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Season player ratings: Bayern Munich’s defenders

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Bayern Munich boasts the best offensive defense in the world. In the first part of the series, we take a look at how our defenders performed in the 2019/20 season.

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Bayern Munich and Hansi Flick have revolutionized the art of defending this season. After inheriting a provisional defense in November 2019, Flick took Jürgen Klopp’s “defending is the first offensive step” principle into account and transformed Bayern’s back line into the best offensive defense in the world.

Conceding an average of 1.2 goals per game in the Hinrunde, Bayern’s defense left a lot to be desired. However, coming back from the winter break, the team made massive improvements as they reduced their goals conceded per game to 0.76 in the Rückrunde (FBref). Apart from performing their defensive duties, the back line also played a prominent part in attack. It’s not for nothing that defenders assisted 26% of Bayern’s total assisted goals this season (32 out of total 124 assists).

Let’s have a look at the individual campaigns of our defenders:


Goalkeepers:

Manuel Neuer: A

Minutes played: 4590
Goals conceded: 49
Clean sheets: 22

After being sidelined by injury for almost a year, FC Bayern captain Manuel Neuer regained his confidence in Niko Kovac’s first season and re-established himself as the world’s best goalkeeper this season. Throughout the season, Bayern’s resident superman helped his team keep possession of the ball by acting as an extra defender and heroically swept up balls whenever the defense was bypassed. A major reason Flick wasn’t afraid to implement a high defensive line was because he had faith in Neuer’s ability. He was a commanding presence in goal and needless to say FC Bayern are in the safe hands of “ManWall” Neuer for at least three more seasons.

Sven Ulreich: N/R

Minutes played: 90

Goal conceded: 1

Clean sheets: 0

Ulreich may not have received a performance-based grade due to lack of minutes but he gets an A+ for his professionalism. Bayern couldn’t have asked for a better backup goalkeeper than Sven Ulreich.


Fullbacks:

Alphonso Davies: A+

Minutes played: 3422
Goal scored: 3
Assists: 9

Alphonso Davies’ first season as starter has been virtually perfect. At just 19 years of age, Davies established himself as a key member in Flick’s treble winning team. His ability to win defensive duels and his impressive take-on rate make him one of the best left-backs in the world. He registered the highest successful pressures percentage (42.3%) and attempted the most number of tackles (101) for his team. Son Heung-min, Jadon Sancho, and Mason Mount were all pocketed by the teenage wonderkid. Above all, his jolly and hardworking nature have made him a fan-favorite.

Benjamin Pavard: A-

Minutes played: 3980
Goal scored: 4
Assists: 6

Benjamin Pavard was the epitome of consistency in his first season at Bayern. He joined the club as a backup to Joshua Kimmich but after Kimmich’s permanent move to midfield, Pavard made the right-back position his own. He stabilized the back with excellent positioning, made efficient attacking runs down the right flank, and provided a threat from set-piece situations.

Joshua Kimmich: B+

Minutes played: 1241
Goal scored: 1
Assists: 6

While Kimmich primarily played in midfield this season, he accumulated enough minutes to be graded as right-back here. In the absence of Pavard, Kimmich produced stellar UEFA Champions League performances in the knockout rounds as he registered 14 key passes and had a hand in 5 goals, including the assist to the winning goal of the finale. A member of the team council, Kimmich proved himself an elite player in two positions.

Álvaro Odriozola: N/R

Minutes played: 180
Goal scored: 0
Assists: 1

With Pavard staying fit throughout the Bundesliga campaign, Álvaro Odriozola didn’t get enough minutes to earn a grade. However, Odriozola (aka GOAT-riozola!) achieved the unachievable as he won 5 major trophies in one season with Bayern and Real Madrid.


Center-backs:

Niklas Sule: B-

Minutes played: 1153
Goal scored: 0
Assists: 1

Niklas Sule’s most notable performance came in the biggest game of the season, when he replaced Jerome Boateng at the 25th minute mark of the UCL final. He displayed his superior man-marking skills as he was able to neutralize Neymar in the second half of the game. Having fully recovered from the anterior cruciate ligament injury that he suffered in September 2019, Süle will look to bring much-needed flexibility and pace to the defensive spine next season.

Lucas Hernandez: C-

Minutes played: 1129
Goal scored: 0
Assists: 2

As a result of the individual brilliance of Davies and David Alaba coupled with Flick’s understandable reluctance to change a perfectly working system, Lucas Hernandez struggled to make a major breakthrough this season. Hernandez’s best qualities lie in the ball-winning period of the game, but since Bayern likes to keep possession of the ball for a majority of the match, their system demands incredible ball-playing skills from center-backs. Hernandez will have to improve in this area of the game. For now, Bayern’s record signing remains in a difficult spot.

Javi Martinez: C

Minutes played: 1023
Goal scored: 0
Assists: 0

Javi’s performance as deputy center-back after Flick’s appointment was vital in steadying the ship. However by the end of the first half, opponents were able to capitalize on Javi’s lack of pace. He received only one start in the second half of the season. If the reports are to be believed, he will most likely depart the club in the upcoming days. It’s a shame that except under Jupp Heynckes and Niko Kovac, he received few opportunities in his true position in midfield. Nonetheless, Javi will leave as Bayern great and he may well be the first player in history to start and end his career at a club with a treble triumph.

Jérôme Boateng: B+

Minutes played: 2795
Goal scored: 0
Assists: 2

For a player whose departure looked imminent last summer, Boateng made remarkable improvements under Flick and played a crucial role in Bayern’s treble-winning campaign. In response to physical regression over the years due to injuries and ageing, Boateng wonderfully altered his game to deliver performance at the highest level. He remains one of the best ball-distributors of the game. As someone who has been considered “finished” since 2017, Boateng successfully proved his doubters wrong and thumped Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the Champions League quarter-finals. He brings invaluable experience to the roster and, it’s needless to say, Bayern would be better off going into the 2020/21 season with Boateng in squad.

David Alaba: A

Minutes played: 3692
Goal scored: 2
Assists: 2

Very few players in the world possess Alaba’s ball-playing skills and game intelligence. One of the finest readers of the game, Bayern’s “Black Beckenbauer” perfectly fitted into Flick’s vertical football philosophy. The modern libero registered the most passes into the final third (345) and passes with most progressive distance (19157 yards) by an outfield player in the squad. His ability to act as an extra playmaker was of paramount importance and his partnership with Davies wreaked havoc on Bayern’s opponents. He assumed a leading role on the pitch and looks destined to become Bayern’s next captain.


Overall defensive rating: B+

The defense doesn’t get an A as opponents were able to expose it with long balls by the end of the season. Nevertheless, Hansi Flick inherited a makeshift backline and converted it into treble-winning defense. Flick urged his players to take risks and instilled self-belief in them. With Sule looking absolutely fit, Flick’s backline will have an easier time overcoming opponent’s threat next season.