Player of the winter: Thiago
December and January both were short months with few competitive matches – seven for FC Bayern – which is why we have chosen our player of December and January combined: Thiago.
The Spaniard succeeds shooting star Alphonso Davies, who we named our “Player of the Month” of November and has since confirmed his good performances.
Thiago, like FC Bayern on the whole, did not have a good start to the season. Under Kovač he was a regular first team starter, but was at no time able to play to his capacity. German football magazine “Kicker” rated his performances as being so poor that he was not considered in the season’s first edition of their regular ranking of Germany’s best footballers. This judgement might be considered very harsh, because even an out of form Thiago is still an outstanding footballer.
After the change of coach, his situation initially even got worse. In the first three league games under Flick, Thiago had to make do with a place on the bench. In the top match against Gladbach, of all matches, Flick gave him his first start of his reign. Bayern lost but Flick did not seem to tie the defeat to Thiago as he now became a regular starter.
In the following matches on either side of the winter break, Thiago showed the kind of performance that he has been known for and expected to consistently deliver at Bayern: stable and convincing in December. Outstanding in January.
In his six appearances during our evaluation period, Thiago earned an outstanding whoscored rating of 8.07. To put this in context: Of all the players in the “Big 5” leagues, currently only four have a season average above 8.0: Neymar, Messi, Lewandowski and Mbappé. Good company for Thiago.
He topped his good performances in December and January with two goals and an assist, his first scorer points in the ongoing Bundesliga season.
After his promotion to head coach, Flick initially relied on Kimmich as the sole pivot in defensive midfield behind two of either Müller, Goretzka or Tolisso further up. For Thiago, most of the time there was only a place on the bench. He only came on when Kimmich took a break (Tottenham) or had to help out at right-back (Gladbach). It was only against Bremen that Flick dared the experiment of playing Kimmich and Thiago together in the center for the first time. The experiment was successful.
However, Flick’s initial scepticism about playing both Kimmich and Thiago in the center at the same time was understandable. Kimmich and Thiago are similar player types in many respects rather than ideal complements of each other.
On the other hand, both are intelligent enough players to be able to harmonize together. FC Bayern’s midfield has for years oscillated between a stronger emphasis on penetration and verticality (Vidal, Goretzka, Martínez) and on playing quality and resistance to pressure (Thiago, Lahm, Kroos).
Under Hansi Flick, with Kimmich and Thiago the pendulum seems to be swinging more strongly in the direction of emphasizing playing quality again. It could do Bayern a world of good.
It was almost seven years ago when Pep’s legendary “Thiago or nothing” led to the signing of Thiago. Seven years in which Thiago always recommended himself as a top performer at Bayern. Thiago is either one of the strongest attacking midfielders in the world from a defensive perspective or one of the strongest defensive midfielders in the world from an attacking perspective.
And yet it seems conceivable that his time in Munich will come to an end this summer. His contract only runs until 2021, and an extension would be expensive for Bayern, as Thiago would rightly expect a salary close to that of the team’s highest earners. At the same time, Thiago turns 29 in April, which means that from a strategic perspective summer 2020 may be the last chance for Bayern to rake in a sizeable transfer fee for him.
FC Bayern’s sporting management should be aware of Thiago’s value for the structure of Bayern’s game. According to reports, talks are already being held about a common future. Here is to hoping that at some point all parties agree that Thiago should get “dos años más”.
Only just edged out by Thiago, Thomas Müller missed being elected our player of the season winter. After he fell temporarily out of favor under Kovač, he now features as a regular starter and in his current form it is impossible to imagine him not to. Müller once again radiates a permanent goal threat. Almost inevitably, he has scored 4 goals and 4 assists in the six Bundesliga games of December and January. In the meantime, Müller has increased his assists account to 14, never before has a Bundesliga player had more after 22 matchdays.
Joshua Zirkzee also deserves a mention: The 18-year-old striker made his professional debut against Tottenham before he scored just one week later two game winning goals as a late substitute against Freiburg and Wolfsburg within just four days. According to official Bundesliga statistics, it took him only 8 minutes to score his two goals, which translates to phenomenal efficiency scores, as Michael Karbach puts it with a wink. Can there be a better start to a a professional career?