an aerial challenge against Marco Fabian during Bayern vs. Frankfurt (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
- Mai chases down Luka Jovic of Frankfurt (Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)
- Mai during Bayern vs. Frankfurt in May, 2018. (Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)
As fate would have it, Mai signed a contract with Bayern through 2021 just days after his first team debut vs Hannover amidst speculation that he might agree on a move to Hamburg this summer. After signing the contract, Mai expressed his delight and stated that he’s ready to make a name for himself at Bayern:
I’m very happy about this big opportunity. It has always been my dream to play for FC Bayern. Now I want to continue working hard in order to take the next steps in my career.
The opportunity to take those first step may be now.
Options and depth in defense for Niko Kovac
It’s no secret that Bayern is well stocked with midfielders and defenders. Assuming all of the players are fit and healthy, Mai’s name is not likely to be one of the first on the team sheet, but he could still have an important part to play for Kovac and Bayern this season.
For one, Jerome Boateng has been heavily linked with a potential move to PSG. If he were to leave, Mai would likely move up a spot on the depth chart for center-backs. Even if Boateng stays, his injury history may benefit Mai anyway: Boateng missed a total of 12 matches across competitions and was relegated to starting on the bench on 8 occasions when fit. Although Niklas Sule stood in alongside Mats Hummels when Boateng was unavailable to great effect, Hummels also missed a handful of matches on account of injury.
Kovac revealed in a recent press conference that he still wants Bayern to focus on playing possession based football and keep the system that the club has used since the Louis van Gaal era. That means he’ll most often be deploying a back four as opposed to three center-backs, which he often utilized in his time as Frankfurt manager. If, however, Kovac does experiment with a back three, this could increase Mai’s chances of seeing some time with a system of three center backs. As Heynckes said, his calmness in possession and his ability to open the game make him a valuable asset when he’s in Bayern’s back line.
For Mai, the key question is whether Boateng transfers elsewhere. If Boateng stays with Bayern, his presence could mean decreased opportunity for first team minutes, given that Hummels-Boateng, Hummels-Sule, or Sule-Boateng are anticipated to be Kovac’s first choices in a conventional back-four defense. If Boateng follows through with a transfer — most likely to Thomas Tuchel’s PSG — then Mai’s chances of garnering first-team minutes look very good.
Benjamin Pavard’s recent commitment to stay at Stuttgart this season rather than transfer to Bayern immediately only improves Mai’s chances. But Bayern’s apparent determination to acquire Pavard, whether this season or the next, could make the present season a decisive one in Mai’s career: Mai can scarcely afford a poor performance, if Pavard joins the team next season with his record at Stuttgart and World Cup performance for France.
It seems like the time is now or never for the youngster. Wherever Mai finds himself on the depth chart, injuries will take their toll and there will certainly be occasions when Kovac rotates players as Bayern compete across three fronts this season. When the opportunities arise, Mai is more than ready to take full advantage, just like he did at the end of last season under Heynckes.
Lars Lukas Mai— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) July 18, 2018
Captain of the U17s, captain of the U19s, this 6'2" natural born leader is now ready to push for first team football with the German champions ✊ #BundesligaYouth pic.twitter.com/X00AkEyRfK