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Chris Richards is increasingly becoming a part of the Bayern Munich first team now, and is eager for more opportunties to showcase his talents. - © CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
Chris Richards is increasingly becoming a part of the Bayern Munich first team now, and is eager for more opportunties to showcase his talents. - © CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Why Chris Richards should get a run in Bayern Munich's defence


Manuel Neuer, Niklas Süle, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies and… Chris Richards? You'd better believe it! The American defender is increasingly looking at home in the Bayern Munich defence and is in line for more to come in 2020/21.

The 20-year-old has already made three senior appearances for the treble winners this term, but his emergence has not happened overnight. He established himself as a mainstay in the reserve side that won the third division title last term, and had a first taste of being in a first-team squad for a competitive game on Matchday 32 at the end of last season, albeit as an unused substitute.

That was followed by his debut the next week with a six-minute cameo on Matchday 33 against Freiburg. The Bundesliga title was already won by then, admittedly, but head coach Hansi Flick has underlined his faith in Richards this season too, bringing him on in the 73rd minute against Schalke on Matchday 1.

Watch: Highlights of Bayern's 8-0 thrashing of Schalke on Matchday 8

"He absolutely deserves the minutes he's had," the 55-year-old tactician said ahead of the Supercup between Bayern and Borussia Dortmund on 30 September, before throwing him on for the decisive final quarter of an hour of that fixture with the match poised at 2-2.

That's not something you do as an experiment - Richards played because he's good enough.

"Chris has very good qualities," said Flick. "He's strong in the tackle, is good in the air and has good pace. He needs to keep improving though, including in the technical-tactical area." His aerial game is so strong, in fact, that he earned the nickname "Air Richards" in the Bayern reserves, to go alongside being called "Texas" in the first team after the US state where he grew up.

That Supercup showing was followed by a first ever Bundesliga start against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 3. Richards, who was baptized by David Alaba's pastor, Jan Kohler, in a lake near Munich at the end of July, showed he was very much able to keep his head above water in the sink-or-swim moment that was his full Bayern debut.

Richards (back row, 4 l.) played against Borussia Dortmund in the 2020 Supercup in September. - Matthias Hangst/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Lining up at right-back, he completed 90 percent of his passes, teed up three teammates for shooting opportunities, covered 8.45km (5.25 miles) out on the pitch and also registered an assist - for Robert Lewandowski, no less - and was deprived of another after Thomas Müller's effort was ruled out for offside. By the time he was taken off on 65 minutes, Bayern were 2-1 up in a game in which they would go on to scrape a last-gasp 4-3 victory.

And so, after enjoying some bite-sized samples of first-team football in recent months, Richards now looks increasingly ready for more adult-sized portions.

"Chris did very well," praised Flick after the final whistle against Hertha. "It wasn't an easy game for him but we can be pleased with the way his starting debut went. It would be great if he continues like that."

Müller was also positive in his assessment of his young teammate: "If I weren't so clever as to stand offside, Chris would've had two assists today. Let's hope he can build on this. He's good because he's brought his talent from the USA and because Bayern have taught him very well so far."

Richards tells of learning on the job soon after arriving at Bayern and being schooled by Lewandowski: "They passed the ball to him and his back was turned to me. I maybe gave him a yard. He turned it onto his left foot and hit it right into the top corner. Manuel Neuer said to me, 'You have to stay tighter to him', and I thought, 'It was only a yard - how did he get a shot away that quickly, with that much power and that much accuracy?'

"It was one of those things where I was thinking 'I know he's one of the best strikers in the world, but I definitely have some work to do'."

His elite-level education looks set to continue in the coming months. Flick stated that Richards had started against Hertha because regular right-back Benjamin Pavard "was at his limit," adding "we need to take responsibility and give players a breather when necessary. You have to protect the players from themselves."

After Bayern progressed through their DFB Cup first-round clash with FC Düren and kicked off their UEFA Champions League campaign by beating Atletico Madrid, the Reds will have 14 games between now and Christmas. And that's not even including an extra three during the next international break in November.

Richards was hailed for his display on his full debut for Bayern against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 3. - Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

All of which equates to a match every three or four days for the next nine weeks, meaning Flick will need to rotate his line-up to prevent fatigue-related muscle injuries. Nobody - no body indeed - can sustain that level of exertion without overextending themselves.

And Richards is more than ready to help out. "I'm friends with Josh Zirkzee and Alphonso Davies, and they've both been getting their shot at the first team and both of them have killed it so far," he told Bleacher Report in May this year. "I just think it's my time to be able to show people that even though I'm American, we can play at the highest level in the world."

The key point with Zirkzee and Davies is that they both grasped their chances when they came along, respectively taking advantages of injuries to Lewandowski, Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez in 2019/20 to show they can handle life in the first team.

Richards (r.) is hoping to follow the footsteps of close friend and fellow youngster Alphonso Davies (l.) by establishing himself in the Bayern first team. - Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sven Simon

Richards need only look at Davies to realise that his opportunity may come at a time and in a position he is not expecting. Davies, after all, was signed as a winger but has since been converted into one of the best left-backs in the game.

So whether it be at right-back, rotating in for Pavard or new signing Bouna Sarr, or in his preferred role at centre-back - Jerome Boateng is 32 and unlikely to start every game - or even in another position entirely, more openings will almost come Richards' way. Now he just has to keep showing he can take them.