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Analysis: How Benjamin Pavard struggled against Mainz and why Bayern Munich will support him

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Benjamin Pavard’s performance against Mainz 05 highlighted his ongoing struggles, while head coach Hansi Flick promised to help him find his form.

FC Bayern Munich - FSV Mainz 05
The scene when Mainz’s Jonathan Burkardt scored. Pavard simply could not catch him.
Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

It is no secret that Benjamin Pavard played a game to forget versus Mainz last week. Making his first start at right-back in three weeks, Pavard suffered the ignominy of a half-time substitution followed by an indirect rebuke from coach Hansi Flick himself, who said afterward that Pavard’s replacement, Joshua Kimmich, had “shown how it’s done.”

Pavard’s performance vs Mainz

Reviewing the game, it is not hard to see where Flick saw deficits in Pavard’s game, both on offense and on defense. Defensively, Pavard was caught out too far up the pitch at least three times. Unlike his roadrunner counterpart Alphonso Davies, again and again Pavard simply could not race back in time.

Pavard was directly responsible for a dangerous break by Mainz already in the 5th minute of the game. As one of Mainz’s center-backs eluded pressure from Leroy Sané, Pavard inexplicably charged forward, leaving a vast open space behind him into which Mainz played the ball. With Pavard out of the picture, Jerome Boateng made a mad dash in vain to catch Jonathan Burkardt — fortunately Manuel Neuer saved the shot.

Pavard (circled) tries to stop forward momentum as Alphonso Davies has already turned around. A Mainz player helpfully points to the open space vacated by Pavard.

But similar scenes recurred in the 24th, 31st and 32nd, and 40th minutes. It was indeed in the 32nd minute that Burkardt scored on such a break, after Boateng went down on conflict too easily while Pavard could do no more than run after the play (as seen in the lead picture of this article). This time Burkardt scored.

While Pavard’s defense left him open to specific criticism in these scenes, his offensive woes were perhaps less obvious, if only because he contributed so little offense at all. The dangerous scene for Mainz in the 24th minute mentioned above was in fact a byproduct of one of Pavard’s better attempts: he made a decent scoop pass forward to Thomas Müller, leading to an attack. But Pavard then stayed so far up the pitch that he left Alaba exposed to a counter-attack, which Kimmich could only just snuff out by winning a foul.

Pavard (circled) is caught forward again and unable to race back. David Alaba heads off the attacker, while Joshua Kimmich races back to intercept him.

Pavard made another somewhat promising lob pass in the 36th minute, leading to a good shot by Robert Lewandowski, but that was roughly all we saw offensively from the Frenchman beyond a few harmless exchanges with Sané. What we did not see: the kind of aggressive, overlapping runs and crosses into the box that we expect of our outside-backs as Bayern fans.

Flick pledges support

Flick’s post-match criticism unleashed a wave of speculation that Bayern Munich could soon seek a new right-back over the winter break. Although the club will definitely not make any such winter purchases, Pavard’s status seems very uncertain. Flick duly addressed questions about him at the press conference ahead of Bayern’s Friday clash with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

“Like many players, Benjamin played a very good Rückrunde in 2020,” Flick said, “Until his injury, he was one of our most consistent players and developed very well. After his injury, he was available again relatively quickly.”

Flick’s diagnosis of Pavard’s problems was exactly what one would expect: “He currently lacks the readiness to march up and down the sideline.” Hence, Pavard is too timid in possession, too slow to track back on defense.

But Flick suggested that Pavard’s recovery from injury and overall fitness may bear much of the blame: “He is perhaps not totally at 100%. He’s also missing training sessions,” Flick said. In the meantime, Flick stressed that he and his staff see themselves responsible for getting Pavard back on track: “He is receiving full support, like everyone else,” Flick said. “He will come out of this valley again; that is also our job as a coaching team.”

That is presumably also the view of the club toward one of their best players of the remarkable 2019/2020 season.