Despite being anointed as Niko Kovac’s "first-choice centre-back", Niklas Süle says that, with the exception of Manuel Neuer and Robert Lewandowski, there are no guaranteed starters at Bayern Munich.
It was around the halfway stage in the 2018/19 season that Kovac told Süle he was ahead of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in the Bayern pecking order. The 23-year-old went on to start all but one of Bavarians' 17 Rückrunde matches as the record champions overhauled Borussia Dortmund to clinch a seventh successive Bundesliga title on the final day of the campaign.
And while happy to be a firm fixture under Kovac after only two seasons at the club, Süle is taking nothing for granted.
"It was nice to hear that from the coach, it was a real show of faith - especially with a view to the big games," the 18-time Germany international told Sport1. "It gives you confidence, but I didn’t always play well. There were games in which I made two or three mistakes. I wasn’t completely happy with my consistency, even though I played a lot. I think I earned it, though. I hope it continues."
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Süle started 29 of his 31 Bundesliga appearances in 2018/19, winning 75.6 per cent of aerial challenges and finding his man with 95 per cent of his attempted passes. The 6"5' defender also scored twice, but faces even greater competition for places next season with the impending arrival of French World Cup-winning defensive duo Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard from Atletico Madrid and VfB Stuttgart respectively - not that he sees any reason why he can't retain his place at the heart of the Bayern defence, having already supplanted Boateng and Hummels.
"[Hernandez and Pavard] have the ability to play as full-backs, but I think they’ve been brought in to play centrally," Süle explained. "It’s not a problem for me because they’re two world champions, who will help us. If I want to play, I have to prove myself against everyone. When I came here in 2017, I had two World Cup winners, who ranked and still rank as two of the best central defenders in the world. I think the powers that be know I’m good enough to play for Bayern.
"I’ve never been a fan of the term 'regular starter' anyway. Other than Manu [Neuer] and Lewy, I don’t really see any players who are 100 per cent guaranteed their place in the starting line-up. Perhaps Jo [Kimmich] as well, but he’s never injured, never needs a break and always plays well. What we want to have is a team capable of winning the double again, and perhaps more."
Looking back, Süle says the turning point in Bayern's double-winning season came during the Bundesliga's customary winter break. The defending champions trailed Dortmund by six points at the time, but roared back in the new year, winning 13 and drawing three of their 17 league assignments to turn the tables on their closest rivals for German club football's top prize, before beating RB Leipzig 3-0 in the DFB Cup final to make it a domestic double.
"We had some good moments and started the season really well, but then we hit a rut," Süle recalled. "During the winter break, we all looked at ourselves and said, 'What are we going to do now? We have to turn it around!' Then we worked together to get ourselves out of the situation. Despite going through some rough patches, we still won the double. That speaks volumes, especially when there was so much talk of us ending the season with nothing."