In this article, we’d like to go somewhat deeper into the age structure of Bayern’s squad and compare it with current competition, previous Bayern sides and also earlier Ancelotti teams.
In summer, the level of expectation and anticipation among Bayern fans was close to fever pitch. The two starlets, Kimmich and Coman, had both been given plenty of minutes (390 and 272) and had put in strong performances.
This was also accompanied by the rising star of the Euros: Renato Sanches. The 19-year-old Portuguese had, in his six appearances for the eventual champions, almost completely won over the entire German back pages with his dribbles through midfield and his constant threat going forward. While after he signed for Bayern in May 2016 there was still some criticism about the reported fee of €35 million (plus bonuses), his arrival was met with eager anticipation.
And yet the “established” young players who had put in impressive performances under Guardiola, as well as new signing Sanches, weren’t able to build on their showings from the previous year when it came to the new season under Ancelotti.
Here they were caught a little bit in a vicious cycle. Ancelotti often relied on the spine of his team and would only make a sub when he was losing control of the game. So the young players would regularly come into the games without any rhythm, and often tried to do too much. The weak performances that resulted from that diminished their already low confidence.
And so Bayern are back on the search for the next under-23 player who manages to make the leap into the starting eleven. The last player to do that was David Alaba, who under Louis van Gaal, similar to Thomas Müller before him, was trusted fully in practically every game.
To make it clear how Bayern’s squad is structured in terms of age, we’ve looked at the percentage of each player’s game time and put that with the age of the players. For more clarity, we also added a trend line which shows the average game time per age. Since Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso will be retiring at the end of the season, we’ve also included a version of the trend line without the two of them (green). The numbers were calculated on the 26th of March.
First of all we should focus on the young players. In the left area, we have, alongside the four amateurs who simply made up the numbers in the squad and didn’t play at all, the players mentioned above: Sanches, Coman, Kimmich and Bernat.
Of the four, Kimmich played the most. Above all, that can be traced back to his versatility, with the youngster appearing in as many as five different positions in total. And yet his strong rate of 50% of minutes is a bit deceptive. The German international’s appearances mostly came in the first part of the season. While Kimmich got 271 minutes in five Champions League games in the group stages, only three games in the knock-out phase followed with 49 irrelevant minutes.
A lack of regular game time was notable in Kimmich’s displays at times. In early autumn he was given 90 minutes in three games in a row against Hamburg, Cologne and Frankfurt, and scored in each game. In the second half of the season, those dangerous forays into the area were rarely to be seen.
Coman and Sanches, meanwhile, each played roughly 25% of the available minutes, with Coman missing several games on account of several injuries. However, just two appearances for the full ninety and only 34 minutes in the Champions League didn’t offer enough potential for development to the Ribery successor which will soon be necessary.
Sanches struggled in general with a new system in a new club under a new coach. In the few matches he played, some Bayern fans wondered whether this was in fact the same player who had so impressed at the Euros. Bayern’s passing intensive game didn’t suit Sanches, the fiery dribbler from midfield. Bayern’s game also suffered from a lack of structure in the middle, with Vidal there as well. It was evident that Sanches is the only player who had never been coached on positional play before.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 30-plus part encompasses the captain Lahm, the maestro Alonso and the wing duo Robbery. Ancelotti gave regular breathers to all four to keep them fresh for the run-in. As a result, none of these players have higher than a 75% share of the minutes.
Particularly the load on Lahm was clearly managed carefully. Until the 30th matchday, the right-back had played just 1,842 minutes in the Bundesliga. For the record, Lahm had only dropped below 2,000 minutes three times in his career – all three seasons saw him miss out for long periods through injury (05/06 cruciate ligament, 07/08 sprained ligament, 14/15 ankle).
The two wingers show a good example of successful job sharing. Ribery and Costa had an equal share of minutes, with Ribery, and thus the experience, coming into the important games against Real and Dortmund. Here we’ll have to wait and see whether Costa doesn’t agitate for more appearances in important games. Put bluntly, he simply didn’t deliver arguments for those appearances either in the Champions League or the DFB Pokal. It’s still up for debate whether he’s capable of making the vital next step in his development to replace a Ribéry in peak-form.
In total, 5,612 minutes will be freed up in all competitions next season as a result of the retirements of Alonso and Lahm. Ancelotti must manage to not just divide this time up between the new signings, but also use them for the development of Bayern’s youngsters.
The remaining block is the area marked in red in the middle: the Bayern-2021 generation. Here we have Bayern’s best players from the current season: Lewandowski, Thiago and Neuer. All seven players, plus Boateng, who due to his injury falls somewhat short here, are also tied to Bayern long-term. Most recently Thiago extended his contract until 2021 before the game against Wolfsburg.
These players, supplemented with a few young players, should form the all-important spine of the team for the coming years. Many of them are on the brink of their absolute peak, or have already been at that level for a few years now. For Ancelotti it’ll be important to keep this spine together and happy. With the axis of Neuer-Boateng/Hummels-Thiago-Lewandowski, Bayern are set nicely until 2021. This group of players plus some choice players from Bayern’s own ranks, combined with some specific reinforcements, represent project Bayern-21.
Two players who stick out are Thomas Müller and Arturo Vidal. Müller was chasing his best form for the whole season, and only impressed seldom. His position, or rather the area that he occupied under Guardiola, doesn’t exist in Ancelotti’s 4-3-3. However, he was given a lot of game time, only coming on from the bench in the important games. There was no room in Carlo’s regular team for Müller.
Vidal is more or less on the same level as Alonso as far as playing time goes. After the Chilean showed his value to the team in big matches in the previous season, often Bayern’s talisman, his performances levelled out a little. Against the likes of Darmstadt, Vidal often lacked his spark.
For that reason as well, Vidal was intentionally left out when discussing the spine of Bayern-2021. His role in Bayern’s team and play will be evaluated in the summer. Maybe he will even be sharing his minutes with Javi Martínez next season, should the Spaniard be moved back into midfield by Ancelotti.