With Benjamin Pavard set to be sidelined for the time being due to a foot injury sustained in training on Sunday, Bayern Munich may have to alter their plans as they prepare for their upcoming UEFA Champions League last-16 clash with Chelsea and beyond.
Who will replace the French World Cup winner at right-back in Bayern's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation? bundesliga.com explores the options…
Option 1: Joshua Kimmich
This might seem like the most logical choice for head coach Hansi Flick. Prior to the 2019/20 campaign, Kimmich was the number one right-back for Bayern and Germany, having barely blinked while taking up the baton when Philipp Lahm retired in 2017.
He is obviously familiar with the position and would arguably be the most like-for-like replacement for Pavard, who provided four goals and as many assists in the Bundesliga this past season. Solid in terms of his positioning and defensive duties, Kimmich also offers an attacking threat as a full-back, regularly charging up the wing to provide crosses into the box. After all, this is a player who provided 13 assists in the Bundesliga as a defender in 2018/19.
Watch: All of Kimmich's goals and assists in 2019/20
And yet, while it might be the least disruptive option for the defence, the same would not be true in midfield, where Kimmich has played 34 of his 47 competitive outings this season. Operating more centrally in front of the backline is the 25-year-old’s preferred role, and he has developed a formidable understanding with fellow midfielders Leon Goretzka and Thiago there.
Admittedly, that latter duo could easily take up the reins while Kimmich drops to right-back, but Flick is not a fan of reshuffling multiple positions at once. For example, when Robert Lewandowski was injured earlier this year, he drafted in youngster Joshua Zirkzee up front – rather than shifting the more experienced Serge Gnabry or Thomas Müller – in a bid to “change things as little as possible in the team,” and to keep “the understanding [between the players] and automations.”
It stands to reason that the same is still true now, so although Kimmich would undoubtedly excel again at right-back, he may not be Flick’s go-to man here.
Option 2: Alvaro Odriozola
That particular tag could be applied to Odriozola. This is, after all, exactly the kind of contingency Bayern had in mind when they signed the 24-year-old on loan from Real Madrid in the winter transfer period.
“We needed back-up,” Flick said of the Spain international after his arrival. “He trains well and does everything well. It’s good to know that you have options and it’s a role he’s accepted. We’ve spoken to each other about it. I have to say he’s got a great attitude and a very professional approach, so I’m very happy with him.”
However, a combination of Bayern’s blistering form in the second half of the season coupled with Flick’s reluctance to tinker with a winning team meant that Odriozola made just three Bundesliga appearances, totalling 153 minutes of action.
“He hasn’t had an easy time here in Munich but he’s nevertheless always very committed in training and approaches everything with a very professional attitude,” commented Flick last month, before rewarding the attack-minded full-back for his dedication with just a second league start against Wolfsburg on Matchday 34.
Odriozola undoubtedly has the quality to step in for Pavard, but as most players usually need a few games to find their rhythm, that lack of playing time is perhaps not the ideal preparation for vital Champions League matches. Then again, no Bayern player has played competitively since winning the DFB Cup final on July 4...
Option 3: Jerome Boateng
Playing time was certainly not an issue for Boateng in 2019/20. Although the 31-year-old slipped down the centre-back hierarchy at Bayern in 2018/19, he more than proved his worth when filling the void left by injuries to Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez in recent months, starting 23 times in the Bundesliga en route to Bayern’s eighth straight title triumph.
Boateng also earned plenty of praise from Flick along the way, the 55-year-old tactician highlighting that he has “shown he can perform at a high level”, and that “he’s been playing very well”.
All of his appearances in 2019/20 were in central defence, but that is not to say that Boateng can’t play at full-back: 58 of his competitive career outings have been on the right side of defence, so it is not too much of a stretch to think he could resume the role if asked.
Yet given Boateng’s current status as the first-choice partner alongside David Alaba in the heart of the Bayern rearguard, and Flick’s aforementioned preference of sticking with a tried and tested team – especially one that just won the double – it would be a big surprise if the 6’3” defender were moved to the flank.
Option 4: Chris Richards
That could end up playing to Richards’ advantage. The 20-year-old was a mainstay in the Bayern reserves in 2019/20, making 30 appearances as the team won the third division title. The Alabama native ended the season as a starting centre-back, but began the campaign at right-back, where he made 12 outings.
Flick was impressed enough to make Richards one of the five youth-team players regularly training with the seniors in recent months. Not only that, but he was called up to a Bundesliga squad for the first time on Matchday 32. He may have been an unused substitute in that 1-0 win away to Werder Bremen, but he made his top-flight debut a few days later, coming off the bench in Bayern’s 3-1 triumph over Freiburg on Matchday 33.
“Since they’ve been training with us, their quality has continually increased,” Flick said of the youngsters after that game. “[Jamal] Musiala and Richards are both on a very good path, so we rewarded them today for their performances in the reserves, giving them a chance to see what the Bundesliga’s all about. They’re both on the right track, but they’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of hard work before they can play for Bayern Munich.”
Promising indeed for Richards. And while he may not yet be immediately ready to challenge for Pavard’s place, he could suddenly find himself in the position of being next in line.