Bayern Munich were dealt with an immense blow when Benjamin Pavard was injured in training on Sunday. The club’s medical department has given its official diagnosis as “a ligament injury on the left tarsus.” While there is no exact time frame given for Pavard’s absence (Sky’s Torben Hoffmann has reported three weeks), it seems certain that Bayern will have to cope without the world champion for at least a couple of games. Needless to say, with the Champions League looming on the horizon, this is not good news for the treble chasers.
That said, for better or worse, Hansi Flick has a number of options he can juggle. BFW takes a look at a few less likely ones before moving on to the most obvious card.
Hear me out.
Like it or not, Odriozola is Bayern’s one and only player whose preferred position is right-back. All of Bayern’s other options have proven themselves worthy elsewhere on the field, while Odriozola was signed as a right-back and has only played there for Die Roten. This is the advantage that Odriozola has: the familiarity he has with the position. He has played as a right-back throughout his career (which admittedly is not that long yet), and it may be easier to play him than to forcibly acclimate other players to an unfamiliar position.
However, Odriozola’s performances for Bayern have not been impressive whatsoever. He only made a grand total of four(!) appearances since coming to Munich, half of those coming off the bench, and one of his two starts being in a deadwood game against Wolfsburg. In those games, he very rarely sent in any decent balls or made any good runs, being caught out of position much too often and being in the wrong place at the wrong time one too many times. It would therefore be very surprising to see Odriozola start against Chelsea, but he is still an option because of reasons that will be explored in a bit.
Jerome Boateng/Lucas Hernandez
An even less likely option than Odriozola is Boateng, who, to be fair, has had his fair share of games at right-back. In fact, he played as a right-back for Manchester City and Germany in the past, even playing four out of seven of Germany’s World Cup winning games in 2014 on the right. Of course, that was forever ago, and the present Boateng undoubtedly plays best as a center-back. What’s more, Boateng has proven to be outstanding in the center of defense over the past few months, and it would be imprudent to move him out of a position he is excelling in to a position he hasn’t played in years.
Lucas Hernandez is another player who can play as a center-back or fullback, and he is a pacey defender as well, which may make him a plausible option to fill Pavard’s gap. However, he is also a left-footed defender, and plays on the left of defense when he does play as a fullback. Considering there have been very few reported cases of left-footed right-backs in modern football, if at all, Hernandez is without a doubt the least likely option to start at right-back against Chelsea in two weeks.
We now move to the aforementioned “most obvious card.” Kimmich would be the go-to option to fill in at right-back in Pavard’s absence, having been Bayern’s starting right-back for two years until his switch to midfield.
Among Bayern’s current candidates for right-back, Kimmich is easily the most proven. In his first season as right-back, he recorded seventeen assists in all competitions, and added an extra nineteen in the following season. He has also starred in the role for his country as well, becoming Germany’s starting right-back when they reached the semifinals of Euro 2016. While his defensive deficiencies became evident in the 2018 World Cup, he has shown improvement in that area as well, firmly holding down a Champions League-winning Liverpool attack at Anfield in 2019. Not many will be questioning Kimmich’s ability as a right-back, with him being touted as one of the best right-backs in the world and the rightful heir of Philipp Lahm.
So why would playing Kimmich as a right-back cause any problems? Well, for starters, Kimmich has not played as a right-back for quite some time, not since Bayern played SC Freiburg last December, in fact. While it may not take Kimmich that long to adjust, him being his usual versatile self, it could potentially cause problems elsewhere. Kimmich has been outstanding in defensive midfield this season, and he has built up a formidable partnership with Leon Goretzka in Bayern’s last few steps to the double. Pulling Kimmich out of said partnership may be detrimental to Bayern’s midfield, especially when they are in red-hot form at the moment.
Kimmich is also at risk of being suspended. He is currently one booking away from sitting out Bayern’s next game, and should Bayern advance to the quarterfinals, Kimmich’s presence will be absolutely necessary when facing stronger opposition. Bear in mind that Kimmich was also suspended for the second leg against Liverpool last season after a brilliant performance in the first leg, and he was sorely missed in the embarrassing 1-3 home defeat to the eventual European champions. This, of course, does not have anything to do with where Kimmich plays, but if he plays at all against Chelsea. Do Bayern take a chance and rest Kimmich, considering they have a 3-0 aggregate lead, or do they still go all out? Judging from Hansi Flick’s player selections so far, the latter seems much more likely, but it is something that cannot be ignored.
As it stands right now, Kimmich still remains the number one candidate to start at right-back. However, in these circumstances, every single option must be explored. Not just because Bayern need a stopgap for the Champions League, but also because Pavard’s injury may be more severe than expected. If it is, he is at risk of missing the start of the coming season, which is only just around six weeks away. Like it or not, Flick will need to explore and devise backup plans, for the sake of his team and its results. It will be very interesting to see how Bayern line up against Chelsea in two weeks, and who will play on the right side of defense. But perhaps things are not as dire as they seem. Flick has not disappointed yet, even when key players were injured and/or suspended. Bayern’s fans may therefore be justified in having a little optimism going into the Champions League, but of course, all remains to be seen.
Here’s hoping Flick and Bayern devise another winning formula, and of course, that Benjamin Pavard makes a full and speedy recovery!