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Why Thomas Muller's Bayern Munich Position Is Most Threatened by Arturo Vidal

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2015

Munich's Thomas Mueller during  their friendly soccer match between FC Bayern and AC Milan, in the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

Bayern Munich's signing of Arturo Vidal last month was a major coup. The addition of the Chilean, four years after missing out on him as he left Bayer Leverkusen for Juventus, has brought a certain aggression to the German giants' midfield that was much needed.

Undoubtedly the greatest factor in the Juve midfield during their run to the Champions League final, and still absolutely in the prime of his football career, the 28-year-old is sure to start for Bayern whenever fit and eligible.

The signing of a player such as Vidal will always boost a club's prospects for winning titles, but on an individual level, there is a price that must be paid. A football club can only use 11 players at a time, and if a full-time starter is brought in, at least one player must be relegated to the bench to make way.

In the case of Vidal's signing, the player who may suffer most is Thomas Muller. Despite the fact the two play in different positions, bringing Vidal into the Bayern lineup as a permanent starter could eliminate the last possibility of Muller being a first-team regular in a fully fit starting XI.

Vidal is destined for great things at Bayern.
Vidal is destined for great things at Bayern.Martin Meissner/Associated Press

When considering whether there is room in a lineup for a player, the first thing to consider is formation. At different points, Pep Guardiola has sent out his team in roughly 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 shapes.

The 3-5-2 can essentially be dropped from consideration given Arjen Robben is just about as assured of his starting role when fit than any other and that Guardiola has never given any indication that he would use the Dutchman with any regularity as a striker or in the semi-defensive role he'd have to play in wide midfield with only three defenders behind him.

In a 3-4-3, 4-3-3 or 4-5-1, Robben can and will always play on the right wing. The striker position will always belong to Robert Lewandowski, with Bayern having struggled in the few games last season in which he did not play. The Poland international is as good as any in his position and has only become better in recent months as he's settled following his move from Dortmund.

The 3-4-3, 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 also have another attacking position in common, that of the left wing. However, Muller has never been particularly successful on the left; he's always shown much more class in positions in the center and on the right. He'd have to usurp not only Franck Ribery in the lineup, but also Douglas Costa, who has already become a fan favorite and appears to be held in high esteem by Guardiola.

It's one thing for Muller to do so in his natural position but another in an area where he's never looked particularly comfortable.

Prior to Vidal's arrival, a perfect way to accommodate Muller would be for him to play centrally behind Lewandowski in a 4-5-1. Therein, he could be supported by two holding midfielders among an array including Thiago Alcantara, Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm.

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Bringing Vidal into the mix requires two of Thiago, Alonso, Lahm and Muller to be benched. If it were a direct competition between Alonso and Muller, the latter would have a decent chance despite Guardiola's affinity for his compatriot, who played in all but one game for which he was fit and eligible prior to Bayern winning the Bundesliga last season.

Even so, with Vidal starting it's entirely possible that in a full team Muller could be ranked ahead of Alonso and still be benched. Lahm is captain and could well be used in midfield just as easily as defense. Thiago has always started for Guardiola when fit; he's a graduate of Barcelona's academy and surely will always remain first choice in midfield.

And although Javi Martinez has often played center-back at Bayern, he could well be used in midfield in a Sergio Busquets-type role, the kind Guardiola made famous during his days as Barcelona coach.

It's true Muller was named among Bayern's vice-captains on Friday, affirming his value to the club. However, it was very telling that he was third in the pecking order behind Lahm and Manuel Neuer, with the latter taking Bastian Schweinsteiger's vice-captaincy. Muller is a native Bavarian, an integral part of his national team and has been a Bayern player since his youth.

As dedicated as Neuer may be to Bayern, he spent the first 25 years of his life in Gelsenkirchen. He'll never be the same symbol to the German record champions Lahm is and Muller can be, yet his placement ahead of Muller among the captains suggests Bayern aren't so sure about Muller's role as a starter.

Much depends on player fitness, and at Bayern, that typically frees space quite quickly. A player such as Muller, who has never suffered from a serious injury, may well play 50 games this season, even if he's not considered first choice among a fit Bayern squad.

If Bayern are more fortunate with fitness this season, however, it could well be a frustrating one for Muller. With Vidal certain to start, it's one less spot in the lineup for which the German can contend.

@Mr_Bundesliga

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