Newcomer Philippe Coutinho got his first start for FC Bayern Munich on Saturday against Mainz. To make room for him on the pitch, head coach Niko Kovac had to put Thomas Müller on the bench. Much has been made over this move and the heightened level of competition at FC Bayern.
Vice-captain Müller has been a regular on the field for Bayern for the better part of a decade. This is not the first time he has been on the bench, but it is not the norm. AZ reported that he had this to say about the decision to not start him:
We have a great roster and also a lot of quality in the roster. In the span of the season there will be a lot of different starting lineups. Accordingly, a player shouldn’t read too much into these choices.
Müller entered the match for — you guessed it — Coutinho in the 67th minute. Bayern was already up 4-1, but Muller made an immediate impact. He assisted the final two goals by Lewandowski and Davies respectively. Muller added to his comments by saying that this is ideal. “That is what we want after all, to be able to bring in quality from outside in order to bring momentum into the game.” Kovac liked what he saw: “That is Thomas. He comes in and goes on the rampage, shakes things up.”
When asked about Coutinho’s performance, Kovac was very positive and optimistic about the future. He said,
It was clear that we wanted to build him up. He had good moments, especially on the ball. I am satisfied with his performance, and I know that it will still get better. Of course we know that he is not yet at full strength.
Coutinho appeared to have problems with his left foot, which is why Kovac had to sub him out. Kovac also had this to say about Bayern’s deep bench and the choice to leave certain players out of the starting eleven:
You should not talk about the [players] that aren’t there. Two weeks ago, it was said that we didn’t have anyone on the bench. Now we have people on the bench and the tables have turned. We should talk about those who are here.
David Alaba, who scored an amazing free-kick in the match, likes the competition. He said,
It is definitely the case that the new players have once again encouraged competition. You can notice in the training sessions that the level is different, that another level [of quality] is coming off the bench in games. This is something that really brings us forward.
As long as the competition remains healthy and everybody works together as a team, everything should be fine at FC Bayern. If the locker room begins to split into factions, however, it will do no good for Bayern to have such a deep bench. Let’s hope that everyone, coach and players, will do what’s best for the club in the long run.