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Julian Nagelsmann explains why Bayern Munich benched João Cancelo

Wait, was that a back three?

VfB Stuttgart v FC Bayern München - Bundesliga Photo by Christina Pahnke - sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

Two players were notably on the bench in Bayern Munich’s 2-1 win over VfB Stuttgart on Saturday, which served also as the German Rekordmeister’s final tune-up game before concluding their Champions League knockout tie against Paris Saint-Germain. Both Benjamin Pavard and João Cancelo were excluded from Julian Nagelsmann’s starting XI.

Pavard has a one-game suspension to serve in the Champions League, so this was an opportunity for Josip Stanišić to get match practice in his place. However, the young Croatian defender’s inclusion over Manchester City loanee Cancelo could be an intriguing preview of how the Bavarians will welcome Paris on March 8.

“He’s handling the situation well,” Nagelsmann said after the game on Cancelo’s benching (via @iMiaSanMia). “I don’t have any impression that he’s breaking off. Stanišić is a bit more defensive and João has never played right center-back in a back 3.”

So: was that a back three? And will Bayern persist in such a setup for a second time against PSG? Some have scored Bayern’s lineup against Stuttgart as a 4-2-3-1, and though the formation numbers don’t really matter, Bayern do show distinctions when they roll out a true back four — as they have before, with Cancelo and Alphonso Davies as full-backs.

In this case, how the manager himself views the tactics is most revealing. With Stanišić as a wide center-back who occasionally ventures forward, it was Kingsley Coman who won the wing-back spot over Cancelo. It mirrors the crucial half-time substitution Nagelsmann made in the first leg against PSG, when Cancelo came off in order for Coman to provide more width in forward positions from the right. That tactical adjustment led to the game’s only goal, and Bayern’s slim 1-0 advantage heading into the second leg.

Nagelsmann’s top-choice XI for Paris is taking shape, then: with Alphonso Davies and Coman as wing-backs, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Müller as tens, and a three-man backline. It looks like Stanišić will get his chance to replicate his outstanding international performance from last year against Kylian Mbappé.

As for Cancelo, he’ll have to patiently wait his turn.

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