Reserved Benatia centre stage ahead of Bayern debut
Munich - Two weeks ago, FC Bayern München's new signing Medhi Benatia was presented in a press conference to the media and the world. He came across as friendly, if reserved, but it was hard to miss the hunger in his eyes. "I know that I can achieve great things here," said the 27-year-old, who joined from AS Roma.
After his presentation, Benatia headed off immediately, not to the training field, but instead to the gym. He had been struggling with a calf injury, and just before departing he uttered, "I want to be fit and ready for the game against VfB Stuttgart".
Chance of action
Fast forward two weeks, the international break is over and Benatia is fit. Bayern and Guardiola have used the break to prepare for the visit of Armin Veh’s Stuttgart - and the Moroccan captain has been involved in those preparations. On Monday evening, Benatia trained for the first time with his new colleagues on Säbener Straße. The delayed introduction to training and the timing of the international hiatus were hardly unpleasant for Benatia. The defender could take his time to recover his fitness while settling into his new hometown. Now, however, that hunger is stronger than ever and on Saturday afternoon, Benatia wants to be involved. His coach, Pep Guardiola, might have no choice: injury worries are mounting.
Another of Bayern’s summer signings, Xabi Alonso, has been sitting out of training after sustaining a foot injury on his debut in the Matchday 2 draw with FC Schalke 04. Arjen Robben has an ankle problem, and for both men, the Stuttgart game comes too early. Rafinha is another who won’t make it; after a torn ligament, he is only in light training. "This week’s training is entirely aimed at Stuttgart and the players’ fitness," confirmed club sporting director Matthias Sammer to fcb.tv. For the above reasons, Benatia is likely to feature in the starting line-up against Stuttgart, although where exactly is still open for debate. "At Udinese Calcio SpA, we played three at the back," remembers Benatia. "I played on the right side of the three. At Roma, we played four at the back and I was the right-sided centre-half." The absence of Alonso frees up that exact spot - with Philipp Lahm expected to partner Sebastian Rode in holding midfield.
Three or four?
Guardiola hasn’t opted for a three-man backline since the Supercup defeat to Borussia Dortmund: in his side’s two Bundesliga games thus far, the Catalan tactician has gone with four at the back. Benatia therefore offers the champions’ coach the chance to return to his favoured system earlier than anticipated. His athleticism and strength in the tackle could well prove a trump card in what is likely to be a physical affair. Despite his reserved nature, he told kicker that as soon as the whistle blows, "he has no friends any more", describing his style of play as "relentless". "He’s solid and tough," said Sammer of Benatia at the presentation. "But at the same time, he’s quick and mobile. He passes the ball well, possesses a trustworthy technique and is excellent in the air, both defensively and going forward." Benatia now wants to showcase his talent in a Bayern shirt for the first time on Saturday. Yannik Schmidt/Daniel Thacker
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