Can Guardiola Fit Ribery, Robben, Goetze and Mueller in Same Bayern Munich Team?

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Can Guardiola Fit Ribery, Robben, Goetze and Mueller in Same Bayern Munich Team?
Felipe Dana/Associated Press

The 2013-14 season was a learning experience for Pep Guardiola and the treble-winning Bayern Munich side he'd inherited.

After the club's most dominant season ever on all fronts, the ex-Barcelona trainer was faced with the task of either keeping the status quo or trying to implement the philosophy that had made him a resounding success in Spain.

Guardiola chose the latter and had enormous success, especially in consistently overcoming the average Bundesliga opponents on a regular basis.

But against the most elite teams in UEFA competitions, Bayern found it much more of a struggle. And as the 2014-15 campaign approaches, Guardiola will have to consider what adjustments to make to bring the best out of his team.

One of the challenges Guardiola faced last season was finding the right combination of attacking players.

With Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro as strikers, Franck Ribery, Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben, Mario Goetze and Xherdan Shaqiri as attacking midfielders and Thiago Alcantara, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez as holding midfielders, the trainer had to choose just six out of the aforementioned 12 to start.

Injuries often made some decisions for him, but Guardiola nonetheless was able to experiment with many combinations by choice.

Although Ribery and Robben flourished, the newcomer Goetze in particular had a difficult time adapting to any of five positions in midfield and attack.

Despite Bayern competing in extra competitions like the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, Mueller played the second-fewest minutes of his career, while Mandzukic was often left on the bench. Shaqiri was a mere afterthought.

Much has changed since May. Mandzukic and Kroos are gone, replaced by Robert Lewandowski and Sebastian Rode. New signing and former Valencia full-back Juan Bernat could also enter the mix as an attacking winger.

Critically, Mueller and Robben reaffirmed their class with heroic performances at the World Cup (they won the silver and bronze ball awards, respectively), while Shaqiri reminded the world of his class with some superb goals.

Goetze was instantly transformed from a disappointment to a national hero in Germany following his brilliant winner in the final.

The question Guardiola now faces is: How can he fit all of his deserving stars into the same team? Or can he at all?

Jon Super/Associated Press
Three's company but four is a crowd in the Bayern attack.

The departure of Kroos means more room for the possibility of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two of Thiago, Schweinsteiger, Martinez and Lahm holding in midfield. In that situation, Ribery and Robben could play on the wings with Goetze and Mueller in the center, either in the more advanced role.

Lewandowski's signing was a game-changer, though. The Poland international is one of the world's best strikers and can expect to start, especially with Goetze and Mueller (despite their stock having improved since the World Cup) not exactly the most reliable scoring options as "false" strikers.

One of Goetze, Mueller, Ribery and Robben would have to be dropped to the bench to accommodate Lewandowski in a 4-2-3-1.

The only other realistic option that includes Ribery, Robben, Mueller and Goetze is for Guardiola to swap a holding midfielder for an attacker and resort to the 4-1-4-1 formation he used on occasion last season.

In this case, Ribery and Robben would again be on the wings and Goetze and Mueller in the center, behind Lewandowski.

The available attacking options would be mouth-watering for any fan of high-scoring football. But it might be a case of too much firepower, though, with there being only one ball for at least two natural creators and at least three lethal finishers.

The 4-1-4-1 would mean benching all but one among Bayern's deep stock of holding and box-to-box midfielders: Only one of Thiago, Schweinsteiger, Martinez and Lahm could play in the center.

The one selected to play would have to take on the role of building up the attack from deep while screening the back four across the whole breadth of the pitch. In other words, it would require a player in the league of Lothar Matthaeus in his prime, a level that no current Bayern player can claim to even approach.

The only way Bayern could realistically avoid being ripped apart on the counterattack would be for Goetze to play in a more conservative role that would limit his effect as a creator of goals and involve him playing more with the holding midfielder.

Both Goetze and Mueller would be required to put in a yeoman's effort helping in defense and would have to be ever-diligent in their positioning, always with anticipation of what to do after the ball is lost on their minds. Accordingly, neither would be a full attacking midfielder; they would have to hold back a little.

Realistically speaking, the option of using Ribery, Robben, Mueller and Goetze at the same time is unlikely to be high on Guardiola's priority list. The trainer is not the most aggressive-minded tactician; he typically used only three out-and-out attackers last season.

Against lesser opponents, if Bayern are well in control of a match or if the German giants are in desperate need for one or more goals, the ultra-aggressive 4-1-4-1 is a possibility. Otherwise, Bayern's World Cup heroes will be competing for a maximum of three and possibly only two places in the starting lineup.

 

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