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Bayern Munich’s back-line gamble is now on the table

The signings of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard paved the way for Mats Hummels to request a transfer.

Getty Images for FC Bayern

With the news that Mats Hummels has officially left Bayern Munich for Borussia Dortmund, the next phase of Bayern’s expected roster makeover has been put in motion. Sure, the Bavarians have Niklas Sule and Jerome Boateng on the roster and have already secured Atlético Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez and VfB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard to compete for playing time at center-back, but the page is clearly turning on Bayern’s core group of players.

By moving Hummels, Bayern effectively has made its fiercest competitor stronger, while also weakening its own squad in the near term. Some will view the move for Hummels as a necessity, and it might be wrong to argue against that. After all, too much of a good thing can indeed create locker room turmoil for any coach.

Hummels is still too talented and too good a performer to be a rotational player, so if he wanted to move on and avoid playing once every three games, he had every right to request a transfer. The questions that remain are as follows:

  • Did Bayern get this right?
  • Are Hernandez and Pavard ready to assume leading roles for a team where the expectations of Champions League success are always inherent?
  • If Bayern intended to invest in revamping its defense, did it choose the right players to build around?

Prior to Hummels’ departure, there may have been a transition period afforded players like Pavard and Hernandez, but that proverbial window has been closed.

The evolution of Bayern’s back-line

The moves for Hernandez and Pavard certainly generated excitement and discussion, but they were made before some significant developments occurred. Sule established himself as the number-one center-back of choice. A rejuvenated Hummels had a stellar second half where he showed his true quality. Chris Richards and Lars Lukas Mai established themselves as top-tier prospects, who might already be prepared for supporting roles in first-team football. Maybe most importantly, the ink on a potential move of Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt to FC Barcelona never dried.

In retrospect, the moves for Pavard and Hernandez might have been a little premature, but it is hard to fault Bayern for snapping up two, shiny top-tier talents — even if they have some scuff marks on them.

This is not to disparage Pavard or Hernandez. Certainly, both players bring excellent qualities, but each also comes with some questions. Both players have decent size, good pace, and great skills. There is no arguing any of that. Each player also brings the flexibility to play outside back, which can help with ensuring Bayern has quality depth at each spot along the back-line.

The questions that remain with each player, however, will need to be answered soon. Hernandez is coming off a lingering knee issue and a subsequent surgery, while Pavard battled inconsistency with Stuttgart last season. While the 2018 World Cup-winning duo for France undoubtedly has talent, it remains to be seen how that translates to Säbener Strasse where the expectations on a daily basis are far greater and the environment is far more competitive and demanding than either Atlético Madrid or Stuttgart.

Were Pavard and Hernandez the best pieces to bring in?

Some of the options being bandied about on the transfer market including Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt and VfB Stuttgart’s Ozan Kabak. De Ligt is a generational player that Bayern would be extremely lucky to procure at this stage. The situation surrounding the 19-year-old Ajax captain is bit more complicated.

Bayern has reportedly already told him that they were no longer interested. While it is not out of the question that the Bavarians could re-enter the race for De Ligt, his alleged salary demands might cause an issue. In addition, with Sule already on the roster and by making moves for Hernandez and Pavard, Bayern effectively made it clear that its future on the back-line is in the hands of those three players. Adding another young player, who will need consistent field time into the mix seems like a recipe for disaster.

The other popular name is Kabak, but does Bayern really want to invest into two center-backs from a Stuttgart team that was relegated?

Shiny new things are nice, but sometimes the inherent value of a veteran presence and experience cannot be replaced. With Boateng also rumored to want an exit from Bavaria, Bayern will all of a sudden be extremely thin on experience.

The issue at hand goes deeper, though. Specifically, when does having too much talent in one position become an issue. By removing Hummels from the mix, Bayern has effectively cut short what could have been a valuable bridge from the present to the future.

Does Bayern have too much young talent at center-back?

It sounds like a stupid question, right? How would too much talent ever be an issue? On the surface it is not, but how a coach manages that talent — and attempts to keep it all happy is another issue.

Given my druthers, I’d have pursued De Ligt before making a move for Hernandez and Pavard. Without the lingering fear of a balky knee that plagues Hernandez and without the bouts of inconsistency that Pavard displayed for the entirety of last season, De Ligt offered the chance to procure as close to a “sure thing” as there is on the transfer market.

Similarly, both Richards and Mai are getting dangerously close to viewing an extended stay on Bayern II as limbo. Mai, in fact, is already at that juncture and is actively looking to move to a club where he can feature. Richards is already allegedly drawing the attention of FC Barcelona and Valencia among others. It will not be easy to keep two eager young talents like that holstered for much longer.

With five quality talents all at the age of 23 or under (Sule, Hernandez, Pavard, Mai, Richards), Bayern will be delicately managing how to keep each player developing at an appropriate pace when there is only so much first-team playing time to go around. This is not even necessarily a 2019-2020 problem as it will be a 2020-2021 issue.

Hopefully in the coming weeks, the path forward is determined for each of those five young talents and also where Boateng fits into the mix. No one wants to accumulate good players without figuring out a way to use them effectively. Maybe that’s not even an issue at all, or maybe Bayern is just now starting to sort out how to make all this work for everyone.

One thing is clear, Borussia Dortmund got better today and with the offensive talent it has in its arsenal, that “new age” Bayern back-line will be under pressure to perform from the outset in 2019-2020. If they do not, it could end up being another season of fans wondering what might have been.

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