This weekend was all about redemption for Bayern Munich. After their disappointing Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid last week, Pep Guardiola's team needed to bounce back and finish the season strong.
Their 4-1 win at Hamburg added some consolation and ensured that Bayern will finish the season with the second-best record in league history. But it also raised some interesting questions about a certain Mario Gotze.
Gotze was without a doubt the star of the show against Hamburg on Saturday. The 21-year-old had a hand in all four goals. He scored his first brace as a Bayern player and was instrumental in setting up the other two.
But more than his actual impact on the scoresheet, his performance raised questions on where Gotze will fit in at Bayern in next season and in the coming years.
In light of Bayern's Champions League exit, ensuing questions over Guardiola's style of play, overall football philosophy and the aging Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, Gotze could be a crucial part in the team's evolution and future.
Following the loss to Madrid, criticism poured in from all corners, and talks of internal problems and dissatisfaction from players were reported (kicker via ESPNFC). What started as a perfect season seemingly went off the rails in the last two months.
Part of the dissatisfaction came from Gotze who, after his 37m Euro move from Borussia Dortmund last summer, has grown frustrated with his role at the club. Gotze has started 29 of 44 games this season and was excluded from the starting line-up in both matches against Madrid.
The severity of those internal issues can only be speculated on, and the extent to which they have affected Bayern on the pitch are hypothetical at best.
That said, Gotze's role in the squad has not been as pronounced as many probably expected after his big move last year. His game against Hamburg highlighted the potential of a player Guardiola can build and evolve the team around after the way this season has ended.
Indeed, when Gotze made the big move from Borussia Dortmund last summer it was said to be a specific request by Guardiola. Some even believed Guardiola wanted to make him the "Messi of Bayern," which makes his lack of consistent time as a starter hard to swallow for many.
When Guardiola inherited Jupp Heynckes' squad last summer he took over a side that did not undergo too many changes in their treble-winning campaign. There was a core of players that Heynckes trusted, and Guardiola was reluctant to make too many changes so soon.
This season was very much Guardiola trying to find a balance between maintaining that core of players, while slowly transitioning towards his philosophy. That transition seemed smooth at first, but as the last two months suggest, it still has some way to go.
This could partially explain his reluctance to start Gotze. Bayern's game is so reliant and focused on the wide play of Ribery and Robben that it leaves very little room for Gotze. It is also why he has been more or less a utility player in attack throughout the season.
Gotze has played on the left in Ribery's absence, on the right when Robben needed a rest or was injured, rotated with Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller behind the striker and even played up front a couple of times.
Still, Gotze, who missed a good chunk of the first half of the season, finished with 10 goals in the league (a personal record) and 13 assists in all competitions. Simply put, it seems as though Gotze has yet to find his place in the team.
However, the very fact that Guardiola has trusted Gotze to play so many positions also speaks of how highly he rates the player. He is one of the few players in world football that can play so many positions and be effective in all of them.
Robert Lewandowski's arrival from Dortmund this summer along with the presence of Mario Mandzukic will likely mean that Gotze's future will not be up top as a forward.
But it is entirely feasible that Bayern's next step under Guardiola will be to move away from the Ribery-Robben mode of operation. The games against Madrid made Bayern look predictable and linear, and part of that was the insistence on focusing much of their game on their two wingers.
Whereas Ribery and Robben are players who operate inherently out wide, Gotze provides a bit more flexibility and the kind of guile and creativity that Guardiola's style of play demands. In that sense he can be the long-term replacement, and an upgrade, over Ribery in Pep's system.
But that could also be accompanied by a change in his role. If Barcelona is indeed the blueprint then Gotze could fill a role similar to the one Andres Iniesta played when in the top band of a 4-3-3.
Gotze can be a transformational player for a Bayern team that will emphasize variety in attack even more and combine creatively through the middle rather than instinctively go wide.
The Lewandowski transfer certainly hints at such a transformation. Whereas Mandzukic excelled in the box and came deep to press and win the ball back, Lewandowski offers a creative element along with everything else.
In that sense, Gotze's role going forward is very much in tandem with Lewandowski's arrival.
Guardiola stubbornly insisted on not changing his style and vision after the Madrid game. You get the sense that his work at Bayern had just begun.
Next season could be a transformative year for the club and its playing style, and in Gotze they have a player who could well be at the forefront of that transformation.
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