Could USA youth international Chris Richards (l.) be the perfect replacement for the injured Benjamin Pavard (r.) at Bayern Munich? - © getty images/DFL
Could USA youth international Chris Richards (l.) be the perfect replacement for the injured Benjamin Pavard (r.) at Bayern Munich? - © getty images/DFL

Why Chris Richards should be first choice to replace Benjamin Pavard as Bayern Munich right-back

Injury to Benjamin Pavard is a blow to Bayern Munich as they go in search of a second ever Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League treble, but in the form of USA youth international Chris Richards they may have the perfect replacement.

FIFA World Cup winner Pavard picked up a metatarsal ligament injury to his left foot in training as Bayern stepped up preparations for their UEFA Champions League last-16 second leg tie against Chelsea.

It leaves coach Hansi Flick in need of a slight reshuffle as they target European glory.

Fortunately for the 55-year-old, he is blessed with a squad full of options and one in particular stands out as an enormously exciting Pavard replacement - 19-year-old Alabama native Richards, who has clearly already impressed Flick.

So much so, that the Bayern tactician handed Richards a Bundesliga debut in the 3-1 win over Freiburg on the penultimate matchday of the 2019/20 season.

Flick hailed Richards as "on the right track" at Bayern and it's clear he likes what he's seen so far, saying that since going up against the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry in first team training, Richards' "quality has continually increased."

Pavard's injury could mean the USA youth international’s pathway to regular first-team minutes finds a shortcut. Richards looks like he is ready. After all, he has already been rewarded for his superb performances with the reserves by training regularly with the first team, and he's been added to Bayern's Champions League squad alongside fellow youngsters Bright Arrey-Mbi and Malik Tillman.

Richards was described as "hugely talented" by now Hoffenheim coach Sebastian Hoeneß - the man who led Bayern’s reserves to the 2019/20 third division title with Richards his defensive bedrock, and Flick agrees.

Sebastian Hoeneß (l.) - the former Bayern Munich reserve coach now with Hoffenheim - has hailed Chris Richards (r.) a "huge talent". - Jan Huebner/Kleer via images/Jan Huebner

"The players who are now here [in the first team squad] are definitely our most talented players," the Bayern boss said recently.

Richards missed only eight matchdays for Bayern II - two of which were spent in Flick's Bundesliga squad - and featured 12 times out of 30 appearances at right-back before Hoeneß moved him into the centre of defence.

The teenage defender even bagged four league goals and it's worth remembering that this is also a young player that - in the summer of 2018, just two weeks after joining the club from FC Dallas - improved Bayern performances at both ends of the pitch in the International Champions Cup against respective French, English and Italian champions Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Juventus.

Across that pre-season tournament, Bayern conceded just three goals and scored four with their then 18-year-old rookie on the pitch, while conceding six and scoring three without him.

In 2018, an 18-year-old Chris Richards (l.) impressed in a Bayern Munich shirt at the International Champions Cup just two weeks after signing for the club. - Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Interestingly, Richards' recent positional tweak means he is following a similar path to Pavard as a right-back turned centre-back and even slotted into the centre of Flick's defence as a late substitute in his debut against Freiburg.

Pavard's own big break in senior football came as a right-sided full-back for Lille and he went on to flit back and forth from positions on the right and centre of Stuttgart's defence before the record Bundesliga champions came calling last summer.

It should encourage Richards that a player of Pavard's calibre not only broke out at right-back but also continued to thrive there after his own successful transition into a centre-back.

And Pavard's return to the right has been significant for Bayern as it empowered Joshua Kimmich's own move into central midfield, giving Bayern the tactical balance they needed to line up a 29th Meisterschale.

Watch: Throwback - Chris Richards signs permanent deal with Bayern

Kimmich's midfield switch is a crucial point to note here as, in giving Richards the opportunity to fill Pavard’s shoes, Flick needn’t unbalance his side further by returning Kimmich to right-back.

A similar argument can be made against any case put forward for Jerome Boateng to use his remarkable versatility and shift out to the right, with Richards’ inclusion meaning Flick - in both instances - can stick with his preferred central double acts of Leon Goretzka-Kimmich in midfield and David Alaba-Boateng at the back.

This kind of continuity is key for a team thriving under Flick's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation and that has seen them win their last 13 Bundesliga matches on the spin, as well seven from seven in the Champions League, including the dominant 3-0 victory over Chelsea that they defend at the Allianz Arena on 8 August.

Real Madrid loanee Alvaro Odriozola is another natural fit for Flick to consider at right-back, but the 24-year-old has managed just three more Bundesliga appearances than Richards and - beyond his greater first team experience - the Spaniard's case is no more compelling than the young American's.

Chris Richards (l.) was one of five academy players to make their senior debuts for Bayern Munich under Hansi Flick (r.) in 2019/20. - Hans Rauchensteiner/Hans Rauchensteiner / Foto Rauchensteiner/ Pool

By being given - and then seizing - more opportunity and appearances with the seniors, Richards will be able to make up that ground.

In Pavard's stead the scales may tip in his favour to do just that, especially when considering Flick's history of promoting from within - as well as Richards, he handed senior debuts to Oliver Batista Meier, Jamal Musiala, Sarpreet Singh and Joshua Zirkzee in 2019/20 - and trusting Richards now will benefit both player and club greatly in the long run.

Jochen Sauer, head of the FC Bayern Campus, spoke of Richards' "great potential" when he signed from their US academy partners and, just two years later, Richards looks both willing and able to make those words prophetic should he get the nod in the coming weeks.