Things are as busy as ever in the offices at Säbener Straße! In a move that didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar just several of weeks ago, Bayern Munich have successfully concluded the transfer of Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus. The 22-year-old Dutch CB had reportedly been in Bayern’s sights as early as age 17, and now — five years later — he’s here! Coming with a significant transfer fee (and wages to match), De Ligt figures to be a regular feature in Bayern’s defense for the foreseeable future, and a flurry of additional moves look to reshape Bayern’s backline for years to come.
In addition to the signing of Matthis de Ligt, Bayern Munich added another former Ajax player to the defense in right-back Noussair Mazraoui. Going the other way, we’ve also already seen center-back Niklas Süle depart on a free transfer to Borussia Dortmund, and Lars Lukas Mai has been sold to Swiss club FC Lugano (admittedly, Mai was likely not a large factor in transfer/squad planning). And for the moment, center-back Chris Richards is in the mix at Bayern after a loan spell at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
A number of additional moves could continue to reshuffle Bayern’s defensive ranks: reports have suggested at various times that any of Benjamin Pavard, Omar Richards, Bouna Sarr, and Tanguy Nianzou could all potentially depart the club.
So, where do things stand? Let’s take a look at each position in the defense.
- Alphonso Davies (21): Davies is — when healthy — perhaps the safest bet to hold down a starting position in the defense. While he missed some time last season due to COVID-19 and a subsequent battle with myocarditis, the Canadian remains relatively unchallenged to start at left-back.
- Lucas Hernandez (26): While primarily viewed as a center-back, Lucas is likely first in line following Davies at left-back, too. The left-footed defender has featured heavily at left-back for the French national team, and has been deployed as a LB or left-sided CB in a back-three for Bayern, too. I can’t imagine he would start over Alphonso Davies in many situations, although in a back-three you may see both Davies and Lucas sharing the pitch.
- Potential Incoming Transfer (??): With Omar Richards departing for Nottingham Forest, there’s been talk that Bayern could look to add an another option at left-back. With Davies more or less cemented as a starter and a World Cup-winning backup in Lucas Hernandez, any incoming LB would likely be for depth, rather than to challenge for a starting role.
- Lucas Hernandez (26): With the departures of David Alaba and Jerome Boateng, the Bavarians’ record-signing (€80.00m) cemented a spot as a regular in the defense last season — both as the left-back and left-sided CB in a back-four and also with shifts at all three CB positions in a back-three. Whether or not Lucas has lived up to his price tag or if he has been the “defensive leader” the club had hoped for him to be are debatable, but his defensive skills and versatility have him set to feature regularly at the back next season.
- Matthijs de Ligt (22): The big new signing may well find himself walking straight from airport to pitch in a starting role for the Bavarians. The Dutchman was a long-time target for the club and their significant investment in the player suggests that he will play a key role in Bayern’s defense for years to come. Some would say that De Ligt underwhelmed after making his €85.50m move to Juventus, but you don’t spend money on a player unless you’re totally convinced by them. Nor do you spend such a sum just to have them sit on the bench, so expect the young and talented defender to play early and play often.
- Dayot Upamecano (23): Having just joined last season for a fee of €42.50m, the Frenchman had a somewhat rocky start to his career with FC Bayern. While showing glimpses of the talent that earned him his big move, Upamecano also had a number of noticeable errors and shaky moments that perhaps led the club to further invest in the center-back position. Still, manager Julian Nagelsmann knows the player well and knows what he is capable of, so I would expect him to feature fairly often, though likely dropping to third-choice in the pecking order.
- Benjamin Pavard (26): With the signing of Noussair Mazraoui, Pavard likely finds himself on the outside looking in for a starting position in defense. Primarily a center-back prior to joining Bayern, Pavard may find himself a backup option at both CB and RB for the coming season. I’m not sure he’ll start at either position terribly often when everyone else is fit. There have been conflicting reports about Pavard being a potential sale candidate as well, with some suggesting he may be up for sale while others have suggested Nagelsmann would prefer to see him stay in Munich.
- Tanguy Nianzou (20): The once highly-touted youngster has also been rumored to potentially be a candidate for a sale this transfer window. While still quite young with plenty of time to develop ahead of him, Nianzou only played ~900 minutes last season and was not particularly convincing in most outings. Barring injury to the players ahead of him, he may have a hard time getting meaningful minutes this season.
- Chris Richards (22): “Texas” returns from a relatively successful loan spell with Hoffenheim. Richards has had rumors of a move away from Bayern swirling around him for some time now; with interest reportedly coming from multiple clubs in Spain, England, France, and Germany, the young American seems to be a relatively hot commodity. It’s been suggested that Bayern would expect a fairly sizeable fee of €15m to move him, and may desire to insert a buy-back clause into any potential sale as well. Like Nianzou, it’s hard to see a clear path to significant minutes at Bayern at the moment.
- Noussair Mazraoui (24): Joining on a free transfer from Ajax, the Moroccan international checks all the boxes for what Bayern has been looking for in a right-back for some time now. Perhaps he will take a bit of time to acclimate, but it would surprise me if Mazraoui isn’t our starting right-back sooner than later.
- Benjamin Pavard (26): Having been Bayern’s primary starting RB for three seasons now, Pavard likely sees his role usurped by a newcomer in the more attacking-savvy Mazraoui. While Pavard’s interpretation of the role is quite different from Mazraoui’s, he is still a reliable option and — provided he does not leave Munich — will likely still find plenty of opportunity to play at both CB and RB in various scenarios.
- Bouna Sarr (30): Perhaps one of Bayern’s more perplexing transfers in recent memory - nobody seems to want to take responsibility for his signing, and while we’d seemingly like to sell him it appears nobody wants to take on his sizeable salary to facilitate a move out. I suspect Sarr’s chief role in the coming season will be working to help integrate Sadio Mané, rather than much of any role at right-back.
- Josip Stanišić (22): The young Croat has been a bit of a Swiss Army Knife for Bayern, appearing at all three of center-back, right-back, and left-back for the senior and youth teams. Perhaps the worst you can say for Stanišić is that he has been solid, albeit unspectacular at times, which is not such a bad thing. He will likely be viewed as a depth option all across the defense for the coming season.
- Joshua Kimmich (27): While primarily playing in midfield as of late, we are not so far removed from a time when Kimmich was our starting right-back. He was once even seen as an option at center-back (Danke, Pep!). Kimmich will almost certainly be starting in midfield — where he prefers — but could rotation and/or the addition of Ryan Gravenberch and potentially Konrad Laimer see Kimmich feature in defense again? Probably not, but I guess it’s a possibility, technically.
Projected Starting Backline(s):
Julian Nagelsmann has shown a willingness to deploy both a back-three and back-four defense depending on the situation — both in his time at Bayern and throughout his career. With that in mind, I’d expect to see a starting back-four of Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernandez, Matthijs de Ligt, and Noussair Mazraoui. Should he choose to deploy a back three, I would imagine it to be Lucas Hernandez, Dayot Upamecano, and Matthijs de Ligt as center-backs, along with Alphonso Davies and Noussair Mazraoui as wingbacks/wide options. Of course, you can only play 11 players, so including both Davies and Mazraoui at wingback would have to come at the expense of of one or more of our attacking players.
So, with all that said, a few questions for you - the reader:
- What is your ideal starting backline for the coming season?
- Would you prefer to see Bayern line up with a back-three or a back-four?
- Which attacker (if any) would you sacrifice in order to accommodate Davies and/or Mazraoui as wingbacks?
- Which players would you like to see added, sold, or loaned out? (C. Richards, Nianzou, Sarr, Pavard, etc.)