As Bayern kept on winning during on the pitch, the contract extensions began piling up off it. Thomas Muller, Alphonso Davies, and Manuel Neuer all renewed their contracts with the club after the coronavirus hiatus. Two players that were undisputed starters last season, whose contracts will run in 2021, are David Alaba and Thiago.
Treble winner David Alaba is still hesitant, as his world-class performances at center-back give him leverage for a higher salary. Sport Bild contributor Matthias Brügelmann argues that Bayern has to be patient and be willing to add the additional funds. Then the chances for a David Alaba contract extension are good.
But what about Thiago? His contract has been rumored to be extended for weeks yet, so far, nothing has happened. Does Bayern need Thiago anymore? It is my opinion that because of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich’s excellent partnership in midfield, Thiago’s days as an undisputed starter at Bayern Munich are over. It is a theory that is shared by Brügelmann but one that will be extremely controversial amongst Bayern Munich supporters. Ultimately, I have two arguments as to why Thiago’s importance to the Bayern team hangs on a loose thread.
Thiago’s prospects for a future Bayern XI seem dim
First of all, there is no denying that Thiago is a good player. His technique and flair with the ball are nothing short of spectacular and might be the greatest I’ve ever seen from a Bayern player. He has proven this year that he can produce for Bayern for 90 minutes, as he did when he partnered with Kimmich against Chelsea in the Champions League.
But I believe Thiago will be less instrumental for Bayern in the future on account of his injury history and overall lack of consistency. Thiago is turning 30 in 2021 and is a player with an injury history. Last season was the first in his Bayern career that he was able to play for 30 games. Injuries can affect player development and can decrease a player’s quality especially if it happens late in a player’s career. If Thiago has another injury-plagued season, his fate could be similar to that of Javi Martinez.
On the pitch, a fit Thiago can produce jaw-dropping performances one week but lukewarm displays the next. Although many players did not impress during Kovac, Thiago’s Hinrunde was average. While he has improved under Flick, recent results, such as the triumph in front of an empty Signal Iduna park, have shown that a Kimmich-Goretzka partnership works just as well.
Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are both 25 years old and have yet to hit their peak, while Thiago has most likely seen his. As seen many times in football, there is a high possibility that the coach will rely more on two upcoming world-class players than a 30-year-old who has managed to play 30 league games in one season only once in his career.
Bayern’s prospects without Thiago
I wouldn’t be writing this article if not for the options Bayern has available when Thiago is not on the pitch. Kimmich, a player who started this season as a right-back, has been fantastic as a number 6 for Bayern. Often playing between the attack and defense, Kimmich has become Bayern’s distributor. As a deep-lying playmaker, Kimmich can drop back to the center-back position when Alaba pushes up from the back and he can sit back when Bayern has the ball further up the pitch allowing the other midfielder, such as Leon Goretzka, to join the attack.
Thiago himself has a similar playing style. When he and Kimmich were the midfield duo, both players were more aligned with each other on the pitch than when Kimmich partners with Leon Goretzka. I would argue that Goretzka makes Bayern’s midfield more dynamic. Goretzka demonstrated his ability to score goals for Bayern last season, as he managed to score eight times in the league.
While Thiago and Kimmich’s priorities lie further back in the midfield, Goretzka often joins the attack by largely drifting into the spaces behind Robert Lewandowski and Müller. In yesterday’s game against Frankfurt, Kimmich often dropped back, allowing Goretzka to move forward forming a 4-1-4-1. Defensively, Goretzka has improved greatly at Bayern. His new muscles combined with his height (1.89m) allow him to become a physical monster in the midfield and one that can compete with the strongest and tallest players.
In the upcoming season, I believe Goretzka and Kimmich will take priority over Thiago. Time will tell whether Bayern continue to play with two central midfielders and one attacking midfielder. Flick might play with a 4-3-3, for instance, consisting of three central midfielders. Also, knowing how long a football season is and the importance of rotating the starting XI, it is very likely Thiago will still have a role to play at Bayern.
Whether Thiago will extend his contract this summer is not something I am ready to predict. This summer transfer window will be the most unpredictable in our lifetime; hence any guess about his future will be hard to predict until it is set in stone.
Nonetheless, I believe that Thiago’s role will diminish. It is interesting that he still has not signed his contract extension. Is it because Thiago is worried that he might not be starting every game when he is fit?
Bayern needs a full squad, with at least two options for every position on the pitch. Flick’s tactical style is exciting and fun to watch, but it is also physically draining on the players. Bayern needs a good pool of midfielders to choose from. Considering how difficult it may be to bring in new players this summer, Bayern needs Thiago.
But I believe it is very likely he will act as a reliable backup option that Flick can use whenever injury or fatigue hits the team. Thiago’s days as an undisputed starter are over, and it remains to be seen if Thiago would accept that.