Ahead of his side's comfortable 4-0 win over Cologne on Matchday 5, Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac made a surprising declaration – for him, playing star signing Philippe Coutinho and club legend Thomas Müller together was "not an option".
The Croatian justified his thinking by saying a Coutinho-Müller combination would be "too attacking", so bundesliga.com immediately threw on their tactical thinking caps, and came up with several possibilities that would allow the record champions to simultaneously exploit the skills of the 'Little Wizard' and the 'Space Interpreter'…
Coutinho - Müller - Gnabry
Thiago - Kimmich
Kovac's concern about deploying Coutinho and Müller together is that it would fundamentally upset the balance of his 4-2-3-1, and yet Bayern have taken steps this summer to shore up their defence and midfield.
The acquisition of versatile defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez means that Joshua Kimmich is now free to push up into defensive midfield, playing in the holding role he occupies for Germany. The 24-year-old has already started here in four of Bayern's five games, providing three assists as they scored 14 goals and conceded just twice.
With Kimmich and Spanish metronome Thiago providing a solid base, Coutinho could easily start wide on the left with Müller in a central attacking role behind Robert Lewandowski. The Brazilian enjoyed some of the best moments of his career out on the left for Liverpool, playing slightly deeper than in the left-sided forward role he later assumed – with less success – at Barcelona.
This formation would play to one of Coutinho's strengths – cutting inside and shooting from distance, à la Franck Ribery – while Lewandowski's perfectly timed runs and formidable hold-up play should appeal to a man of the Brazilian's passing ability and movement.
Meanwhile, Müller would be given his usual freedom to roam between opposition lines, which he has done so effectively over the past decade. His spectacular volleyed goal against Red Star Belgrade in the UEFA Champions League was also a timely reminder that he still possesses a striker's killer instincts.
Perisic - Coutinho - Müller
Kimmich - Tolisso
A second solution would involve giving Coutinho his preferred role as the central attacking midfielder behind Lewandowski and shifting Müller out to the right flank. The Brazilian has already given a hint of how he might flourish in this system with an impressive performance against Cologne.
As well as winning a penalty after latching onto Corentin Tolisso's through ball – and converting it, thanks to a touch of altruism from Lewandowski – Coutinho teed up Ivan Perisic for Bayern's fourth goal, taking two quick touches from another Tolisso pass and sliding a perfect through ball to the Croatian winger.
Watch: Coutinho's first goal in Bayern Munich colours
Müller also favours the central role, but the Germany international could still thrive out on the right. He got four of his six goals and a handful of assists from that position last term, when Kovac opted to play James Rodriguez more centrally or experiment with different formations (4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1).
Coman - Lewandowski - Müller
Martinez - Kimmich
Speaking of different formations, there is nothing to stop Kovac from tweaking his system to accommodate two of his most talented players. Coutinho operated effectively as a central midfielder earlier in his career, and were he to be anchored by tenacious ball winners such as Javi Martinez and Kimmich, he could undoubtedly push up and contribute to Bayern's attacks without upsetting the side's balance.
The Brazilian actually wins a surprisingly high proportion of his challenges. In his four appearances to date he is hovering around the 60 per cent mark for a total of 47 duels, which is higher than Martinez, Kimmich or Thiago, and on a par with the more defensive Pavard. Add in a pass completion ratio of over 86 per cent, and you start to get a picture of just how complete a midfielder the Rio de Janeiro native is.
Watch: Coutinho settling in nicely with his new Bayern 'family'
The ever-versatile Müller would probably be happier in a wide forward role than Coutinho, who never quite took to the position at Barcelona. Should Lewandowski be sidelined by injury – a rarity but still a possibility – the Bayern No.25 could also deputise for the Pole as the focal point of Kovac's attack.
Lewandowski - Müller
Coutinho - Thiago - Kimmich - Gnabry
Last November, Bayern failed to win successive Bundesliga outings against Freiburg (1-1), Borussia Dortmund (3-2) and Fortuna Düsseldorf (3-3). Kovac's solution was to deploy Müller as a second striker and have him play off Lewandowski's shoulder. The result? The Bavarians went on a rampage, scoring 20 goals as they won seven league games in a row and reignited what would turn out to be a successful title defence.
"It's better if I can play alongside someone in attack," Lewandowski said at the time. "With Thomas next to me it's easier, he helps me a lot. We complement each other very well.”
Combining Lewandowski and Müller up front is therefore another option for Bayern, who could play Coutinho either out on the left wing or more centrally alongside Thiago or Kimmich. The Bavarians have never shied away from resolutely attacking line-ups in the past – nobody ever complained about Ribery partnering Arjen Robben – and the consequence, rather than a loss of balance, was usually a shedload of goals.
Furthermore, Coutinho and Müller are two highly professional, intuitive and gifted players who have already demonstrated their ability to adapt to a range of different teammates and systems. With an eighth straight Bundesliga title up for grabs, Kovac might well reconsider how to use the potentially decisive duo before the season is out.