5 Issues Bayern Munich Need to Work on During November International Break
Bayern Munich entered the current international break in blistering form, having won four consecutive matches and six out of the last seven since October's international fixtures.
Now more than 16 months into Pep Guardiola's tenure as head coach, things are fully clicking and Bayern are by many accounts playing their best football since Jupp Heynckes left the treble-winning side in 2013.
Even so, not everything is perfect in Munich and there are some issues that can and should be addressed during the international break. Click "Begin Slideshow" as B/R takes a close look at the most pressing topics.
A Plan for Reintegrating Bastian Schweinsteiger into the Team
It's been four months since Bastian Schweinsteiger last played a competitive football match, but now the 30-year-old is set to make his long-awaited return to action. Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge confirmed to Kicker (h/t Goal.com) last week that the vice-captain would play for his club before the end of the calendar year.
Schweinsteiger's return will be welcome for Bayern, who in the absence of the injured Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez and the German himself, have been short of natural, experienced holding midfielders throughout the season. Xabi Alonso has played brilliantly and Philipp Lahm has also been admirable out of position, but Schweinsteiger's return will be welcome as Guardiola aims not to overuse his aging stars.
It's important, however, that Guardiola does not overuse the increasingly fragile Schweinsteiger when the player returns to action. Players are most at-risk of injury when they return from a lengthy absence. And it also takes some time to recover sharpness and fitness to play 90 minutes. That's why it's important that the Bayern medical and coaching staff devise a timeline for bringing Schweinsteiger back into the team. The international break offers a good opportunity to plan.
Dante hasn't been the same since Brazil's 7-1 defeat to Germany at the World Cup. The veteran center-back returned to Bayern in August and has fallen out of favor.
Although no longer first choice, however, the 31-year-old is an important part of the Bayern team. With Holger Badstuber, Javi Martinez and David Alaba sidelined, the Munich giants are short of reserve options in their back line. And indeed, Dante was used last Saturday against Eintracht Frankfurt as Mehdi Benatia was given a rest.
Dante was not called up to the Brazil national team and will instead spend the international break training with Bayern. Maybe he lost his focus and some motivation after falling in the pecking order at Bayern. But he's needed now to provide leadership and stability in the Bayern defense.
How to Replace David Alaba
The recent loss of David Alaba due to a knee injury was a big blow to Bayern, although it came at a good time. They've taken a commanding lead in the Bundesliga and passed every test in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal. Still, the Austrian is a vital part of Guardiola's plans and should he be injured when it matters most, the trainer will need a "Plan B." At the very least, the ex-Barcelona coach will want to have the best possible plan to deal with Alaba's absence between now and the end of the fall campaign.
Guardiola brought Rafinha into his back line on Saturday, which is an option but may not be the best in every game. Other contenders to replace Alaba include Pierre Hojbjerg, Sebastian Rode or Dante, with various tactical implications. No matter what, Bayern will have to adapt in the absence of Alaba, who is a unique player in the squad and cannot be exactly replaced. The international break offers a good chance for Rode and Dante, for example, to demonstrate their abilities in training and make an impression. It also gives Guardiola time to think.
How to Include Robben, Gotze, Muller and Ribery in the Same Team or Who to Drop
Since the start of the season, there has been the looming question at Bayern of how to optimally use Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze. All five are world-class players, all are on sky-high salaries, and none when fit and in-form can justifiably be benched.
Until recently, there was always a way to reasonably use a maximum of four of the aforementioned star attacking players. Robben and Ribery have often been injured, the former along with Muller and Gotze needed time to recover from World Cup duties, and the ex-Dortmund man still had a lot to prove after a poor first season at Bayern.
Now, all five are fit and (perhaps with the exception of Lewandowski, who nonetheless is tough to drop due to his being the only natural striker of the lot) in-form, and none will be happy being benched. It's possible for Guardiola to use all five, especially against weak opposition in the Bundesliga, but he risks losing the balance he's worked so hard to establish over the last month and a half. Guardiola has a real selection headache to deal with, although it's the kind that most any coach would welcome.
How to Get the Best out of Robert Lewandowski
In raw numbers, Robert Lewandowski's productivity at Bayern hasn't been bad by any means. But he still has left something to be desired, especially when compared with his attacking teammates at Bayern, and when compared to his performance at Dortmund.
A main striker's job is to score goals. He's the focal point of the attack. Yet Lewandowski has lagged behind Muller, Robben, Gotze and Ribery, playing more of a supporting role than would be expected from a player of his position. With seven goals, he's scored just one more than Robben, who's played half his minutes. Gotze exceeds his former BVB colleague in terms of goals scored.
Teething problems are to be expected when a player joins a top club, but it's crucially important that Lewandowski overcomes his sooner than later. He's yet to really impose himself in the Champions League. If Bayern are to contend for European club football's greatest prize, they'll need him at his world-class best. The international break gives time for Guardiola to consider how best to bring out his class.