Bayern Munich have made a big statement for the 2019/20 season by signing France international Lucas Hernandez. The 23-year-old joins fellow FIFA World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard in Bavaria, but what role will the versatile former Atletico Madrid defender play at the German champions? bundesliga.com assesses the options.
The arrival of Hernandez will swell Bayern’s considerable French contingent further. Although Franck Ribery has now left the club, Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman have long since made themselves at home in Munich. Pavard left VfB Stuttgart to join up with Niko Kovac’s men this summer too, so where can Hernandez fit into the mix?
1) At left-back in a flat back four
There has been a great tradition of French players at Bayern ever since former European Footballer of the Year Jean-Pierre Papin arrived in 1994. Hernandez and Pavard are set to become the eighth and ninth Frenchmen to feature for the first team, significantly bolstering the club’s defensive options.
That pair, of course, were the starting full-backs in the France team that won the World Cup last summer, but Pavard might fancy playing at centre-back for Bayern given that Joshua Kimmich has been flying in the right-back position.
Hernandez started all seven games for France at the World Cup in Russia from left-back, with his crunching tackles and serious engine being a benefit to his team at both ends of the pitch. The Atletico academy graduate won more duels (41) than any other full-back in the competition, and also provided two assists in the knockout stages. Bayern’s latest acquisition, then, is likely to provide some serious competition for – and even an alternative to – 2012/13 UEFA Champions League winner David Alaba on the left side of defence.
2) At left centre-back
Hernandez has a thou-shall-not-pass attitude on the pitch, something that made him a perfect player for Atletico boss Diego Simeone. It also makes the Marseille native suitable for a centre-back role too, a position where he was used more often than not last season.
A knee injury restricted Hernandez to 13 La Liga starts in 2018/19, with eight of them coming in central defence. The Frenchman also played there in both Champions League group stage games against Borussia Dortmund last October, meaning he played over 50 times at both centre-back and left-back for Atleti.
With good aerial ability and an aggressive approach, could the 2017/18 UEFA Europa League winner be the man to partner Niklas Süle at the heart of the Bayern defence next season? Kovac certainly seems to have earmarked him for the position. "We've brought in Lucas and we see him playing at centre-back for us," he said at a press conference in early July 2019.
Of the club's other central defenders, Süle started more league games than any other player (29) last season, compared to Jerome Boateng's 19. Even with Mats Hummels' departure for Borussia Dortmund, there is stiff competition so everyone will have more motivation to up their game.
3) At left wing-back in a 3-5-2
Two of the most successful French recruits in Bayern’s history were full-backs, with the right-sided Willy Sagnol and left-footed Bixente Lizarazu winning the 2000/01 Champions League among a host of other trophies.
During that famous penalty-shootout win over Valencia in the final, however, both men played in a more advanced role with three centre-backs behind them. Could Hernandez, then, find himself as the latest France international to occupy a wing-back berth at Bayern? There’s certainly a case to be made for that scenario, especially given that Niko Kovac often employed a 3-5-2 formation while at his previous club Eintracht Frankfurt.
Picture the scene. Pavard, Süle and Boateng could provide rock-solid cover in central defence, while also using their considerable talent on the ball to get Bayern moving from the back. On either side of them would be Kimmich and Hernandez, who would be given licence to make relentless raids from deep.
Hernandez’s opponents certainly won’t have it easy. Since the start of last season, the 23-year-old won more tackles than any other La Liga defender – a whopping 71.6 per cent of his 180 challenges. Bayern have a real warrior on their hands then – wherever they decide to throw him into battle.