Bayern Munich has made a big splash in the transfer market so far this summer, with Colombia star James Rodriguez joining France midfielder Corentin Tolisso, Hoffenheim duo Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle and the nascent Serge Gnabry in the Allianz Arrivals lounge.
The Bavarians swept to a record fifth consecutive Bundesliga title in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season at the helm, but it was perhaps inevitable that they would go shopping with captain Philipp Lahm and midfield metronome Xabi Alonso retiring. Accordingly, the Bayern first-team will unavoidably beat to a different pulse in 2017/18. bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
Italian tactician Ancelotti has now picked up domestic titles in his native Italy, England, France, Spain, and Germany. Although a versatile coach, the 58-year-old has nonetheless built most of those successful teams – AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid – on a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Of Ancelotti’s most-used XI, all but former Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels were with the club before he arrived in July. Ancelotti nonetheless stamped his mark on the team: Robbery – wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery – came back with a vengeance, combining for 18 goals and 18 assists by the end of the campaign, having managed just six and four as injuries – and Pep Guardiola’s preference for the now-departed Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman on the flanks – curbed their contribution in 2015/16. Thomas Müller then put a difficult start behind him to eventually rack up more minutes than Ribery; and more assists (12) than anyone in the division bar RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg (19).
Ribery and Robben – in contrast to Costa and Coman – functioned as inverted wingers, and when Ribery didn’t feature David Alaba and Arturo Vidal would variously drift into the space left on the left flank. Perhaps Ancelotti’s biggest innovation, though, was rebranding Thiago Alcantara as a string-pulling Number10, with the former Barcelona prodigy having been used deeper – and more fleetingly – when Pep was at the helm. Thiago completed a Bundesliga-high 90 percent of his passes last term: an incredible feat when you consider that he operated primarily in the final third, trying to unlock opposition defences when under pressure from markers.
So what might Ancelotti change? Although Alonso and Lahm operated primarily in their own final third rather than their opponents’, it is further forward where there is more to untangle. Robert Lewandowski plundered 30 goals last term and will continue to lead the line. Of Bayern’s wide men, Robben was the most productive, with 13 goals and nine assists. Whilst Ribery and Müller proved deadly when called upon, expect it to be them who make way for former Real Madrid man James, who – despite being able to operate anywhere in the final third – prefers “to be closer to the goal; that works better for me. I can score and pass from there.”
The next question is who will fill the Number 6 position vacated by Alonso? Rudy is a fine distributor of the ball, with his 32 one-twos last season the fourth-most in the Bundesliga. However, with Tolisso’s subsequent arrival, only one can muscle into Bayern’s magic midfield triangle with Thiago’s and Vidal’s places all but assured. It seems likely Vidal will drop deepest of the three – the Chile star scored nine goals in all competitions to Tolisso’s 14 for Lyon in 2016/17 – though with he and Tolisso boasting such complete skill-sets, they could well alternate.
Further back, if Rudy finds himself squeezed out of midfield, he may have his eye on the right-back spot vacated by Lahm. However, the former Hoffenheim captain is a strategic player who prefers the hustle and bustle in the center. Joshua Kimmich – also capable of operating in both positions, does so with a different style. The 22-year-old is a box-to-box bustler whose average of 7.6 miles per game covered was a league high. Expect it to be him that plays at right-back, then, with his style uninterrupted in the position.
Lahm and Alonso retired taking 464 Bundesliga appearances and 11 top-flight triumphs with them, but there is plenty of leadership left in the team. Manuel Neuer, Hummels and Jerome Boateng provide the bedrock for Bayern and world champions Germany, and consider this: if Hummels or Boateng might wrestle with injury, they have Süle in reserve – a player who was part of the last undefeated defence in Europe’s five major leagues last term; made only 16 fouls in 33 games, and is only marginally slower at top speed than Coman, Bayern’s fastest player, who has been clocked at 21.7 m/ph. However Bayern line up in 2017/18, they look set to dictate their own pace for some time to come.