A question of stability: Pavard’s injury strikes doubly hard
This article was written by guest author Florian Papenfuhs. Florian is a budding sports journalist who has had internships at Sky Sport and 11Freunde and intends to continue to work in sports journalism.
Pop music knows a familiar phrase that probably everybody has heard at least once in their lives: You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. What has meanwhile become an ubiquitous calendar saying has nevertheless some truth to it.
Because in Benjamin Pavard injury has struck the by far most undervalued part of Bayern’s back four. The last months saw him fade slightly in the background vis-a-vis the revitalized centre of David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng and the deservedly highly acclaimed Alphonso Davies. But Pavard’s injury causes a severe problem nontheless.
Should Benjamin Pavard be unable to play for Bayern in the Champions League final tournament in Portugal, he will yet be able to look back on a strong season. Amidst all the trouble of the last twelve months, one may be forgiven to forget that this has been his first season in Bayern colors.
Pavard’s transfer to Bayern had first been announced half a year early last winter, before he had to share the limelight as Bayern’s hottest signing with Lucas Hernandéz in the summer. The French international full-back pair was supposed to finally repair the record champions defensive frailties.
Both signings came not without their share of criticism, especially because of the transfer fees: €35m for a 23-year old who had been relegated with Stuttgart? A whopping €80m for the seriously injured Hernandéz left many fans puzzled as well. In addition, both players are no out-and-out left-backs, but also feel at home in the centre.
Whereas Hernandéz, who was set back by fresh injuries almost as soon as he had cured his first, never quite had the opportunity to show this mettle, Pavard gave a surprisingly poised and self-assured account of himself at right-back. His game is not nearly as spectacular as his counterpart’s Alphonso Davies on the other side, but he tends to make fewer mistakes, probably not least due to his more mature age. He is not above resorting to the good old “row z” treatment in defense if needs be, and he tends to take risks in defensive duels, but does so without ever crossing the line to recklessness.
In the attacking areas of the pitch he supports his team’s build-up play with long balls or high crosses when he decides to advance up the field. His movement behavior in the final third is quite intelligent anyway. He has a knack for initiating deep runs at the right moment or shifting slightly inside when needed.
Only Union Berlin’s Gerhard Trimmel and Achraf Hakimi me have more goal involvements in his position than Pavard (if you count Hakimi as a right-back). Furthermore, his spectacular goal against Argentina at the World Cup 2018 was not a product of chance. Pavard seems keen on making first time strikes on goal from an inside right position his trademark move, which could be worth two or three goals a season if he succeeds.
Among all Pavard’s strengths that make his signing fee of €35m an outright steal, the greatest benefit of his addition to the team is perhaps that Joshua Kimmich is now able to direct Bayern’s build-up play from a central position in midfield. Exactly this is the biggest drawback of the Frenchman’s injury, too. Hansi Flick has to improvise now. His most likely adaptations for the game against Chelsea are moving Joshua Kimmich back to his old position at right-back or starting Álvaro Odriozola there and leaving Kimmich in the centre.
The downside of the first choice certainly is the loss of Kimmich in the centre, where he has become an invaluable player. Even though a combination of Thiago and Goretzka in the centre seems a more than adequate alternative on paper, an aggressive and forward-thinking Kimmich instead of a safety first Pavard on the right will undoubtedly alter the structure of Bayern’s game. With a view to the performances on the Bundesliga season’s final stretch, the coaching staff will certainly like to keep changes to a minimum in order not to unnecessarily upset the cart. Nevertheless, Kimmich has proven more than once that he can be an outstanding right-back.
The option of Odriozola, on the other hand, has the distinct disadvantage that it is impossible to seriously tell what he is capable of. The coaching team, who see him perform every day in training, has a better insight than the public, of course, but he has only featured in all of three Bundesliga matches in the entire season. Flick now has to make the difficult call whether he trusts the 24-year old to compete against the best players in Europe over 90 minutes on the back of three brief appearances against Paderborn, Dusseldorf, and Wolfsburg. In this scenario, at least the rest of the team could remain unchanged.
Considering that the treble seems within their grasp and Bayern has been in top form of late, it appears unlikely that Flick will dare any extraordinary experiments, such as moving Davies or Alaba to right-back.
Pavard’s unavailability at any rate poses a huge challenge to the coaching team. But even if he could not participate in the final tournament in Portugal, his contribution to a possible Champions League triumph would be considerable. At 24 years of age, he would be a treble winner and reigning World Champion. But this way has now become distinctly more arduous.
Uli Hoeneß said last autumn that Pavard would become “one of the best signings we have ever made”. Until he can ultimately be proven right, lot of water is yet to go down the river Isar. But the beginning of Pavard’s possible trajectory to greatness at Bayern has no doubt been promising.