Another football year has finally turned over, and Bayern Munich are wasting no time kicking off their preseason. Now in his third year as Bayern manager, Pep Guardiola will go back to work trying to prepare his club for another deep treble run.
Training has already begun on Wednesday, and Bayern will play their first set of matches in the Telekom Cup beginning July 12. Even though the first official match is a month away, there are still several narratives and storylines to watch over the next month.
1. Who is healthy?
After a season where fitness was a main storyline, health has to be a top storyline in the offseason. This narrative does not only apply to the tenured Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, but also key defenders such as David Alaba, Holger Badstuber, Medhi Benatia, and Javi Martínez. Benatia did not come into Bayern a fit player, and Martínez (as well as Thiago Alcantara) are still coming off long term injuries despite returning late in the season. Had the season gone a month longer, perhaps Alaba and Robben could have returned in time, but as it is both are coming of lengthy injuries as well. How these players progress – and how Guardiola handles their fitness – is crucial going to the season.
2. How does Guardiola use Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Joshua Kimmich?
There is certainly time for Bayern to acquire another midfielder, but right now Højbjerg and Kimmich are integral young players for Bayern's squad. While they may be young and inexperienced, Guardiola still needs to find a place for them, and it may not be in midfield. Højbjerg played a fair amount of wingback in the preseason, and was rather effective at it. Kimmich has already played right back in the German academy system, although that is not his best position. Kimmich and Højbjerg have the potential to replace Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but with the two veterans in the side, Guardiola is going to have to manufacture a way to get them minutes.
3. What is the best option on the left flank?
When Ribéry suffered his ankle injury in March, Guardiola did not have time nor the resources to adjust his tactics to fill the void. With a preseason and a new toy in Douglas Costa, he has a bit more time to move his pieces around. Mario Götze played in Ribéry's stead last season, but he appeared out of position, to the point where Guardiola could not use him in that position in the important matches. The interchange between Juan Bernat and David Alaba was majestic, but they didn't provide enough of a presence on the left side of the penalty area. What scheme Guardiola comes up with to solve that problem will be fascinating, for find a solution to problems like this is what makes him the manager he is.
4. What new tactics is Guardiola going to try?
For most teams, not a lot of narratives come out of the preseason, but one storyline stuck: the reintroduction of the three-back system. As much as that was part of fascinating tactical nuances, the formation switch could have simply been a vehicle to get as many midfielders and forwards on the field as possible. Still, it was a formation he used several times during the season, which provides room to wonder what Guardiola is going to try next. A direction he could go is experimenting more with two up front, trying to use Thomas Müller's skill set in the best way.
5. Who will be the youngster to break onto the scene?
Two years ago it was Julian Green, who went on to score 15 goals in 21 Regionalliga Bayern matches. Last year it was Gianluca Gaudino, who went on to play in Bayern's opener against Wolfsburg. Who will be the player to break through this season? One potential one could be Marco Stefandi, a winger who scored 19 goals in 26 appearances with the U17 team last season and was put on the call-up list for the Germany U17 national team. Guardiola will surely incorporate young players early in training, and another has the potential to emerge as the next Bayern youngster to watch.