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Wingin’ it II — Electric Boogaloo: Bayern Munich’s winger watch

A tradition like any other: Another season, another take about why Bayern Munich is going to be fine on the flanks.

Bongarts/Getty Images

Right about this time last summer, the Bayern Munich fan base was in a bit of an uproar over the squad’s depth on the wing.

Ever the optimist, I tried to rationalize that Kingsley Coman was on the verge of a breakout season, that Serge Gnabry would be a fine addition, and that Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery still had some gas in the tank. Also, I tried to push aside the notion that Thomas Müller was not an effective alternative — when needed — on the wing. Sure, Müller’s best position is as an attacking midfielder/second striker, but he still has the wherewithal to be a solid option when the squad needs him to shift to the flank.

That prognostication was partially correct. Coman was an electric force when healthy, while Gnabry became a constant threat from his position out wide. When healthy, Ribery and Robben were each effective. For his part, Müller was very good when called upon to play wing. The common theme, however, that kept the group from making the “good-to-great” leap was the myriad of medical maladies that befell each player except Müller. He got himself suspended instead.

Unfortunately for Bayern, there is still much anxiety surrounding the ongoing health of this season’s wingers; hence Bayern’s ongoing quest for depth. Now that it seems certain that Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi is staying at Stamford Bridge, Nicolas Pépé is heading to Arsenal, and Bayern’s alleged interest FC Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé has fizzled, everyone watching to see whether the Bavarians land Manchester City’s Leroy Sané. Regardless of how the transfer saga of the summer plays out, I feel pretty good about Bayern’s talent on the wings.

The starters

Arsenal v FC Bayern - 2019 International Champions Cup
Serge Gnabry has proven himself worthy of being considered a top-flight starter.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Perhaps I’m naive, but I absolutely think Coman and Gnabry are explosive, dangerous, and consistent attacking forces that can disrupt any opposing defense. And therein lies the key to Bayern Munich’s attack: complete and utter disruption from the flanks. Bayern’s attack operates best when the wings are creating havoc, Thomas Müller is manipulating the middle of the field, and Robert Lewandowski is allowed to roam into any area that he sees fit.

When Coman and Gnabry are on — which is often — the duo commands respect and attention. Still just 23 and 24, respectively, Coman and Gnabry are poised for a joint breakthrough season as a tandem. This will be the year the rest of Europe catches up to what those in Bavaria already know: Coman and Gnabry are legit.

Where the talented youngsters waver, however, is their health: constant and consistent injuries plague them both.

The depth

Arsenal v FC Bayern - 2019 International Champions Cup
Fiete Arp has shown some promise early on in his tenure with Bayern Munich.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

The contingency plan for the inevitable injuries to Coman and Gnabry is what scares a lot of Bayern fans — and rightfully so. As of this writing, Bayern’s depth behind the terrific twosome is Thomas Müller, Fiete Arp, and Alphonso Davies.

This is the part where mass hysteria sets in and everyone freaks out at the prospect of compensating for an injury to Coman, Gnabry, or both of them. In years past, the prospect of moving Müller out wide has met with dread, but I don’t share those fears for a number of reasons:

1: Müller played very well at wing when he was called into action last season. In 14 games as a right wing, Müller had five goals and five assists. Not bad production for a guy who many think can’t play the position any more. Overall, for his career, Müller’s most productive position has been right wing, where he has 62 goals and 71 assists across all competitions for Bayern Munich per Transfermarkt (please note that Transfermarkt differentiates between attacking midfielder and second striker and lists them as separate positions).

2: Leon Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso are two extremely talented players who will be vying for playing time. Bumping Müller outside (if necessitated by injury) would allow for both players to be in the lineup together. While both are probably best suited to play the “8,” Goretzka and Tolisso have each shown an aggressiveness inside the box that causes trouble for the opposition. This is a time where the depth in the central midfield can be a huge advantage to Bayern.

Okay, so let’s move on to what nearly everyone is thinking...

The worry

SOCCER: JUL 20 International Champions Cup - FC Bayern v Real Madrid
Can Alphonso Davies be considered a reliable back-up at wing as he also works to become an option at left-back?
Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every hint of optimism about Coman and Gnabry is usually tempered with (valid) concern over both players’ injury history. When Coman suffers an injury, it has usually been serious, though he has also had some nagging minor injuries, as well. Gnabry, meanwhile, has a history of muscular issues (hello, International Champions Cup!) that have planted enough doubt to make the Bayern fanbase uneasy.

And sure, if we are going to talk about worries, we can address what would happen in the doomsday scenario in which both Gnabry and Coman are injured. Moving Müller to the flank — and away from a central position where he is most effective — might cause the attack to take a step backward. Bayern’s depth in central midfield would alleviate that concern somewhat, but many Bayern fans shudder at the thought of seeing Arp or Davies play meaningful minutes on the wing in high-level fixtures. Again, this is a valid concern and, to a certain extent, Bayern would find itself in a sink-or-swim scenario.

Finding the best solution for bolstering the wings is not easy. Frankly, it is difficult if one factors in financial concerns, expectations, and roster fit. That is partly why the club is still mapping all of its “what if?” scenarios this deep into the transfer window.

Playing out the possible scenarios

Right now — today — it is not a sure thing that Bayern Munich will acquire Leroy Sané. You could even make a strong case he is using Bayern Munich’s brand power as leverage to get a better deal out of Manchester City. On the flip-side, because this saga has been going on for weeks, perhaps Sané really is considering a move. At this point, no one knows anything except Sané and the clubs.

If Sané makes the jump back to Germany, Bayern’s wing depth and rotation would be complete. In fact, you might then worry whether Niko Kovac can keep three top-notch wingers happy... but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Asia Trophy Final
Leroy Sane would probably love to get out of those hideous Manchester City kits, but has not given any indication if he really wants a move to Bayern Munich.
Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

The “Plan B” options are not nearly as promising, so let’s have a look:

  • Ousmane Dembélé (FC Barcelona): Yes, Dembélé is a great talent. He also has a questionable attitude and is on a team that really should be in no rush to give him up.
  • Hakim Ziyech (Ajax): The Ajax gunner has a lot of skill, but he also has never seen a shot he didn’t like. While he would be a decent fit on paper, the 25-year-old would probably not be happy playing second fiddle to Coman and Gnabry, and he might create issues offensively with his shot-happy mindset.
  • Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace): Zaha’s price tag that far exceeds what he’s proven on the pitch.
  • Timo Werner (RB Leipzig): You can all cash in your bets on whether or not #TimoTime would make the list.... and SURPRISE! He did. Werner’s ability to bump out wide is often doubted by his detractors, but his pace and scoring ability cannot be denied. In addition, Werner’s versatility would be a fit for the type of flexibility Kovac wants on the roster. His price has to be considered an affordable alternative given how RB Leipzig’s power over Werner diminishes with each passing day. Should Werner enter the season on Leipzig’s roster, his pathway to a free transfer after the season will be clear.
  • Steven Bergwijn (PSV Eindhoven), Dani Olmo (Zagreb), Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen): Bergwijn, Olmo, and Bailey are a set of intriguing talents with solid ability, but each member of this trio of 21-year-olds is at a stage of his respective career where he needs a starting role and consistent playing time. While all three have shown promise, they are unlikely to unseat Coman or Gnabry.
  • Yannick Carrasco (Dalian): No thanks.

A recent report from kicker claims that Bayern was working to bring in two wingers in a striker.

Regardless of what happens with Sané, Werner could be one of those versatile options that Kovac favors. That would potentially allow Bayern to keep more young players around on the first team for developmental purposes rather than spending on another veteran.

As a wise man once said, there’s no easy way... there’s no shortcut home.

My ideal scenario

Hannover 96 v 1. FC Nuernberg - Bundesliga
Would a player like Nicolai Muller be an effective mentor/depth piece on the wing for Bayern Munich?
Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

This may be an unpopular opinion, but assuming — (BIG assumption) — that Bayern is able to secure Sané, I don’t want another high-level, in-his-prime pure winger.

Sané allegedly has doubts about his current situation because of a lack of available playing time. With Coman and Gnabry already entrenched as starters — and seemingly about to be bumped for Sané — it is not as if field time at Bayern is a sure thing, even working under the assumption that Sané unseats one of them.

In an ideal world, Bayern gets Sané and Bayern adds Werner (for his versatility) and possibly add an older veteran wing who can be a mentor — someone who might come onto the field after multiple games of riding pine and still be an effective and smart player. Who fits that description? That’s the tougher question to answer.

Perhaps 31-year-old veterans like Schalke’s Daniel Caligiuri or Eintracht Frankfurt’s Nicolai Müller would be willing to close out their careers as a depth piece on a team that has its sights set on Champions League glory while helping mentor the next generation?

Moving forward

Chelsea v Eintracht Frankfurt - UEFA Europa League Semi Final : Second Leg
Ante Rebic was allegedly deemed to not have the technical skill required for Bayern Munich, but he is fast, versatile, and brings a tough attitude to the pitch.
Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images

The remainder of this transfer window will undoubtedly see many more names float by. Perhaps we will see players like Marseille’s Florian Thauvin, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ante Rebic, or Paris Saint-Germain’s Julian Draxler re-emerge as possibilities for the club. Maybe not. Either way, Bayern will be looking to add to its war chest for the upcoming season.

Like it or not, Sané’s decision determines the path forward for Bayern. While roster conservatives like myself might be willing to accept a less-is-more approach, there are others who “want them all” ...and that’s okay. In roughly five weeks, we will know exactly what the Bayern brass has decided is the ideal go-forward solution on the wings.

Even if Sané does not make the move, Bayern has two top-flight starters and some decent depth options. Sure, Sané would raise the group to world-class status, but Coman and Gnabry — if healthy — are poised to do great things even without him.

Will it be a massive — and expensive — talent grab, or will Bayern trust its current arsenal and complement it with a veteran presence? Only time will tell, but until then, buckle up as we navigate the rugged terrain of the rest of the transfer window.

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