With the Bundesliga opener a week away, it looks like it is time to start wondering how our team is going to play this season. In the transfer market, we’ve bolstered our team with the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro, Mario Mandzukic, Dante, Mitchell Weiser and Tom Starke. Finally, the signing of the Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez seems to be bogged in semantics in negotiations, yet very close to being completed, so this article will be written on the assumption that Martinez will be wearing all red by Monday.
(note: Neuer is left out of this discussion because he simply… is)
Firstly, let’s look at the way we mostly played last season.
Kroos and Müller were the main interchangeables in this lineup, with Kroos dropping deeper while Schweinsteiger was injured, and Müller moving out wide when Robben couldn’t play. On rare occasions, Kroos and Schweini were partnered in the center of midfield, but due to the lack of defensive cover, that lineup would be unacceptable playing against any offensively potent opponent.
My main gripe with this formation and the roster it used is how predictable our play had turned into. We’d have Gomez offering nothing in buildup play other than pinning own the opposing centerbacks, Ribery working the ball to his right foot and trying to will something into existence (which, to his credit, worked more often than not), Robben, seemingly taken aback by criticism of his one-dimensional gameplay, trying to cut inside less and ended up just being a fairly impotent force on that right hand flank. When the duo tried playing more centrally and letting the fullbacks provide the width, they created the most danger, yet that move seemed to last little more than rare 10-minute spells during any given match. Perhaps Jupp was afraid that his counterpart would figure out how to counter against such tactics.
Müller was one of the main providers of unpredictability at that central role. Moving outside allowed one of the wingers (usually Robben) to take up his place and create chaos in the opposing backline. While he didn’t take on players one-on-one as often as his attacking partners very flashily did, his value cannot be stated enough. Extreme versatility and a hard work rate make his the closest attacking player to the Dortmund front line we have, both figuratively and literally, when he received game time against them, that is. At the start of the season, however, he played out wide, with Kroos in his position in the middle. Kroos is a technical player first and foremost, helping us keep possession in the middle of the park and starve the opponents of the ball. However, when played there, he was also one of the main culprits in our play becoming predictable and stale in the latter parts of the season, being physically unable to exert the same influence on the pitch and his team that the considerably more agile Müller could.
When featuring in a deeper role, his playmaking was a great replacement for the absence of Schweinsteiger, perhaps even outshining the latter with his creativity and passing ability. Yet when forced to defend, his lethargy, the quality that made us predictable when he was deployed in attacking midfield, made us very susceptible to counterattacks or any kind of attacking player faster than John Terry, really. Playing a defensive-minded midfielder next to him, usually Gustavo, didn’t help either, despite the latter’s excellent and undervalued defensive skills.
The problem was that we were fielding two specialists down the middle, missing the magnificent all-rounded play that a fully fit Bastian Schweinsteiger brought. His box-to-box playmaker routine is an absolute thing of beauty, with him popping up anywhere on the pitch, leaving opponents clueless as to how to handle him. But when struggling for fitness at the end of the season, he was also responsible for many a misplaced pass, some of which ended up rather costly.
In defense, injuries made the Boateng-Badstuber duo a constant mainstay. Despite the tendency to lose concentration of the former and general slowness of the latter, this was a very good centerback pairing, usually being able to cover each others shortcomings, especially when receiving the necessary support from midfield. However, the notion that Boateng was underperforming was still at the back of the head of many Bayern fans and a fair few staff members as well.
Finally, in the fullback roles, Rafinha lost out his starting spot to the revelation Alaba at the end of winter, since Lahm played every game and will continue to for quite some time. With Bayern now having arguably the best attacking fullback duo in the modern game fielded next to two superb ball playing centerbacks, a possession heavy tactic was always on the cards, and it was what we played all last season.
So what now? What can we expect from the Bundesliga opener in a weeks time? Well, despite the good show put on by Shaqiri and Mandzukic during pre-season, they will need to take their chances when they arise, putting pressure on the starting XI. Before the injuries hit, I imagine this was Jupp’s first choice line-up with all the new transfers taken into account:
The position of the front three is set in stone. The purchase of Shaqiri and to a lesser extent, Weiser, seems to indicate that Jupp doesn’t want to play Müller out wide too often, yet his preference to field Kroos, and in the attacking midfield slot, means that he wouldn’t fit in the starting XI at all. Meanwhile, the purchase of Dante would suggest some doubts about Boateng’s performance, but it is not yet clear if Dante is supposed to replace Boateng or pressure him to perform better. In any case Badstuber’s starting spot is certain, even if he might be rested more often than previous season considering the depth we now have at the CB position (especially with Martinez).
I am personally not very impressed with this lineup, by the way. I think it indicates more slow and boring play of last season. It is fine when it gets results, but we saw that it’s not a given that it does. Perhaps the one glimmer of hope is the Schweinsteiger-Martinez central partnership, which I expect to be as dynamic as the Schweini-Khedira duo circa 2010.
Considering alternative lineups, the first question is about Martinez. Will he play as a box to box midfielder? An anchor man? In defense!? Or the worst case scenario, to replace a struggling Schweinsteiger? Who can tell. Here are a couple of possible formations with Martinez in the roster, leaving out the one above that we already discussed:
It remains to be seen if injuries and rotation will see him shuffled around or if Jupp has a clear plan for him. It is easier for a new player to adapt to a single position, however, so let’s hope the latter.
A couple of clear rotation choices are present, though. Contento will be rotated with Alaba to preserve both players considering their youth, the centerbacks can expect to be shuffled around much like the start of last season, Rafinha and Weiser will feature the occasional game all up and down that right flank, Can might see some minutes when Schweini, Gustavo, Kroos and Martinez all need a rest (making the reasonable assumption that Tymo is on his way out with Martinez coming in), Shaqiri will be our all-rounder up front with Müller shuffled around less, and finally Mandzukic and Pizza will put more pressure on Mario Gomez to perform. Every single combination will not be displayed here, but that’s a good thing – it means we have enough depth to think up all kinds of crazy formations.
One possible formation deserves a mention, though – our big match lineup. Playing strong European opponents seems to be a task that Gustavo thrives upon, so he is a must in such lineups. I also wouldn’t risk fielding Kroos in such games, while Gomez’ and Robbens mental unpredictability is an issue, which hopefully will resolve itself one way or the other during the season. That said, when we come across Real Madrid (the team I think is the favorite to with the Champions League this season), this is what I think we should play:
What we’d have is a fast formation, versatile players, and plenty of steel all across the field. The work rates of Müller and Shaqiri are vastly superior to those of Kroos and Robben, while Mandzukic truly impressed me with his ability to confuse defenders that had been so comfortable playing against Gomez mere months ago. Gustavo is now a known big game performer, while all hopes rest on Schweini returning to his stellar form displayed the first half of the previous season. Finally, Boateng doesn’t seem to show any signs that his Jekyll and Hyde syndrome will be going away any time soon, so Martinez could pick up his occasional Bilbao role at the center of defense. Fluidity combined with just enough balance all across the pitch.
Anyway, we’re spoiled for choice, so tell me what you think our best lineup would be.
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