João Palhinha joins Bayern as the one of the premium defensive midfielders at the top level. - © Carlos Rodrigues
João Palhinha joins Bayern as the one of the premium defensive midfielders at the top level. - © Carlos Rodrigues

Where will João Palhinha fit in at Bayern Munich?


Vincent Kompany's Bayern Munich have strengthened their midfield department with the addition of the Portugal international from Fulham, but what exactly will his role be?

Palhinha's arrival in German football and especially at Bayern, has been a long-awaited one. The 29-year-old joins the Bavarian giants on the back of two impressive years in the English Premier League at Fulham.

Still at the peak of his powers, he brings the kind of presence and profile in midfield that has been absent since Javi Martínez, who left the club in the summer of 2021. Since then, a variety of solutions have been tried and tested by Bayern bosses, but nothing has stuck and brought the desired stability in the heart of midfield. 

That is what Palhinha promises to bring for Kompany and Bayern. analyses how exactly the former Sporting Lisbon midfielder will fit in at his new club.

Joshua Kimmich's performances as a defensive midfielder have been a mixed bag. - Alexander Hassenstein

One of the big silver linings last season for Bayern was the breakthrough of young midfield sensation Aleksandar Pavlović. The 20-year-old Germany international recorded 19 appearances in his first full season as a senior first-team player.

This was possible not only due to the youngster's own impressive maturity but also the necessity of the hour for Bayern's midfield, that lacked someone of Pavlović's profile. Former Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel attempted various combinations with Joshua Kimmich partnered by either Konrad Laimer or Leon Goretzka, and later Pavlović too. However, the former two just didn't feel like the right fit for Bayern's system.

Though each of those names are fine athletes in their own way and have been part of some excellent Bundesliga sides, none of them are true midfield destroyers in the ilk of Martínez, who was the last notable midfielder of that profile at the club.

Enter Palhinha.

Palhinha will bring essential qualities to Kompany's midfield. - Stu Forster

Ever since his days at Sporting, Palhinha has garnered a reputation for being a tireless worker in midfield, who enjoys the physical side of the game, winning tackles all over the park and, most importantly, protecting the defence at the back.

In the highly physical environment of the Premier League, Palhinha fit right in with his readiness to get stuck into challenges and not only win tackles, but win a lot of them. The Portuguese midfielder has consistently averaged more tackles and interceptions per match played than most of his positional peers across the top European leagues.

Standing at about 6'3'' in height, Palhinha is a tank of a player in midfield and extremely difficult to dispossess once he gets into his stride in possession.

All of the praise for his defensive work does not take away from his ability in possession, where he can be a net positive within a secure tactical structure, which is what Kompany will no doubt aim to build at Bayern.

With Hiroki Ito having already arrived from VfB Stuttgart, it is a step in the right direction for the Bavarian giants, as Palhinha will benefit from having someone like Ito behind him, who is reliable in possession and capable of helping his team play out from the back.

Kompany's Bayern will likely mirror his previous sides, setting up in a 4-4-2 shape where there is lot of focus on not only keeping the ball but being dynamic in possession and hurting the opposition with crafty wingers on the flanks. To ensure this works, Kompany will have to maximise Bayern's offensive capacities, and the balancing presence to allow all of that to work will be Palhinha.

The Portuguese will set the tone for the rest of his teammates from the middle of the park and allow them to flourish going forward. Kompany's teams have been known to be risk-taking and aggressive with and without the ball, which is why there is a need for someone like Palhinha who can meet the demands of the system without any significant drop-off in quality.

Could this be how Bayern play under Kompany, with Palhinha anchoring midfield? - DFL

Then there is the matter of the actual partnerships in midfield that Palhinha will be a part of. Perhaps the most potent pairing is that of him and youngster Pavlović, given their complementary strengths. 

Pavlović will have licence to go forward and be more box-to-box with his work from midfield, without having to worry about covering the space behind him, because that responsibility would lie with Palhinha. In fact, with the Portugal international, there is potential for the likes of Laimer and Kimmich to work in a pairing as well, with both players at their best when unrestricted in terms of their freedom of go forward. 

It is ultimately up to Kompany to decide on a first-choice pairing, and pre-season will allow him to really explore what his options are like ahead of the start of the new season.

There is exciting potential for a partnership between Palhinha and Pavlović in midfield. - IMAGO/Ralf Poller/Avanti

At the age of 29, Palhinha is at the point of his career where he is also ready for the pressures of joining a club like Bayern, where talent and temperament go hand in hand. He has played for a big club back in Portugal in Sporting. However, juggling with the expectations at Bayern is a different beast.

He is now a full Portugal international and is a crucial part of the national team's core group of players. His rise in recent years has suggested that there was always another gear in him and now at Bayern, he gets to test himself at the highest level.

Palhinha's stock has continued to rise with his displays for Portugal at Euro 2024. - Justin Setterfield

It isn't the easiest of times to join Bayern. Right after losing the Meisterschale that they had kept within their grasp for so long, to Bayer Leverkusen, the task at hand is sizeable. Though equally, there is plenty of excitement for how this Bayern team is starting to take shape under Kompany. To be a part of this is an opportunity that Palhinha will not wish to pass up.