Where will Benjamin Pavard fit in at Bayern Munich?
Benjamin Pavard’s move to Bayern Munich from VfB Stuttgart is quite the coup for the record Bundesliga champions, but considering the Bavarians’ embarrassment of riches in defence, where will Pavard fit in Niko Kovac’s master plan? How might Pavard’s arrival affect Joshua Kimmich’s place in the side? bundesliga.com explores the pair’s possibilities at Bayern.
Pavard’s arrival at the Allianz Arena in summer 2019 partners arguably the league’s two best right-backs in the same squad. Both he and Kimmich have established themselves as Bundesliga heavyweights at a young age, with the Frenchman backing up a breakout first season in the German top flight in 2017/18 by becoming an integral member of Didier Deschamps’ 2018 FIFA World Cup winners in Russia.
Post-tournament, the France coach described Pavard as a “star”, lauding his rearguard hero by saying, "Benjamin made a real difference. He has become a star, and he's earned it."
Meanwhile, Kimmich has done what many thought was the impossible: cleanly accepting handover of the Philipp Lahm retirement baton and not only running with it, but also throwing in a plethora of assists at the finish line, too.
And with Bayern hardly light on central defenders, it throws up quite the conundrum for Kovac in how to fit the imminent recruit into his side but, fortunately for the Croatian coach, there are a variety of options.
Watch: What makes Benjamin Pavard so good?
The heart of the matter
Pavard is certainly a fine right-back, as his performances with the national team last summer proved, with the former Lille man appearing on the right-side of France’s defence in all but one of his side’s matches en route to glory.
And while he will certainly offer competition to Kimmich at right-back, not since his first season with Stuttgart has Pavard featured regularly at club level in that position.
Back in 2016/17, the then 20-year-old was seen 12 times at right-back in 21 Bundesliga 2 appearances as Stuttgart secured immediate promotion back to Germany’s top tier.
A further nine of those appearances came at centre-half, the favoured position that Pavard has now made his own at Stuttgart with 40 of his 48 Bundesliga matches over the course of the past one-and-a-half years seeing him start at the heart of defence.
It would come as a surprise if Pavard wasn’t earmarked for the same role in the Bayern back-four, even if his early days are played out out wide as the 22-year-old looks to establish himself in a squad bulging with world-class defenders.
Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez will each be 35 by the time Pavard’s initial five-year contract nears its end and in his arrival Bayern may well have secured Niklas Süle’s long-term central defensive partner.
With both Pavard and Süle both 23 at the start of the 2019/20 season and still able to draw on Hummels, Boateng and Martinez for expert tutelage, the future looks bright at the heart of Bayern’s defence.
The man himself feels more than comfortable anywhere along the defence, telling Goal last June; "A defender must first defend well. Of course, as a left or right back, I have to attack more, but for me, it's the same. I can play well in all these positions."
"The question could be asked, for sure, but for me it is not a problem. Before, there was Lilian Thuram who also played as a centre-back in club and as a right-back with the national team. I feel good as a centre-back, and I also enjoy to play at right. So why not do the same career as him?"
Thuram - France's all-time record appearance maker - is certainly not a bad example to follow.
Pavard, who joins Bayern in the summer, will most likely see his future at the club nestled alongside Süle, but next season must be prepared to fight for his place and seize every moment that comes his way.
Fortunately for Pavard, his versatility means that opportunity should arise all over the pitch.
Packed schedules while battling across domestic and continental fronts and injuries will most likely throw chances Pavard’s way and while he may prefer them to come at centre-back he will feel comfortable contributing at right-back and also central midfield.
The latter may be as a last resort considering the options Bayern have at their disposal, but the equally impressive versatility of Kimmich may well provide opportunity for Pavard at full-back while he awaits an opening further inside.
Kimmich, who has the joint-second highest assists (seven) of 2018/19 going into the Bundesliga season’s Rückrunde, has been a revelation since stepping into the enormous shoes of Lahm and his ability to move seamlessly into midfield has rubber stamped his importance to Bayern.
Taking his chance filling in as a centre-half in 2015, Pep Guardiola described the Germany international as “one of the best centre-backs in the world”, while Hummels previously raved: “It feels like you can stick him anywhere on the pitch and he’ll produce a performance.”
It means that Kimmich often appears at the base of Bayern’s midfield in Kovac’s 4-2-3-1 or further forward as a central midfielder in a 4-1-4-1.
In fact, seven of Kimmich’s 17 Bundesliga appearances so far this campaign have seen him take up a role in Bayern’s midfield.
It should provide Pavard with hope that there will be chances to take while he finds his feet, with further evidence coming in the shape of Rafinha’s 15 games in all competitions this season despite Kimmich’s grasp on his favoured spot on the team sheet.
With the Brazilian expecting this to be his last in Bayern colours, Pavard's arrival provides the Munich club with ample cover in a number of positions. And at the age of 22, could do so for many years to come.
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