Well, it's happened. Bayern Munich are down both first and second-choice left-backs in the wake of Alphonso Davies’ scary head injury that sent him to the hospital during last weekend's Der Klassiker vs Borussia Dortmund. Lucas Hernández, who is of course also a first-choice center-back, is also out on a long-term injury — the extent to which is disputed — and Omar Richards, last year's backup, was sold in the summer transfer window.
What's a Rekordmeister to do? The run of games leading up to this winter's FIFA World Cup is not getting any lighter, and the Bavarians have both a Bundesliga mountain to climb and a tough Champions League group to finish navigating.
We asked a selection of our writers for the short- and long-term outlook — and look forward to your thoughts & comments as well.
I think 22-year-old Josip Stanišić should man the LB spot and play as an inverted wing-back while Kingsley Coman provides the width on the left as a winger. That is the solution Julian Nagelsmann came up with against Dortmund after Alphonso Davies was helped off the field and it should continue to be used. It manages to make good use of Coman’s tendency to drift wide and Stanisic’s versatile defensive strengths in the middle of the park.
The obvious concern would be over Coman’s ability to start a match so soon after coming back from injury, but considering he will sit out Sunday’s match vs Freiburg on account of being suspended, it’s worth the risk. Of course, it would be interesting to possibly see Mathys Tel brought in if Coman is not fit enough.
We heard lots of chatter throughout preseason on Nagelsmann was deploying Paul Wanner at LB. He’s one of the only left-footed players in the squad, and he’s been praised for his crossing ability from the wide positions.
Of course, there’s a big difference between preseason training and competitive senior matches. It would certainly be trial by fire for the youngster, but if he’s as talented as our bosses seem to think, perhaps this is the time for his lucky break. As they say, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I would not expect a ton of defensive contribution from Wanner in this role, but frankly we could probably stand to add a bit more creativity in the attack, so even if it comes at the cost of some stability at the back it’s probably a wash. I’m generally of the mind that it’s better for your young talents’ development to get on the pitch whenever possible (even if “out of position”), and playing at LB provides Wanner with a clear pathway to more minutes.
And who knows: maybe in the near future it won’t be seen as “out of position” for Wanner! It wasn’t that long ago that Louis van Gaal decided to try out a young winger named Bastian Schweinsteiger in an unusual role in central midfield, and, well, you know the rest.
In the words of The Irish Guy, “Let’s go hipster, then!”: Kingsley Coman should be Alphonso Davies’ understudy. Now before you get at me in the comments, hear me out: even if Lucas Hernández is fit, we can’t push him out wide because he works best in the heart of the defense.
Earlier it was said that Coman could provide width on the left flank to complement Stanišić, so why not go the extra mile and make Coman the outright left-back? Most of us know that our wingers have improved in terms of tracking back and defending after Hansi Flick’s tenure as Bayern coach; Coman and Leroy Sané are the prime examples for this. Coman is just as fast as Davies so pace wouldn’t be an issue, and is also physical and can catch forwards on the break (ask Karim Adeyemi).
With the likes of Coman, Sané, Serge Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala fighting for two spots, it’s obvious that some players will have to sit out. Coman as a left-back can allow the coach to shift to a back three as Coman goes forward provided that Benjamin Pavard is on the right, who can slide into the center.
If you’re still not convinced, let me remind you that even Marcel Sabitzer was deployed in the place of Davies. Coman couldn’t be any worse, so I say we give him a chance.
Now speaking of Marcel Sabitzer — why not?
Needs must comes first to mind. For the other three positions in the back-line, Bayern have four players right now, and one of them, Matthijs de Ligt, is dealing with a muscular issue. It's razor-thin in defense at the moment. I do like the idea of Stanišić getting minutes — but he's also the de-facto backup right-back now as well, where he's even better, and he should get time regardless.
There are big tests upcoming — games where you need your top eleven ballers on the field. Bayern's logjam in midfield provides that opportunity. Sabitzer has already featured dropping into the LB spot for Davies, and Nagelsmann has shown a build-up shape that can ask both fullbacks to invert into midfield. So: why not a midfielder?
Plus, was his left-back cameo last year that bad, individually? We should remember it came during Bayern's chaotically poor spell, in his first year with the team, and without the benefit of much rhythm over the course of the year. Sabi has reminded us of his qualities, and it could be a different story.
Depending on how things go, Bayern might have to consider reinforcements. VfB Stuttgart are deep in the relegation zone, and Borna Sosa is still there. And consider the longer term: all seven back-line players are probably going to play in the World Cup. Not a position group to go light in coming out of January.
There’s our thoughts — please let us know yours!