Bayern Munich have been hit by the news that David Alaba will be out for up to three weeks with a thigh injury, with Niko Kovac suggesting that either Alphonso Davies or Lucas Hernandez could replace the eight-time Bundesliga champion at left-back.
It’s certainly a nice problem for the coach to have: does he play his team's up-and-coming talent, or the man won the FIFA World Cup with France in that very position?
bundesliga.com puts forward the argument for the teenage Canadian…
By nature, the 19-year-old is a left winger and prefers attacking, but both Kovac and his coach for the Canada national team, John Herdman, believe he boasts the necessary tools to play on the left side of defence.
Davies was tried out in both positions during pre-season. He was used on the wing in the 3-1 win over Real Madrid in Houston before playing 90 minutes at left-back in the 1-0 victory over AC Milan in Kansas City, the 2-2 draw in the Audi Cup with Tottenham Hotspur (where he scored a stunning goal) and as a substitute in the 6-1 thrashing of Fenerbahce in the same tournament.
In the one Bundesliga game where he has featured at left-back, the 6-0 win over Mainz on Matchday 26 of last season, Davies even scored his maiden Bundesliga goal.
Watch: Davies' first Bundesliga goal against Mainz
With Canada, he has won five of his 15 caps starting in defence. The Canucks won four of those games, conceding just three goals and netting 23 at the other end, with Davies providing six assists. Such versatile attacking play is what Bayern always look for in their full-backs.
Two goals in just 128 minutes of Bundesliga football across nine games is one thing, but the teenager has also set up three attempts on goal for his teammates. During his long career in the German top flight, Alaba has created a chance on average every 68 minutes – Davies does so every 43 minutes. Hernandez is yet to tee up a colleague.
His work rate is also phenomenal up and down the wing. The former Vancouver Whitecaps player covers on average 8.3 miles per 90 minutes compared to Alaba’s 6.7 and Hernandez’s 6.0. He’s also recorded substantially more sprints per 90 minutes (48.5). That total is almost double Alaba's (27.2) and three times that of Hernandez (16.8).
Beyond that, the Canadian is blessed with lightning-quick pace, having been clocked at 21.4 mph in the Bundesliga. That's the same speed as Alaba’s fastest-ever in the league and a good 2.2 mph quicker than Hernandez.
Clearly, there also has to be focus on defensive work when playing at left-back. Perhaps it doesn’t come as naturally to Davies as the others, but he does contest more challenges per 90 minutes than either and has won a greater proportion of those on the ground (51.4 per cent) than Hernandez (49.0).
There will be those who believe Hernandez is the logical cover for Alaba, because it was as a left-back that he won the World Cup with France in summer 2018. Yet it would appear he has been signed by Bayern to play predominantly as a centre-back.
Since returning to full fitness after knee surgery, Hernandez has started all but one game alongside Niklas Süle in central defence, with Kovac seemingly keen to develop a new long-term partnership.
The only exception was at Leipzig on Matchday 4, when Alaba suffered his injury in the warm-up and the record champions were forced into a last-minute reshuffle. Jerome Boateng came in as the replacement for Alaba and took up his natural position in the middle, meaning Hernandez, instead of starting at centre-back, shifted to the left.
With the 23-year-old playing alongside 24-year-old Süle, Bayern have conceded just one goal in two convincing wins over Schalke (3-0) and Mainz (6-1). Hernandez completed almost 95 per cent of his passes and won two-thirds of his challenges in those games, as he laid the foundations for a rock-solid central defensive partnership.
A quick flick through the coaching manual will tell you that it’s not a good idea to split up a successful centre-back pairing without good reason. And so even in Alaba’s absence, it makes sense for Süle and Hernandez to keep playing together in the middle, with Davies slotting in at left-back. After all, he has learned from the best…
"One time when I was sitting in the sauna with David Alaba, he gave me some important advice," Davies once said. "He's a real friend of mine. He told me that when it's time to party, live life and have fun. When it's time to chill out, chill out. But during the season and we've got training, roll your sleeves up and give everything out on the pitch."
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