Thiago Alcantara was Bayern Munich’s beating heart. He was the one who pumped blood around their body, or more accurately sprayed the ball around all areas of their team, and so when the Spaniard swapped Bavaria for Merseyside over the summer there were questions over how the German and European champions would survive.
Hansi Flick seemingly saw Thiago’s departure in a different way. While the 2019/20 season was the 29-year-old’s best as a Bayern Munich player, playing a key role as the club clinched a treble, Flick knew his move to Liverpool would open up possibilities, not close them off. This has become apparent over the early part of this season.
Most managers would have dipped into the transfer market to replace a player as influential as Thiago, but Flick instead looked at what he already had at the Allianz Arena and saw a solution. Not in any one player, but in the combinations between a number of players, most prominently between Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich.
Leon Goretzka and Benjamin Pavard
Image credit: Getty Images
Goretzka and Kimmich have been installed as Bayern Munich’s first choice midfield pairing since the exit of Thiago with the two 25-year-olds complimenting each other perfectly. Much was made of the former’s physical transformation over lockdown, but he has backed it up by becoming a box-to-box force of nature, while the latter is the face of the Bavarians’ next generation.
Kimmich might not boast the guile of Thiago, but just like the Spaniard he is adept at all areas of the game. Having broken through as a right back, Kimmich has been converted into Bayern Munich’s pace-setter in the centre of the pitch. The 25-year-old keeps possession ticking over, but is capable of a long pass from deep and also boasts an eye for goal - see his well-taken winner from outside the box against Lokomotiv Moscow.
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The opening game of Bayern Munich’s Champions League title defence against Atletico Madrid provided an illustration of what Kimmich offers, with his driven ball from deep getting Kingsley Coman in behind to score the first goal of a comprehensive 4-0 victory.
This kind of switch of play has been identified by Flick as a way to break down low defensive blocks and in Kimmich they have a quarterback to make the ploy work. It was certainly a method utilised to expose Lokomotiv Moscow, with Benjamin Pavard played in down the right side time and time again. Goretzka’s opening goal came this way.
Corentin Tolisso also warrants a mention for the role he has played for Bayern Munich so far this season. Positioned slightly higher up the pitch than Goretzka and Kimmich, the Frenchman ensures Bayern Munich’s midfield unit is always in touch with their attack, with Thomas Muller also dropping deep to underlap.
Corentin Tolisso and Hansi Flick
Image credit: Getty Images
Of course, it certainly helps that Goretzka, Kimmich and Tolisso have the likes of Coman, Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, Muller and now Leroy Sane ahead of them to make the most of their play through midfield, but for all the obvious quality of Bayern Munich’s attack, the essence of the team Flick has forged can be found in the centre of the pitch.
Having strolled to Champions League success last season, there’s a real chance Bayern Munich could sweep European competition for a number of years like Real Madrid did not so long ago. Along with Liverpool, the Bavarians are a long way ahead of the competition. With Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Real all suffering sticky starts to the season, the Champions League field might be even weaker than it was last term.
Bayern Munich are not a team without their own weaknesses, with their high line causing some problems against Lokomotiv Moscow. The substitution of Goretzka and Muller at half time, as well as Coman after 69 minutes, saw the European champions lose some of their shape. Kimmich’s late strike spared them.
Nonetheless, the way Bayern Munich have absorbed the loss of arguably their most influential figure has been impressive. Flick had only a few weeks over a shortened pre-season to adapt his team and has succeeded. Goretzka and Kimmich aren’t just the future for the Bavarians, but the present. Life after Thiago hasn’t been so bad.