Next week Bayern will start in the second half of the season 2015/2016 with high hopes. It will be the final months under coach Pep Guardiola.
The reds are still competing in all three competitions, and start into the second half of the Bundesliga season eight points ahead of Borussia Dortmund. It could be electrifying months or sobering ones. The games against Juventus in the Champions League’s first knockout round could significantly set the mood for the remainder of the season. We took a look at the entire team going into the second half of the season. We point out strengths and weaknesses and define goals and tasks for each player.
1 Manuel Neuer
Most important task: win games.
Bayern having the one of the best (if not the best) goalkeeper in the world in his team is undisputed. Due to the great superiority of Munich in the first half of the season Neuer played a rather supporting role. He made his perhaps most striking game at the 2:0 against Ingolstadt just before the Christmas break. The 29-year-old parried four shots and rescued three points. On average, the Bayern goalkeeper had less than two shots per game to parry this season. A “Patzer” (blunder) just before the 0:2 against Arsenal remained in memory (and the fabulous save against Walcott), otherwise Neuer mostly focused on his qualities as a sweeper keeper who provides Guardiola unique opportunities in the build-up game and played behind a historically strong defense. Neuer played the most successful short passes of all goalkeepers listed on Whoscored.com in Bundesliga (21) and Champions League (22). His passing accuracy of almost 90 percent sets a benchmark for goalkeepers.
In the second half of the season Neuer’s core abilites will be important again. Like always in their history, Bayern will especially need their keeper in the Champions League when the really big goals are to be achieved. It is the most difficult task for every goalkeeper at Bayern to be “there” in the few decisive scenes, despite the chronic underusage. Jerome Boateng recently described in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung he had to train himself to hold up the concentration, in games where he is not in constant demand. For Neuer this applies even more so.
At FC Schalke 04 the keeper had to fend off over 3 shots per game on average in the Bundesliga. At Bayern there are in this season just 1.6 – one of them inside the penalty area. A minimum value in Neuer’s career. The former Schalke keeper has already shown that he can win big games, not only in the national but also in the Bayern shirt. The semi-final against Madrid in 2012, the final against Dortmund in 2013 (when he kept his team in the game in an early critical stage) and the German Cup final in 2013 against Stuttgart are good examples. These qualities will be in demand at the forthcoming knockout games again.
26 Sven Ulreich
Most important task: Ensure a good mood.
The new addition was allowed to play in a Champions League group match against Piraeus and in the Cup against Nöttingen. If the remaining season runs as hoped for it will present Ulreich the chance to collect additional minutes in the final stages of the Bundesliga. (Hopefully) not more.
23 Tom Starke
Most important task: Ensure a good mood.
Starke’s contract expires at the end of the season. The 35-year-old already trained with the U14 goalies and can still imagine another year in Munich, in whichever role. If he leaves or hangs up his gloves completely, there is the possibility of a farewell game at match day 34 at home against Hannover under certain circumstances.
Most important task: Provide periods of rest for Philipp Lahm.
I almost repeated the good mood task as well, but that will not be Rafinha’s role. The 30-year-old really flew under the radar since his arrival in Munich. Only few would have suggested at the beginning of the season that the versatile all-rounder has collected more Bundesliga minutes than Costa, Coman, Thiago or Martínez this season. In terms of minutes played he is on number 8 in the Bayern team. Rafinha is the perfect rotation player. Guardiola fielded him on both defensive wings to compensate for losses due to an injury and to allow rest periods.
Rafinha has greatly minimized his error rate. His passing accuracy of 91 per cent in the Bundesliga and 94 per cent in the Champions League make him the top-3 in the Bayern team. Both are personal bests in his career. Guardiola has visibly helped him over the past two years. Rafinha is the most reserved of all full-back and is highly concerned on risk prevention and control with the ball. Trips to the opposing baseline have become rare, which has not harmed his role.
His often described aggressiveness against the ball, he underlined with 2 intercepted balls per game and four yellow cards in the Bundesliga this season, leading in both categories in the Bayern team. Rafinha will not be a part of the best eleven in the remaining Champions League season when everyone is fit. Mostly, however, not all players are fit and even if all are fit Rafinha’s meaning as a rotation player and pause provider in the Bundesliga are not to be underestimated.
17 Jerome Boateng
Most important task: keep the level.
Jerome Boateng was not our player of the year 2015 for nothing. All that is to say about his development, can be found in the linked text here to Miasanrot awards in December (sorry, only in German). Boateng’s game was complete in the first half of the season. He was the constant cornerstone of an every changing injury prone back line. Of course there is the phrase that there is always something to improve in a footballer. That’s certainly true. Nevertheless, it may just be a matter for Boateng to keep the incredible level and the frightening consistency in the fourth (!) year in a row.
— The Pep (@GuardiolaTweets) 13. Januar 2016
Boateng is a leader on the pitch, there is no doubt about it. Eventually the time will come when his performances will hit a low again after a long time. Hopefully not in the remaining games in this season.
27 David Alaba
Most important task: Remain patient.
Alaba was on his way to define his own position in the first half of the season. The Austrian made remarkable games as a sort of storming half center back (“Halbraumlibero”) in a back three or back four in which he had to help out due to injury problems described repeatedly (13/17 games played in the center). In ten appearances as center-back, he was part of 1.6 shot attempts per game. Among all central defenders in the Bundesliga only Naldo had more. Assisting 0.6 shots per 90 minutes also meant second place. Fittingly, behind Jerome Boateng (0.9). In the Champions League Alaba was fielded in the more central position in three games and was part of 2.7 shot attempts per game, tied for first place with Daley Blind from Manchester United. In the CL Alaba collected 1 shot on goal and assisted 0.7 shots per 90 minutes, top 3 values each.
All this is even more remarkable, because Alaba takes free kicks, but unlike many other central defender he doesn’t push up in the opponents penalty box for offensive standards. Despite his deep positioning on the field his offensive contribution is based on his dynamics within the game.
Guardiola gives Alaba countless opportunities to change his position in the formation during a game. Quite possibly Alaba may be fielded more frequently on his traditional left-back position if he and the other defenders are fit again. It is crucial that the highly gifted Austrian remains patient.
It has already been noted that Alaba, whose contract expires in 2018 has not extended in spite of the offers by the Bayern bosses. It was rumored on several occasions that Alaba wants to be used in central midfield more frequently as in the Austrian national team. It is quite possible that his future is there, but he is a part of today’s Munich team, where he is much more important both on the left-back position, as well as in a more central role in the back three/four. In any case, he acts more like a midfielder from his defensive position with his runs and the strong involvement in the build-up game. No central defender in Europe’s top leagues plays more passes per 90 minutes than David Alaba in his ten appearances in a more central role (90 passes per 90 minutes). In the Champions League only Piqué has more.
Alaba is – if he stays fit – a game changer for Guardiola in the forthcoming second half of the season, because he is absolute world class in at least two positions. In the central role in defense, there is perhaps currently no one like him in European football. If Alaba can build on his performances before his injury, he belongs in the discussion about the best 7 to 10 players in the world. This good and unique has he become. He must remain patient only.
28 Holger Badstuber
Most important task: stay healthy.
Badstuber has an incredible ordeal behind him, that stole him three years, a Champions League titles and a World Cup title. Of course he can be called a Champions League winner due to his participation in the first half of the triple season, but he will not feel as one. One can only hope that Badstuber is able to put the time of unending setbacks (2x cruciate ligament, 1x muscle tendon rupture, 1x muscle tear in the thigh) mentally behind him. Sportswise the 26 year old is on his way to get used to professional football again.
YES BADSTUBER I LOVE YOU pic.twitter.com/vab8tSsjAg
— FC Bayern Fan TV (@MiaSanMiaTV) January 3, 2016
In his 252 minutes in the first half of the season, he still didn’t look like he used to. His passing game was good, but in his movements, turns, sprinting duels it was clear, that his body is not fully recovered, yet. His red card against Piraeus was a good example, he was overrun by Sebá and acted awkwardly in his attempt to clear the situation. Badstuber does not have to impress in the second half of the season. He will get his minutes – even if others players will probably start in the big games. His goal must be to get back into the focus by getting back into his rhythm and collecting positive experiences. Maybe he will be rewarded with a nomination for the European Championship 2016. All this may sound unspectacular, but after three years of injurie this is what it’s all about.
5 Medhi Benatia
Most important task: stay healthy.
Benatia is one and a half medium injuries away from being labeled a transfer flop. Benatia is a very good central defender, who has worked excellently, especially in combination with Jerome Boateng. The problem are his frequent injuries. It’s hard to continue to call them “Verletzungspech” (bad luck with injuries). Eventually, it will become a real deficit. Benatia has reached this point.
The Moroccan completed just nine of 26 official matches in the first half of the season. Among them was the extreme low point with the 1:3 loss against Mönchengladbach, where Benatia was in the starting eleven. All other games with his participation were won with only three goals conceded.
In principle Benatia doesn’t have to hide before any of its competitors in central defense. His defensive stats are all at a high level, his passing accuracy at 91%. While this is also based on slightly lower risk in his build-up play (compared to Boateng or Badstuber), it is still good. He is a real threat for the opponents goal at set pieces. Benatia has the most shots on goal in the penalty area per 90 minutes (1.4) of all Bundesliga central defender, which speaks for his heading ability after corners and free-kicks. In six Bundesliga games Benatia was involved in two goals, each after a standard, each with his head. There are quite a few arguments that speak for him as a partner of Boateng in important matches. It may help to be permanently fit.
21 Philipp Lahm
Most important task: age with dignity.
It is good that Philipp Lahm is reinstated almost exclusively on the right wing in this season. In only four of 23 official matches the captain acted in a central midfield position. The reasons why Guardiola put him there frequently in recent years are obvious. His game intelligence and his passing accuracy were qualities that Guardiola wanted in the center of his game.
This season, this necessity no longer exists with the increased quality in central midfield. On the right he is more important and at the moment Lahm’s game is going through a slight metamorphosis in any case. After an incredibly constant decade on world-class level it could be seen in the entire last year that the 32 year old Lahm has slowly but surely lost a step or two now. In 2015 I said the phrase “Oh, Lahm didn’t look good there” probably more often than in the entire decade before (to make things clear: Maybe four times instead of two times …). While his passing game was still top notch, problems can be seen in the backward movements frequently.
This Season Lahm has lost one or the other sprinting duel that he had stopped a few years ago with his patented “Hackengrätsche” (back heel tackle). Another situation that stuck in my mind was also the scene against Max Meyer before the 1:1 equalizer against Schalke, as Meyer body fainted his way clear of a well positioned Lahm and scored the goal. In 14/15 and 15/16 Lahm was played past in almost 50% of his tackling attempts according to Whoscored.com. This value has worsened every year since 2009/2010 (26%).
Not to be misunderstood: Lahm is probably still the best right-back in the Bundesliga and also satisfies international claims. Nevertheless, maybe one has to take a closer look against the top clubs in the Champions League for the first time precisely when Lahm is facing an explosive winger. Also his effectiveness in the attacking third has to increase a bit again. Lahm has never been a real threat for the opponent’s goal, rather the opposite. While he assists a solid 1.6 shots this season – one goal and no assist in the Bundesliga and Champions League are too little effect considering many in principle wisely chosen forward runs.
Lahm is still not replaceable in big games. But the times in which he was a perfectly programmed machine that ran all over the field every three days is over.
18 Juan Bernat
Most important task: get back on track.
It was a lost half-year for the quick Spaniard as he collected only 526 minutes, after having been a real constant in the Bayern shirt last season. After an already rather inconspicuous to unfortunate start to the season, a torn muscle bundle completely threw him back at the end of October.
It is positive that Bernat, unlike other people recovering from injuries, can take part in the entire winter preparation camp with the team for the second half of the season. It would be good for Bayern if Bernat could get back to his form from last season in the coming weeks. Bernat lacked offensive power and didn’t look really confident in his few appearances. His shot involvements decreased in the Bundesliga from 1.8 every 90 minutes in the previous year to 0.9 per 90 minutes in his five Bundesliga games this season.
Bernat in good shape is needed because it would allow Guardiola to flexibly use David Alaba on several positions. The 22-year-old needs to get back on track again urgently.
8 Javi Martínez
Most important task: to get used to the central defence.
Javi Martínez is a better central midfielder than a central defender. Martínez is more involved there and he especially can bring his tackling strength to the table better there. Nevertheless, the Basque will have to befriend the central defense in this second round if everything goes normal, as it can best help the team in the current team situation and alignment under Guardiola, usually with only a single Number 6. Of his 1.000 minutes in the first half of the season he already played 800 minutes in the back line.
Martínez showed a good recovery from his injury from last year, which was called a complete damage in the knee by the FC Bayern officials as after his return. He is an incredible tackler on the ground and in the air. As of today he would start next to Jerome Boateng in the games against Juventus. Whether in a back three or a back four. Martínez has hardly any problems with the requirements of Guardiola to the structure of the game, even if he doesn’t feel too comfortable playing long diagonal balls, in contrast to Badstuber and Boateng. The same applies to extensive sprinting duels with the opponent’s attackers. But he can do things like these:
Quite possible that Martínez, who has just extended his contract until 2021, will be fielded significantly more often in central midfield under Guardiola’s successor. For the second half of the season, he should make friends with the central defense. Then he will be on the pole position as a constant addition next to Boateng.
Who should annoy, who just keep working and with whom the timing is in danger? On page 2 we continue with the midfield.