He may have won the Bundesliga, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup playing predominantly as a right-back, but Bayern Munich and France star Benjamin Pavard insists that centre-back is still his natural position.
Pavard should be one of several Frenchmen lining up against his country's national champions on Wednesday night, as Bayern host Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their blockbuster Champions League quarter-final tie.
PSG youth product Kingsley Coman got the winning goal when the two clubs met in last year's final, and is all but certain to get the nod on the left wing, while Lucas Hernandez is an alternative to Alphonso Davies at left-back. Pavard will be fielded at right-back, as usual, although he acknowledged that if it were up to him, he'd be holding down the fort at the heart of the Bayern backline.
"My ideal position is in central defence," he explained in a press conference ahead of the PSG clash. "But I'm not really thinking about that at the moment, as I'm playing on the right."
Pavard has made 75 appearances in all competitions for Bayern, and in 66 of them he has lined up on the right side of defence. It may not be his favoured position, but he has still made it his own, helping his team to lift every trophy going in 2020: Bundesliga, DFB Cup, Champions League, German Supercup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
In a similar way, France coach Didier Deschamps has always deployed Pavard at right-back, and within the space of eight months he went from a relative unknown in his home country to a world champion at Russia 2018, earning cult status for his goal-of-the-tournament wonderstrike against Argentina.
It is perhaps that additional attacking threat – which has resulted in five goals and eight assists in a Bayern shirt - that has encouraged coaches like Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick and Deschamps to keep using Pavard as a wide man. Then again, it was as a centre-back with VfB Stuttgart that he first came to the attention of the record Bundesliga champions.
"I know that he wants to play in the centre, and that he's capable of doing so," Flick acknowledged. "At the moment he's on the right, but it's always good to be able to play in several positions. That's where he has an advantage."
How Flick uses that advantage remains to be seen. David Alaba and Jerome Boateng are set to start in central defence on Wednesday, with Niklas Süle on the bench. The Bayern squad also contains two up-and-coming central defenders in Bright Arrey-Mbi and Tanguy Nianzou - another PSG gradudate - while Dayot Upamecano will join from RB Leipzig in the summer, compensating for the departure of Alaba. That adds up to five centre-backs, while Pavard is currently one of just two specialist right-backs, along with Bouna Sarr.
First things first, though. Before worrying about exactly where he is going to feature for the Bavarian giants in the future, Pavard has a job to do against PSG and his international teammate Kylian Mbappe.
"He's my friend, but tomorrow he'll be my opponent," Pavard said. "Paris will be out for revenge because we won last season's final, but we're pretty relaxed. I would say it's 50-50. We've got two huge games against a top team, so we need to put in two big performances."
And whether he's playing in his preferred position or not, you can guarantee Pavard will be making life hard for the French champions - at both ends of the pitch.
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