Bayern Munich’s midfield was a force to be reckoned with in 2020. Over the span of ten months, Hansi Flick had the luxury of deploying three fearsome double-pivot combinations and was backed-up with a bench consisting of Corentin Tolisso, Michaël Cuisance and even Javi Martinez.
Along with Thomas Muller, the midfield tandem worked as a dynamic unit in breaking down defenses and forced turnovers through relentless pressing. Flick’s legion of midfielders successfully carried out his high-press tactics as Bayern recorded the most successful pressure percentage (34.7) in the top-5 leagues combined.
Here are the seasonal ratings of Bayern’s midfield engines:
Michaël Cuisance: B
Minutes played: 317
Goals scored: 1
The 2017/18 Borussia Mönchengladbach player of the year was the third Frenchman to sign for Bayern at the start of this season. After joining a roster occupied with midfield stars, Cuisance had to wait till matchday 31 to get his first start. Additionally, Cuisance racked up 358 minutes with Bayern II and scored two goals in 3. Liga.
When on field, the Frenchman pushed himself to the limit and looked to make a difference with the ball. However, in doing so, he often made poor judgements while playing the final ball. Regardless, the Strasbourg native was able to exhibit his technical qualities which convinced the board to sign him. With Adrein Fein returning from loan, Cuisance will have an additional competitor next season. He will look to showcase his talent as Muller or Goretzka’s understudy.
Corentin Tolisso: B-
Minutes played: 1,402
Goals scored: 4
Corentin Tolisso had an unfortunate comeback year. Coco received 10 out of 14 possible starts in the Hinrunde, but he eventually lost his place to Goretzka and Kimmich under Flick. In the second half of season, Tolisso acted as deputy central-midfielder and after suffering an ankle injury in training in April, the Frenchman played no further role in Bayern’s domestic campaign.
In his limited time, Coco showcased his distribution and smart positioning but lacked the dynamism and defensive awareness that is required from Flick’s players. With Goretzka nailed down as surefire starter, Tolisso will have to continue being backup midfielder but his willingness to fight for a spot next season speaks volumes about his character.
Leon Goretzka: A
Minutes played: 2,471
Goals scored: 8
Goretzka’s second season was full of learning and development. Up until March, Goretzka contributed to the team in clusters of matches. He delivered powerful performances in double-pivot after Flick’s appointment in November 2019 and in attacking-midfield after the winter break. However, in both periods, he lost his starting-XI berth.
Coming back from the pandemic break, Goretzka had completely transformed his body and improved on the deficiencies of his game. As a result, the Bavarian “Hulk” started Bayern’s all 15 games after the restart and delivered marvellous performances in the closing part of the treble-winning campaign. Deployed in a raumdeuter-ized defensive-midfield role, Bayern’s midfield buff carried out the special task of winning back possession for his team as well as providing lethal attacking thrusts with his off-the-ball movement. Goretzka has made a strong case of why he deserves to be a starter at his club.
Joshua Kimmich: A
Minutes played: 2,843
Goals scored: 5
Kimmich’s move to midfield initially raised some concerns from fans. Eight months after the start of the 2019/20 season, Kimmich completed his midfield evolution and proved why he will be Bayern and Germany’s next midfield general. Despite not having the qualities of a traditional defensive-midfielder, the young German acted as Bayern’s game administrator with his distribution and understanding of space.
On the defensive side of things, Kimmich displayed his intelligent pressing and indulged in gritty work. In attack, he used his quick decision-making and acute understanding of player movements to serve attackers with incisive deliveries. His notable performances in midfield came against Borussia Dortmund (both fixtures), Tottenham Hotspur and RB Leipzig.
In 90 minutes of play, Kimmich registered second most key-passes 2.34 and progressive passes (7.4) from the center of the pitch (FBref). He also recorded the highest number of pressures (655) after Thomas Muller (790). On top of everything else, Kimmich should thank his coach Hansi Flick. Flick created a system which brought the best out of his abilities and minimized the impact of his physical shortcomings by assigning equal responsibility to his tandem partner.
A stellar campaign in his first full season in midfield and at 25 years of age, it will be exciting to watch Kimmich make further improvements in his game.
Thiago Alcântara: A+
Minutes played: 2973
Goals scored: 3
Assigning anything less than A+ would be unfair to Bayern’s midfield-maestro. Just like some of his teammates, 2019/20 turned out to be Thiago’s career-best season.
Despite underperforming at the start of the season by his standards, it was Thiago’s individual brilliance that managed to keep things intact to an extent in Niko Kovac’s disorganized setup. After Flick’s appointment, Thiago slowly earned back his midfield spot and got back to his best playing in an effective system.
Everything from buildup to attack went through Thiago. The Spaniard recorded joint-highest touches (90) and was the most intended pass target (70 times) for Bayern, per 90. Sure, there were few sloppy giveaways in early stages of the season and in Champions League knockout rounds but taking into account the magnitude of importance and risk associated with the position he played, a deep-lying playmaker, Thiago made it all look easy with his one-man midfield qualities.
Throughout the season, the former Barca man silenced doubters by delivering sensational performances. Replying to questions over his lack of vertical-passing and ability to step-up against big teams, Thiago registered the highest progressive passes (8.64 per 90) and bossed the midfield against the likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain etc.
If his on-ball contributions weren’t enough, he also won the most tackles (2.42) and made highest interceptions (2.58) per 90 in his team. His clean ball-winning technique was on full display and the Spaniard demonstrated that he can be both elegant and aggressive in his playing style. This blend of attributes is the very reason why Thiago is the most-complete and the best midfielder in the world, right now.
Overall midfield rating: A
The board’s intelligent squad planning of acquiring players with diverse playing style paid-off as Bayern won the treble on the back of a strong showing from midfield core.
Besides the improvements made by the players, it’s worth noting how Flick analysed and learned from implementing various double-pivot combinations — Kimmich-Goretzka, Thiago-Goretzka and Thiago-Kimmich.
By the end of Bundesliga, the trio of Kimmich, Thiago and Goretzka had developed a harmonious understanding. Thus, even with key player Kimmich forced to play at right-back, Bayern’s ThiaGoretzka pivot delivered the highest level of performance excellence in the Champions League knockout stage.