As the 2019-2020 season has progressed, the evolution of Bayern Munich’s back-line has provided major intrigue.
Losing newly-minted defensive leader Niklas Süle early in the season should have been the death knell for the unit, especially as both Jerome Boateng and Benjamin Pavard initially struggled at center-back. In addition, Joshua Kimmich campaigned successfully for a move further up the pitch, and Lucas Hernandez battled with inconsistency everywhere except on the injury list, where he was consistently banged up.
Through all of that, though, some funny things happened as Hansi Flick took the helm from Niko Kovac. David Alaba suddenly became the center-back that Bayern Munich needed, while Boateng rediscovered his form and has looked terrific of late. In addition, Pavard’s shift to right-back re-energized the France international, who now plays with confidence and assurance. Finally — and maybe most importantly — Alaba’s move inside allowed Alphonso Davies to get on the pitch and show the world why he was so valued internally at Säbener Strasse.
Still, there are question marks for 2020/21. Boateng is likely leaving Munich this summer, and Alaba is currently in contract negotiations. Süle’s status is also uncertain as a terrible knee injury for the big man could potentially sideline the 24-year-old longer than expected before he can get back to 100%.
While there are talks of the club seeking to add a center-back and right-back to the mix during the next transfer window, highly-rated prospects Chris Richards and Lars Lukas Mai are anxiously awaiting a chance to break into the senior team. Does Bayern Munich really need to go out and spend money on players with these two youngsters waiting in the wings?
Richards, the 20-year-old American, has shown promise with his passing ability, smart play, and athletic style. At 6-foot-2, the Alabama native has the size and vision that the Bavarians covet from their central defenders. In addition, Richards has the ability to shift out to right-back, which also makes him the type of versatile weapon that Flick loves to deploy.
Mai, who is also 6-foot-2, 20 years old, and an excellent athlete in his own right, is as solid of a center-back prospect to rise through the youth ranks in some time. Known for his proficiency in aerial duels, along with his composure on the ball, Mai also looks like a player ready to “make the leap.” Joining the Bavarians from Dynamo Dresden’s U-16 squad back in 2014, Mai is likely champing at the bit for first-team minutes after already making two appearances in the 2017/18 campaign.
Both players are considered to have exceptional passing ability and offer the physicality required for the rough-and-tumble style of play in the Bundesliga. With Mai’s contract set to expire in 2022 and Richards looking at free agency in 2023, the clock is ticking on how patient each player will — and can — be. Obviously, there is still time to develop, but both are making the case for consideration entering the planning phase for next season. Both players are incredibly talented and would likely have at least cracked the first-team at many other clubs.
Should they get that opportunity next season with Bayern Munich? Perhaps, or maybe an opportunity somewhere for first team football is the way to go. A short-term loan assignment to a destination where the players can play in the Bundesliga could be the answer to solve this conundrum or it could simply be time to let these two fill the potential roster needs on Säbener Strasse. That is an assessment that Flick, sporting director Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidzic, and the rest of the Bayern Munich player development team will have to make soon.
Clubs can always wait on talent, but sometimes talent just can’t wait for a club to come around. One thing is certain, however: If Richards and Mai remain with the club, the future of the back-line on Säbener Strasse looks extremely bright. Bayern Munich fans should feel confident in the talent the club has waiting in the wings.