Could Bayern Munich’s Midfield Muscle Propel Them To Champions League Glory?
W ith the first international break of the 2019-20 season drawing to a close, the UEFA Champions League is about to commence. 32 of Europe’s finest teams will be at loggerheads for the continental crown on the 31st of May in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Turkey. While some sides will be looking to become giant-killers by defeating some of the competition’s mainstays, there will be others that will head into matchday one as favorites to lift the most coveted club trophy in Europe.
One such team is German heavyweights Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga champions have fallen off a cliff when it comes to the standing up and being counted amongst the Champions League’s elite in the recent years. An ageing squad coupled with a managerial merry-go-round has seen the Bavarians drop down in the list of genuine contenders for the European throne.
While they have shown no respite to their challengers in the domestic league by winning 7 out of the 9 titles since the turn of the decade, the Germans have certainly shown a contrasting vulnerability against the best. While Pep Guardiola’s crack at the cherry was not as sweet as expected, the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Jupp Heynckes fell in the same boat. For a team filled with superstars, the bar must be set higher than just domestic dominance.
Having tasted continental success on five separate occasions with the last one coming during the treble-winning 2012-13 season, Die Roten always expect to be among the favourites to lift the trophy. A club where the expectations of European glory can never be termed as far-fetched, Bayern Munich will be hungry to return to the summit of the most competitive club tournament in the world once again.
Being a club that attracts top talent from around the world, the Germans have never shied away from splurging the cash to get the most sought-after prospects to the Allianz Arena. In recent years, an intriguing mixture of experienced and young talent has made sure they can compete with the best in the business.
While the likes of Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba have defined their decorated legacies at the club, the signings of youthful additions such as Niklas Süle and Serge Gnabry have been well worth their weight in gold. Add to that a strong academy that produces fine talents and it adds a homegrown flavour to the squad.
This season, Bayern have managed to do some shrewd business in the transfer market by bolstering a squad reeling with the losses of club legends, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. While all the departments look strong, the Bundesliga’s best look particularly gifted in midfield. Let’s have a look at the players competing for places in a phenomenal talent pool of midfielders that could spur them on in their journey in Europe this season.
The Spanish magician arrived to German shores along with Pep Guardiola who rated him extremely highly and wanted to build his side around him in a 4-1-4-1 system. A graduate of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, Thiago has been wonderful for Bayern and is among the most established and all-encompassing midfielders in the squad.
Prone to injuries, Thiago has only able to show all that he is capable of in stints. But with his experience at the top level, he has now taken up the mantle of the leader in the middle of the park. At 28, he is entering his prime and his silkiness on the ball and game intelligence will be crucial for Bayern’s chances in the Champions League. Positionally adaptable, Niko Kovac can also deploy this proficient passer as a No.6 to dictate the tempo of the clash and maintain that zen-like composure that is vital when squaring up against the best.
Bayern have had a history of cherry-picking talents from other teams within their league. Leon Goretzka is among the list of such players Die Roten acquired when they raided fellow German outfit Schalke in 2018. Although injured at present, Goretzka is heralded by the Allianz Arena faithful and will be looking to build on a decent first season with the Bundesliga champions.
While he will take some time to hit form upon his imminent return from injury, there is no doubting his calibre on the ball along with his defensive durability. A fine passer of the ball that is blessed with naturally athletic abilities, Goretzka, much like Thiago can play anywhere across the centre of the pitch.
As Bayern witnessed against Real Madrid in the 2018-19 campaign, even the smallest chink in the armour can be exploited to a huge degree. Goretzka’s presence as a screen in front of the back four will ensure Bayern never lose their shape. At 24, the 6’2 midfielder’s ceiling is sky high.
Phillippe Coutinho arrives at Bayern on the back of a torrid summer as a Barcelona player. The Brazilian, who earned his dream move to Camp Nou not two seasons ago, has now been deemed surplus to requirements and is looking to resurrect his sinking ship of club career with his German voyage.
Coutinho is a gifted midfielder whose time at Liverpool was captivating while the one at Barcelona was the complete opposite. It was never that the Brazilian played as poorly at Barcelona as it was made out, but the £153 million price tag does come with instant expectations to take the world by a storm.
At Bayern, Coutinho will look to make a strong statement and show why the Blaugrana paid that huge sum for him in the first place. Coutinho brings a much-needed flair and creative drive to the Bayern attack.
Adept at playing multiple positions across the frontline and roaming in between zones around the hole behind the striker, the former Inter man brings along a virtuosic skillset. With excellent vision and dancing feet at his disposal that will help create havoc with the pace of Bayern’s wingers, it seems like the perfect fit.
Blessed with a wonderful right foot, Coutinho also possesses one-of-a-kind long-range shooting abilities. Coutinho will be raring to go in Bayern colours this season and redemption might well be on the cards.
Another rising star from the ranks of French football, Corentin Tolisso arrived at Bayern in the summer of 2017 from Lyon and went on to play some impressive football for them before an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury derailed his progress.
His transfer fee was the highest Lyon had ever received from the sale of a player, and at €41.5 million (plus add-ons), one could say both parties managed to get a good deal. A World Cup winner in 2018, the Frenchman will look to have a breakout season as Bayern push for a treble.
Versatile going forward, Tolisso is a hard-worker who chips in with goals from time to time. With the competition for places in the Bayern skyrocketing, the 25-year old will be looking to keenly impress. The Taare-born midfielder’s quick feet and eye for a pass makes him a creative force to be reckoned with.
Signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach during the transfer window for a sum of €10 million, Cuisance is one of the Bundesliga’s most promising talents. The French midfielder is another versatile player who can play as a deep-lying playmaker as well as an attacking midfielder.
Cuisance has made a solitary appearance for the side so far and will look to impress the manager and show what he’s got whenever called upon. It will be interesting to see how and when Bayern use the 20-year old’s talents. If the Germans reach deep into the tournament, fatigue will start to kick in for the regular starters and that is when the rotation players like Cuisance will look to make their mark.
If Cuisance’s 2017-18 campaign is anything to go by, Bayern truly have a diamond on their hands.
The German who was signed for a fee of just 7 million euros has already made a mark on the footballing stage as the world’s best right-back and yet deputizing in midfield seamlessly, similar to his predecessor Phillip Lahm. The summer arrival of Benjamin Pavard gives Niko Kovac the chance to use Kimmich’s versatility and deploy him as a defensive midfielder when required.
Excellent on the ball and with innate passing ability, the ex-Stuttgart man could well become a difference maker with the dirty work while also progressing the ball from deep in midfield whenever called upon to do so.
In a campaign where Bayern aim to dominate on all fronts, a player of Kimmich’s ilk who can steal the show across several areas of the pitch is a dream for any manager.
Javi Martinez is one of those players who will always be amongst the what-ifs in the footballing world. A malleable talent, the Spanish international has been plagued by injuries all through his career. While his career is full of trophies with Bayern and the Spanish national team, Martinez was never among the mainstays of these superteams.
The Bavarians paid a hefty €40 million (then a transfer record for the Bundesliga) to acquire his services from Athletic Bilbao back in 2012, and since then he has been one of their greatest servants, ably deputizing whenever called upon across all areas of the pitch. The recent seasons have been kind to him from an injury point of view, and Bayern will be hoping that his experience in the defensive midfield will once again help them in their quest for European glory.
While Martinez won’t be a regular starter for the side, his nous and experience is bound to be a boost. Bayern will look to exploit his ability in the air and physicality for a more compact approach. At 31, he is on the wrong side of his prime and will be hungry to add one more Champions League medal to the one he won in 2013 with the German champions.
With the right amount of flair and composure to go along with raw talent and experienced campaigners, Bayern’s midfield could well and truly be the missing element that could revitalize their path to European success.