The Bayern Munich reserves marked their return to the third division after an eight-year absence by winning the title. League rules forbid that team from climbing any further but – having seen Alphonso Davies and Joshua Zirkzee move to the Bundesliga squad this season – which other players could soon earn a promotion to the top-flight set-up?
bundesliga.com picks out five stars of the Bayern second string to keep an eye on…
First-team games: 0
Country: USA (12 U20 caps)
Signed from FC Dallas as part of an academy cooperation between the Major League Soccer club and Bayern, Richards quickly became a key figure in defence for the FCB reserves following his promotion from the U19s. Since overcoming an early-season ankle injury, he has started every game bar one because of illness. The Birmingham, Alabama native, who has the nickname ‘Texas’ from a pre-season spell with the first team, originally impressed as a right-back despite inconsistent results. There was even talk of the young American being called up to the first team when cover was needed in the position, similar to what happened with Davies at left-back.
Watch: Richards signs his Bayern contract
Since the new year, though, coach Sebastian Hoeneß has moved the USA U20 into his preferred centre-back position, forming a partnership with experienced youngster Lukas Mai. Bayern conceded just five goals in their first eight games after that decision, winning seven of them. Richards also scored a late winner in the first game after the league’s resumption as Bayern beat neighbours Ingolstadt 2-1 on their way to the top of the table. Although the top two gain automatic promotion and third contests the play-off, reserve teams of Bundesliga clubs can’t be promoted to Bundesliga 2. Richards is instead using the campaign as a springboard to the first team if he’s to play in the top two divisions.
Position: Attacking midfield
First-team games: 2
Country: New Zealand (6 caps)
After impressing in Australia’s A-League with Wellington Phoenix and at the FIFA U20 World Cup, Bayern signed Singh for the reserves. He immediately impressed first-team boss Niko Kovac, who included him in pre-season and on the bench for the Supercup at Borussia Dortmund. On Matchday 15, he was handed his senior debut by Hansi Flick, becoming just the second New Zealander after Wynton Rufer to appear in the Bundesliga.
Further reward came on Matchday 33 of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, when he started the 3-1 win against Freiburg. When not with the first team, Singh has been a regular under Hoeneß with the reserves, chipping in with seven goals and seven assists from both attacking and more holding midfield roles. He got two of those goals from the bench in a 4-2 win over Viktoria Köln: one a driven effort from 20 yards, the other a cool finish from just over the halfway line into an empty net in injury time. The most internationally experienced player in the reserves faces stiff competition to break into the first-team’s extremely talented attacking line-up, but appears the closest to doing so.
First-team games: 2
Country: Germany (1 U20 cap)
Another teenager with a teasing taste of senior football, Mai has been with Bayern since U16 level and was given 90 minutes each alongside World Cup winners Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels at the back end of 2017/18. This season, he has been an unused sub for the first team on 15 occasions, and the 20-year-old is clearly seen by the club as the next defender in line.
The winner of the prestigious U17 bronze Fritz Walter Medal in 2017 has been building on his budding reputation with the reserves. Last season, he formed a formidable partnership alongside experienced captain Nicolas Feldhahn in the Regionalliga’s tightest defence, before pairing up with Richards to settle things at the back in the third division. Competition in the first-team defence is fierce, with Niklas Süle, Boateng, Lucas Hernandez and more recently David Alaba after his move inside. But Bayern have a history of promoting their own young to stardom, actively stating they wish that to continue.
Position: Defensive midfield
First-team games: 0
Country: Germany (1 U18 cap)
Munich born and bred, Stiller’s impressive displays for the Bayern U19s in the Bundesliga and UEFA Youth League, where he scored one and provided six assists in as many games from holding midfield, saw him earn a mid-season promotion to the reserves. Despite playing with and against far more experienced professionals, he hasn’t once looked out of place at this new level.
Comparisons with the playing style of Joshua Kimmich are easy to see – the only difference is that the teenager is left-footed. Like the senior Bayern and German midfielder, Stiller reads the game well, getting stuck in and then distributing the ball with precision and confidence. His set-piece delivery is equally on point and, just as Kimmich has recently demonstrated in the Bundesliga, he’s a fan of a chip, frequently taking out entire defensive lines with one lofted ball up to the striker. Bayern as a club have been shaped by decisions made by Uli Hoeneß. This time it’s his nephew Sebastian who’s made a great call in promoting the midfielder to the reserves. The only question is how long he stays there.
First-team games: 0
Country: Germany/Turkey (4 U21 caps)
Berlin-born Yilmaz, who represents Turkey at youth level, joined the Bayern academy from RB Leipzig in 2018, becoming first-choice right-back for the reserves as they achieved promotion from the Regionalliga with a thrilling 5-4 aggregate win over Wolfsburg in the play-off. Injuries at the start of the third-division campaign – and the impressive form of Richards – meant he struggled to regain his place in the team, but he’s been another who’s benefitted from the mid-season rejig.
The right-back position is perhaps the least well covered in the Bayern first team. Benjamin Pavard has made the spot his own, impressing ahead of Real Madrid loanee Alvaro Odriozola, whose deal in Munich expires at the end of the season. Kimmich is now seen solely as a central midfielder, meaning reinforcements from the next rung are likely to be needed if Pavard were to get injured or (as he rarely does) need a rest.