Predicting Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich Starting XI for 2015-16 Bundesliga
Bayern Munich have been the subject of widespread transfer rumors throughout 2014. Since their humiliation against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals, questions have been asked of how Pep Guardiola must adapt his team.
On the agenda has been the possibility of new signings. But there also have been disputes within the club and interest from other teams in its star players. The team is nearing a transition phase that will see the old guard like Philipp Lahm and Franck Ribery eventually phased out, making way for a young generation led by the likes of Thomas Mueller and David Alaba.
Some players are more likely to be sold or moved to the bench sooner than others. Based on recent coaching decisions and transfer narratives, here's a look at what Bayern's lineup may look like in the not-so-distant future. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a position-by-position analysis.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Bayern Munich are committed to keeping Manuel Neuer as their long-term starting goalkeeper, so in 2015-16 it is near impossible to think of another player usurping Germany's No. 1 in the record-champion's lineup. Neuer and Bayern renewed their vows to one another in May when the player put pen to paper on a new contract that extended his stay until 2019.
Right now there is no young prospect at Bayern who has the potential to surpass Neuer as he enters the best years of his career as a goalkeeper. And being five years older, backup Tom Starke will surely retire before the ex-Schalke man.
Right-Back: Philipp Lahm
Philipp Lahm's use in the Bayern midfield last season was primarily due to Guardiola's reluctance to use Javi Martinez in midfield and in part due to regular injuries to at least one of Bastian Schweinsteiger or Thiago Alcantara.
Especially after Martinez proved himself in midfield and Rafinha was found ordinary at right-back late in the 2013-14 season—and considering the probability of Guardiola signing a midfielder or two to replace Kroos and/or Schweinsteiger in the next 14 months—it's likely Lahm will be used at right-back.
Lahm will turn 32 in November of 2015 and at that age will be more physically suited to a defensive position, especially that which is his best. He may be the eldest player in the squad, but as captain and the best player in his position that football has seen for many years, retirement is still a few years away.
Center-Back: Jerome Boateng
Bayern's pursuit of a new center-back this summer is unlikely to affect the role of Jerome Boateng in Pep Guardiola's lineup. The 25-year-old has in the last two seasons proved himself to be a reliable, international-class defender. And considering his age, he has many years of football at a high level left in him.
Boateng has started for Germany during this time more than any other defender, which is a real tribute to his class considering the competition he faces in the experienced Per Mertesacker and stars like Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes. A starting spot is his to lose.
Center-Back: Dante or New Signing
Bayern's pursuit of a new center-back is more likely to affect Dante than Jerome Boateng, but it could well be that the Brazilian remains a starter for another year or two. He only turns 31 in October and therefore is not quite past his physical peak. Nor has he done much to suggest he is past his ability.
With that being said, Dante's future at Bayern will in part depend on the profile of any center-back the club can sign. If it spends a mint on a newcomer, he'll surely start, with Dante more likely to make way than Boateng. But if Bayern spend a more modest sum, there should be open competition between the newcomer and Dante.
Left-Back: David Alaba
David Alaba is a highly valued Bayern player whom, like Thomas Mueller, the club has made sure to secure over the long term. Still days away from his 22nd birthday and having signed in December an extension that will run until 2018, the Austrian is sure to be Bayern's starting left-back for years to come. If all goes well, he could stay at the club for the next decade or more.
Bayern will undoubtedly seek out other options to serve as backup on the left of defense, but the young and supremely talented Alaba will undoubtedly be their starter for years to come.
Central Midfield: Javi Martinez
If there was one lesson Pep Guardiola should have learned from the most recent (and previous) season, it's that Javi Martinez must be used in defensive midfield. The €37 million man will likely take the place of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who will be 31 at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and could be headed for an exit as soon as this summer.
Barcelona expert Graham Hunter revealed on talkSPORT radio (h/t Mirror) that the trainer "wants to move Schweinsteiger on," claiming the trainer feels the vice captain "doesn’t move the ball quickly enough for the brand of football he’s trying to implicate."
Martinez would be more of a pure anchor than Schweinsteiger, but that would not be a problem with a pair of better ballplayers ahead of him in the Bayern midfield. And the ex-Bilbao man will, like Sergio Busquets at Barca, be very useful for breaking up counterattacks like those that caused the Bavarians huge problems in big games last season.
Central Midfield: Thiago Alcantara
The player Bayern missed most toward the end of the 2013-14 season was Thiago Alcantara. Using a midfield trio of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, Pep Guardiola had three players of similar abilities when in possession. All could pass well, but none had the dribbling ability, agility and quick creativity in the final third that Thiago could offer.
Thiago is still an unfinished product and has to work on his decision-making and defending, but last season he made a big step in his career and despite multiple injuries showed what he is capable of becoming. Still 23 years of age, he has room to develop his game further. And as Guardiola's prodigy, the ex-Barcelona man could have no more appropriate system in which to play.
Central Midfield: Pierre Hojbjerg or New Signing
Right now it appears Thiago and probably Martinez are in Guardiola's long-term plans. Guardiola is apparently preparing for life without Schweinsteiger. And Toni Kroos appears to be headed toward an exit for a number of reasons.
In January, esteemed German journalist Raphael Honigstein tweeted that he expected Kroos to extend his contract at Bayern after March and that the player was aiming for money and political standing at the club that would put him in the region of pillars like Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm.
Bild reported in February that Kroos' wage was €4.5 million per year, much less than that of Schweinsteiger and Lahm (€10 million each) and Robben (€7 million) as well as newcomers Thiago Alcantara (€8 million) and Mario Gotze (€12 million). The German tabloid also confirmed Honigstein's assertion of Kroos' motives in February.
Since then, Bayern have extended Robben's contract at a reported €8 million per year and also given Thomas Mueller (who was on an €8 million wage) an extension for an undisclosed but presumably higher—considering that since signing his previous contract in 2012 he has moved into his prime—pay rate.
Kroos has thus far refused to extend his contract at Bayern, with Chelsea reportedly (via El Confidencial, h/t Bild) offering the player €8.5 million per year after tax. That came just over a week after Real Madrid were said, according to Bild (h/t Daily Mail), to be in advanced negotiations with Bayern and Kroos over a transfer.
Kroos by all accounts appears to be peeved by Bayern's refusal to recognize him, and considering recent extensions for Robben and Mueller at wages in the range he seeks, it appears an agreement between Kroos and Bayern is not very likely. He reportedly has some lucrative offers from top European clubs and, should Bayern not sell him this summer, will be free to leave on a Bosman transfer in 2015.
Should Kroos and Schweinsteiger leave, Bayern will have a vacancy in midfield. They lost rights to Emre Can with the player's move from Leverkusen to Liverpool, but one young prospect who looks to be on the rise is Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
In an interview with the club's official website, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently praised the 18-year-old, who he insisted will not be loaned next season and has the talent to play with the Bayern first team.
Should Hobjerg not be ready to take on such a high-profile role (he'll turn 20 in the opening days of the 2015-16 campaign), Bayern will likely seek out a new star signing in midfield. Such a move could occur even this summer, especially if Kroos and Schweinsteiger leave.
Right Wing: Thomas Mueller
Arjen Robben was the sole occupier of the right-wing position in 2013-14, displacing Thomas Mueller from what had been his spot under Jupp Heynckes the previous season. The Dutchman had a tremendous season under Pep Guardiola and has been in explosive form at the World Cup. But sooner or later, he will begin his natural decline.
At 30 years of age, Robben is already nearing the end of his natural peak years. He'll be 32 in January of 2016, by which time it's hard to see him playing at so high a level. As Franck Ribery's recent history shows, an attacker can start to lose his quality very sharply. And considering Robben's injury history, which has changed his physiology, the probability of him being an exceptional case is rather low.
More likely is the probability of Thomas Mueller starting on the right wing in the long-term future. After publicly admitting frustration (via The Guardian) at being unsure of how valued he was at Bayern, Mueller later signed an extension that runs until 2019.
Having earned €8 million per season (per Bild) before the new deal, he is likely at least in the €10 million range of club captain Philipp Lahm and his deputy, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Bayern's decision to offer Mueller such a deal was for good reason: The 24-year-old led the club in terms of sum of goals scored and assisted in 2013-14 and is already a top candidate for the Golden Boot at the World Cup. Although doubted at times in recent months, it will be hard for a Guardiola to overlook such a player as he enters his prime.
Center-Forward: Robert Lewandowski
Bayern typically cycle through strikers after two or three years, but in his second season at the Allianz Arena, Robert Lewandowski should still be en vogue. The Polish striker is set to become the highest-paid striker in club history with an annual wage of €8 million, according to Bild.
Pep Guardiola has a record of playing without a recognized center-forward, but even by his and Bayern's standards it would be a shock for the trainer to keep Lewandowski on the bench while paying him so well.
He's a much more technical striker than the unwanted Mario Mandzukic—who, per the Daily Mail, told Croatian source Sportske novosti that he'd like to leave the club this summer—and can involve himself more in the buildup than the 28-year-old.
Left Wing: Mario Gotze
Franck Ribery may have extended his Bayern contract until 2017 as recently as a year ago, but the player, whom Bild reports will make €12 million annually through the end of his deal, is more likely to get more out of his agreement than the club.
Although a Ballon d'Or candidate in 2013, the Frenchman struggled to replicate his form after the winter break. He'll be 32 before the 2015-16 season begins, the time by which athletes typically start to show a significant decrease in neuromuscular velocity and with it a loss of the explosive burst of pace—which helped Ribery burst past opponents.
Bayern are fortunate they have a ready-made replacement in Mario Gotze, who was inconsistent in his first season in Munich but began to find his form later in the spring. The attacker, who turned 22 this June, still has a long way to go in his development but can be expected to be ready to take over for Ribery in 12 months if not sooner.