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The Ripples of the Mehdi Benatia Transfer to Bayern Munich

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Benatia is not just a Martínez-stopgap, his impact extending much deeper beneath the surface.

Claudio Villa

The four months of speculation has finally come to an end. Mehdi Benatia will be dawning a Bayern Munich jersey this season after his €26 million transfer from AS Roma.

Javi Martínez's ACL tear kickstarted a Bayern emphasis to sign the Moroccan defender, a player they scouted last spring. Benatia is not just a replacement for the 24-year-old Spaniard, though. The splash of his transfer will ripple much deeper in the squad, and has changed the complexion of the current Bayern team.

1. The three-man defense is here to stay

Another Pep Guardiola experiment will go into practice with the addition of Benatia. He not only accounts for the loss of Javi Martínez, but will also be another body in Bayern's defense while Rafinha is still injured. With the glut of world-class center back options now, Guardiola will want to utilize the system where he can deploy all of them consistently. That means rotating Benatia, Holger Badstuber, Jérôme Boateng, and Dante through the three center back spots. If Javi Martínez's recovery allows for him to play before seasons end, he will provide support for a back three that is more battle tested than a handful of preseason matches.

2. David Alaba and Philipp Lahm remain in midfield

The fact that Alaba and Lahm were playing in the back three showed how barren that position was in the preseason and against Wolfsburg due to injury and suspension. With the acquisition of Benatia takes them both out of a role that they are likely not suited for. Both used their pace to close down the ball, but neither had the unteachable height and frame to consistently play as a center back in the Bundesliga. The bigger question remains whether Alaba and Lahm will move to the flanks or if they will remain in the center. Regardless of their ultimate position, they will play in the meet layer of the Bayern sandwich.

3. Sebastian Rode and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are fighting for the same spot

The two showcased their potential in different ways, Rode playing as a box-to-box locomotive and Højbjerg playing as a Range rover on the flanks. The lack of bodies allowed them to share the pitch together, but with Benatia pushing players forward, the two will now likely have to fight for the same spot on the field, whether that is as a wingback or in the center of the park. To make matters worse, they could be framed as interim options to Bastian Schweinsteiger in the long run which, while predestined, is discouraging for someone trying to break into the starting XI.

4. Sami Khedira is less likely to return to Germany

The prospect of reuniting Germany's World Cup holding midfield could turn into a fairy tale. The possibility exists for Bayern to bring Khedira back to south east Germany, but a team reluctant to buy a player before Martínez got injured is probably not going to go out of their way to acquire a second player. The Real Madrid midfielder is already linked with a move elsewhere, AS eporting Tuesday that Fiorentina are interested in adding a second German to their squad. Once Schweinsteiger and Thiago Alcantara return to full fitness, Bayern's midfield will be even more packed than it was last season.

Imune to Change
  • As one would expect, Benatia's signing does not affect the front three in the slightest. Guardiola will use a combination of wingers and a striker regardless of where the other seven field players are. Bayern have only scored more than two goals against DFB-Pokal opponent Preußen Münster in the past month, and Benatia's impact will unlikely be on the attacking end.
  • Even though Benatia changes the midfield set up of Bayern, the one player it does not affect is Gianluca Gaudino. He is one of the better playmakers in Bayern's squad at the moment, so the decision regarding his immediate squad future will likely be due to his development rather than the personnel. He dazzled in his debut performance against VfL Wolfsburg, and that might be enough to convince Guardiola to give him a longer look before other midfielders come back healthy.
  • The Benatia situation is not one where an addition must lead to a subtraction. The current speculated subtraction is Xherdan Shaqiri, who has interest from both Juventus and Atlético Madrid. Shaqiri's future is tied to Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, and Mario Götze, and the ripple of Benatia's transfer splash does not extend that far up the pitch.