Niklas Süle’s ACL injury was one of the absolute worst things that could have happened to Bayern Munich. The center-back has been a rock in Bayern’s defense and is always the first choice on Niko Kovac’s lineup for the back line. His season is now over, and Bayern will have to replace a player who is effectively irreplaceable. The implications at the club are significant. Süle’s absence will affect many players, including the French duo Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard, right-back and midfielder Joshua Kimmich, backup center-back Jerome Boateng, and even Lars Lukas Mai and Javi Martinez. And Bayern could even look for options on the winter transfer market.
Here are our thoughts on what Süle’s injury means for Bayern Munich.
Süle was supposed to be a key piece of Bayern’s title defense and Champions league campaign. It was a cruel blow to have him succumb to a fairly benign aerial challenge. There are a lot of if’s, and’s, and but’s as to how Kovac will rework the lineup, but if David Alaba and Lucas Hernandez are healthy, and Joshua Kimmich moves back to his rightful place (as the best right-back in the world), Kovac will revert to a lineup used earlier against Mainz and Schalke with Alaba at left-back, Hernandez inside on the left, and Benjamin Pavard and Kimmich on the right. This will get the French connection on the inside with €80m-man Hernandez alongside Pavard at the heart of the defense.
This setup frees up Javi Martinez to start in the midfield with Thiago, if that’s how Kovac wants to go forward. This back four gets the most talent on the field. There’s obviously the chance that Jerome Boateng or Javi might fill in for Süle at center-back, but I think Bayern will roll forward without Boateng as a starter, given his fall from favor under Kovac.
In my eyes, Sule is one of the most irreplaceable players at Bayern, only behind Lewandowski and Neuer. The German is the rock in the back line and Bayern’s best defender. As a result of this unfortunate ACL tear, Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng are both one injury away from starting in defense — a proposition that would be extremely worrying against Europe’s elite. Therefore, I think there is a high chance that Bayern go into the market for a CB in January.
The tactic to buy versatile players has seemed not to pay off, and while there was outrage when Mats Hummels was sold, this situation is exactly why Bayern should have kept him. That aside, I think the defense will line up as follows: a back line of Alaba, Hernandez, Pavard, and Kimmich with Alphonso Davies, Martinez, and Boateng as the bench options.
Another interesting thought could be a 3-5-2 formation. Even though it seems counter-intuitive to add more center-backs to the lineup, it’s actually smart, as there are only three defender positions instead of four, and there could be any combination of Alaba, Kimmich, Hernandez, Pavard, Boateng in that three, playing into the versatility of Bayern’s defenders.
The glaringly obvious statement is that losing Sule is a massive blow to Bayern. That said, I think that Bayern have the personnel to fill his shoes. Personally, I don’t think there’s any reason why our center-back pairing can’t be Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, with Jerome Boateng rotating in an out. In Bayern’s 2-2 draw against Augsburg, the one thing I really liked about the forced tactical switch with Pavard and Hernandez as center-backs was the fact that their pace was balanced with their distribution and ability to calmly maintain possession at the back.
Excuse the Twitter typo:
It's been aforced tactical switch, but how are we all liking the Pavard-Hernandez CB pairing? #FCAFCB— Bavarian Football Works (@BavarianFBWorks) October 19, 2019
This isn’t to say Süle lacked pace — he’s one of the quickest defenders in the Bundesliga — put Pavard and Hernandez together offer a like-for-like package in a way that no other center-back pairing at Bayern can do. Of course, Niko Kovac also has the option to rotate Javi Martinez into one of those center-back spots as well, though Javi is significantly more effective as a defensive midfielder.
Süle is a top notch defender, a good guy and a man after my own appetites that it is a real pity he has suffered this injury. While he is gone for the season, his size and playing style make him an excellent candidate for rehab, and we can expect to see him as a full contributor again next season. In the meantime the way forward is simply “next man up.” We have Pavard, Hernandez and Boa who are all natural top notch center-backs, as well as Javi and Alaba who can also play the spot against the correct opponents. Honestly, if we can enhance the mental discipline in the back line a bit, we can move forward without missing a beat.
Süle’s injury is a big, and I mean gargantuan, blow to Bayern’s hopes in all three competitions, and it comes at a very unfortunate time. Süle’s menacing presence, pace and physique are all attributes that will be sorely missed. It also really sucks for Niko Kovac as coach, but he will have to make do with the remaining CB’s at his disposal. The obvious first choice CB pairing now that Süle is out would be a combination of Hernandez and Pavard, a tried and trusted World Cup-winning combo, albeit both featured equally often as fullbacks for the Les Bleus. Alaba and Kimmich will be expected to fill in at fullbacks, and Kovac’s Kimmich “experiment” will have to stop, especially since Goretzka has now returned. There is no point in playing all three of your natural CB’s every game. I would say, till Pavard gets well acclimated to center-back, we should see Boa feature regularly. We paid €80m for Hernandez to play center-back, after all, not to play out of position or rot on the bench. So my ideal defense would be Alaba, Hernandez, Pavard, Kimmich. Do I think this defense is capable of winning the Champions League as of now? Definitely not. I’m just hoping Süle makes a speedy recovery, and if not, our center-back signings have a point to prove this season. They will have to show the WC win wasn’t just about the attack.