Okay, so the week started with some horrible news. Mr. Bayern himself, Thomas Müller, has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss out on Saturday’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt. Judging from the fact that Bayern Munich haven’t won at Frankfurt in the past three years, and are currently on a two game losing streak to Die Adler, the outlook does not look good as of now.
But whatever the outlook is, we got a game to play, and Müller will not be there. There’s no getting around it. So how exactly will Bayern line up in Frankfurt? This shouldn’t be too big a deal, considering it’s just one player missing (apart from the long term absentees), but Thomas Müller is not a player you can simply replace with another. What’s more, coach Julian Nagelsmann has been known to switch up formations a lot nowadays, so this makes it even harder to predict a solid lineup. With that being said, let’s try to make our best guess.
Option A. 4-2-3-1
The 4-2-3-1 that so many fans (myself included) were yearning for made an appearance against Greuther Fürth last Sunday, and it wasn’t pretty. But maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. Let’s see how this could look.
As per a kicker report, Jamal Musiala, who recently recovered from a COVID bout himself, was likely to start against Frankfurt. The logical answer would be to slot Musiala into Müller’s usual spot at the 10, right behind Robert Lewandowski. Flank him with two out of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané, and Kingsley Coman, put Marcel Sabitzer and Joshua Kimmich behind them, and presto! After all, Hansi Flick utilized Musiala as a 10 when Müller was out back then, and it worked fine. Remember the Lazio game in the Champions League?
But this is Nagelsmann we’re talking about. His 4-2-3-1 is quite different from Flick’s, alternating between a 3-4-2-1 at times. This begs the question: can Musiala play that delicate role of attacking midfielder/auxiliary striker that Müller does so well? Hard to say. If not, Nagelsmann could opt to start all three wingers at once, allowing either Gnabry or Coman to play a slightly more advanced role than usual, and playing Sané in a more central, playmaking role. Of course, this is assuming that Coman is fit to play; he wasn’t in the squad against Fürth due to muscular problems.
Outlook: Ulreich - Pavard, Upamecano, Süle, Hernández - Kimmich, Sabitzer - Gnabry, Musiala, Sané - Lewandowski
Ulreich - Pavard, Upamecano, Süle, Hernández - Kimmich, Sabitzer - Gnabry, Sané, Coman - Lewandowski
Option B. 3-2-4-1 or 3-2-5
Ah, the almost suicidal, no wing-back back three. It’s provided a fair few heart attacks to Bayern fans around the world. Surprisingly enough, though, it’s also provided a few decent results. Considering the fact that the team showed improvement throughout the last few games when the formation was used, it would be foolish to discount it from the realm of possibilities. Plus, this is Nagelsmann. He loves back threes so much, he calls his wife that.
Now, the defense and half the midfield builds themselves. Three out of Bayern’s four available center backs will man the defense, while Kimmich will patrol the midfield. But wait! How does the rest of the team fit in?
Let’s assume that all three wingers will start as per usual (again, provided that Coman is fit). That leaves one spot in the attacking line, and one spot next to Kimmich. Musiala and Sabitzer are the clear candidates to fill those two spots. The question is, who fits in where? The aforementioned kicker report suggested that in light of Corentin Tolisso’s injury, Musiala was the prime candidate to start alongside Kimmich in midfield. That was before Müller’s COVID infection, though. Does this mean Musiala moves up into the attacking line, with Sabitzer taking his spot in midfield? Or vice versa? We’ve rarely seen Sabitzer in a highly advanced role after he arrived at Bayern, so it’s not that likely that Nagelsmann would start him right behind Lewandowski. But we’ve also seen him start as a winger against Fürth, so it could be a possibility. A small one, but still.
Outlook: Ulreich - Pavard, Süle, Hernández - Kimmich, Sabitzer - Gnabry, Musiala, Sané, Coman - Lewandowski
Option C. 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2
I know, I know, who in their right mind would play twin strikers at Bayern? Well, it actually happened a lot more recently than expected. Let’s go back to the Fürth game again. The second half saw Nagelsmann introduce Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in lieu of Omar Richards, playing the Cameroonian striker alongside Lewandowski. Müller slotted in right behind and between those two, and lo and behold, it resulted in four goals. Choupo was pretty productive in that role, bagging an assist and a goal. Of course, just because it worked against the worst team in the Bundesliga doesn’t guarantee that it’ll work against a much stronger Eintracht, but there’s also no reason it shouldn’t work again, right?
Again, either Musiala or Sabitzer could play that playmaker role behind the two strikers, with the other one partnering Kimmich in midfield. I’m going to assume that Musiala will play in front, just because he’s a more attack-oriented player than Sabitzer.
Outlook: Ulreich - Pavard, Süle, Hernández - Gnabry, Kimmich, Sabitzer, Sané - Musiala - Lewandowski, Choupo-Moting
So there you have it! Three brilliant…okay, not bad…okay, adequate…okay, bottom of the barrel options to replace our beloved horse whisperer. There’s no guarantee that any of them will work, of course. But Bayern have to play Eintracht without Müller one way or another, and these options seem to be the best that Nagelsmann can field.
Hopefully whatever strategy and formation that Nagelsmann comes up with is enough to avenge the last two defeats to Eintracht. And if it isn’t, maybe that 10th consecutive title just wasn’t meant to be…no, don’t say that.
Fingers crossed for a Bayern win, and of course, for Müller’s speedy recovery. Let’s hope he’s available against Leverkusen next week, so that we won’t have to write a sequel to this piece.