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Why Thiago Alcantara Is Absolutely Vital to Bayern Munich's 2015/16 Chances

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2015

Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola of Spain, left, talks to Thiago Alcantara of Spain during a training session after an official team presentation in the Allianz Arena stadium for the new German first division Bundesliga soccer season, in Munich, southern Germany, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. 65,000 spectators attended the event. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

When he was signed in the summer of 2013, Thiago Alcantara was meant to transform the Bayern Munich midfield. Having spent his youth and the early years of his professional career at Barcelona, he reunited with Pep Guardiola upon the treble-winning coach's arrival in Munich.

When he's played, Thiago has been brilliant. The trouble is, that hasn't been very often. In two full seasons at the Allianz Arena, the 24-year-old has played just 38 games. He missed around three months of action at the beginning of his Bayern career before sustaining a knee injury that had repeated complications during rehabilitation and ultimately kept him out of action for approximately one full year, limiting him to just 13 appearances in all competitions last season.

Guardiola and Bayern will hope for more from Thiago in 2015-16 as the Bundesliga champions look to reestablish themselves among Europe's top two or three football clubs. He's needed now more than ever.

Following the departure of Toni Kroos last summer, Thiago is the only pure, top-class central midfielder in the Bayern squad with youth on his side. He's a complete package in possession, with brilliant ball control and the ability to dribble, shoot and pass over both short and long distances.

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TEKKERS: Bayern's Thiago with this perfect Elastico vs Dortmund. https://t.co/iBAxgOeJAq

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Javi Martinez and David Alaba are at least half-defenders, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm have all seen their best years pass and are a bit slow in possession when compared to Thiago.

There are up-and-comers such as Pierre Hojbjerg and Joshua Kimmich, but the former is still not 20 years of age while the latter only recently celebrated his 20th birthday and hasn't yet played a single Bundesliga game in his career. Both are still a bit too raw and young to bear the burden of expectation.

Given Thiago's injury-riddled history, it's conceivable that Guardiola will bring a mature central midfielder to the Allianz Arena this summer. However, with Franck Ribery's long-term future in question because of a persistent ankle injury and his advanced years—he is 32 now—a bigger concern is in attacking midfield. If Bayern sign a player such as Angel Di Maria, it's unlikely that they will have the reserves to fund a big addition to central midfield as well.

That means a lot of Bayern's hopes will rest on the shoulders of Thiago, which is a bit of a concern in light of his record of injuries. However, the Spain international is now 24 years of age and in his athletic prime. Providing he stays fit throughout the preseason, he'll begin the campaign more prepared than ever before.

Thiago became an under-21 European champion with Spain before joining Bayern.
Thiago became an under-21 European champion with Spain before joining Bayern.Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Thiago's potential has long been known in world football, and no one knows him better than Guardiola, who brought him into the professional game with his debut in 2009, aged just 18. If there is one coach who can get the very best out of Thiago, it's Guardiola. And Bayern's current midfield options will suit the Spaniard very well. He's the type of player who takes on responsibility, and Bayern will need him to do just that as the old guard grows older still and the youngsters continue to develop.

To date, we've seen brilliant things from Thiago but still not the full extent of his abilities. He looked to be in world-class form after returning to action in the spring, but the first leg of the Champions League semifinal against his former Barca showed he was still not yet fully fit. Though often brilliant in the Bundesliga, Thiago was found out at the highest level; his fitness and sharpness just weren't at their peak.

If he manages to have a full preseason and plays consistently throughout the year, avoiding injury, Thiago could be huge for Bayern in 2015-16. In a midfield that is otherwise between generations, he is the one player with the potential to really excel in the upcoming campaign. Bayern and Guardiola can only hope their midfield gem stays fit and finally takes the leap from talented youngster to one of the very best midfielders in the world.

@Mr_Bundesliga

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