Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich: Where Will Midfield Star Fit In?
The most recent reports however, have German side Bayern Munich as in pole position to land him. According to the BBC, Thiago could be close to completing a move to the Bundesliga, with a £15.5 million release clause in his contract set to be activated.
Now 22 years old, Thiago has made 100 first-team appearances for Barça, but with Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta all still regular starters, he appears to have decided that he needs to move on to make a position his own elsewhere.
A move to Bayern Munich would be no step down: The German club completed an amazing treble of wins last season with the Bundesliga title, German Cup and UEFA Champions League trophies all residing at the Allianz Arena.
With such an array of riches already in place though, there will be questions asked on whether Thiago can step into such a successful midfield and immediately command a long-term place on the team.
Bayern's new manager this season is Pep Guardiola, who knows Thiago Alcantara all too well from his previous club. His recent comments, via Goal.com, certainly seem to indicate that the boss believes the Spanish under-21 captain will have a big part to play if he joins.
I have asked [Matthias] Sammer and [Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge to sign Thiago, I don't know what will happen in the future, but I would like to work with him at Bayern. I would like to sign Thiago because he is from Barcelona and I know him really well. I worked with him at Barcelona B as well and he is a really good player. [He] is the only player I want, that's what I told them. It'll be him or no one. We have many players but we the need the special [quality] that Thiago brings. The club will decide. I told them my opinion.
Bayern's treble-winning side last season played a 4-2-3-1 system, with an extremely solid and quality-filled midfield being key to their success.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez were important components as the pairing in the middle, while Luiz Gustavo also regularly featured and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk provided the experienced backup.
Ahead of them, Toni Kroos was the regular central attacking midfielder until his injury, after which Thomas Muller switched from his right-sided berth to the middle. Mario Gotze has also been added to the squad this summer, and he can play in any of the attacking midfield positions, or perhaps farther forward as a central attacker.
Thiago Alcantara is capable of playing in any of the three roles in midfield. Centrally, he can operate as a deep-sitting distributor of the ball or a more energetic, box-to-box midfield role. Schweinsteiger and Martinez, however, can both arguably offer more in this second role. It may be in the deeper role that Thiago is asked to operate, where his ability on the ball and vision will have the time and space to have great effect.
Guardiola though may see Thiago playing in a far more advanced position such as taking up Kroos' role in the central playmaking position, a role he played with distinction at times for Spain's successful under-21 side this summer and where he has frequently played for Barcelona.
There is, of course, another option: Guardiola is known for loving his defenders to be capable of stepping quickly into midfield, both in terms of technical ability and positioning. In Javi Martinez he has one who played central defence for Athletic Bilbao under Marcelo Bielsa.
Without delving too deeply into the realms of tactical possibility with Guardiola changing Bayern's system entirely, it is certainly a possibility that he moves Martinez back into the defensive line—perhaps alongside Brazilian Dante, who had such an assured campaign last year—thus making room for Thiago alongside Schweinsteiger.
Would Thiago Alcantara be a good signing for Bayern?
Bayern had no lack of cutting edge last season, but Thiago Alcantara could provide them with a dramatic creative spark from the centre of the park. They could be at times more workman-like and functional—superb in that functionality, it must be said—last season, leaving the creativity and pace to the forward line.
While he still lacks relative experience, the smart money would be on Thiago playing in three or four different roles for Bayern over the course of the season as he makes a position his own. He should become accustomed to not playing with Xavi, Iniesta, Leo Messi et al and grow into his own player.
There can be few men better suited to guiding out that talent than Pep Guardiola, and if he wants Thiago at Bayern, it's a fair bet that there's a good reason for it.
Thiago can go on to prove himself one of the top midfielders in Europe at one of the top sides, whichever midfield role he eventually takes on, and his presence in the team will only be of benefit for the likes of Muller, Gotze and Mario Mandzukic ahead of him.
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