Bayern Munich may not be bestriding the Bundesliga like a colossus at the start of 2018/19, but if you're a fan of the record champions, fear not: help is on the way in the form of half a dozen teenage talents who could soon be taking German football by storm.
"We need a breath of fresh air," sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic declared at the beginning of the current campaign. "I'm very interested in giving our young players a chance."
It's easy enough to follow Salihamidzic's reasoning. Some of Bayern's biggest names have been products of the club's youth system: think Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, or more recently Thomas Müller and David Alaba.
With that in mind, bundesliga.com has unearthed six promising youngsters who look set to continue the trend…
Key stat: Davies is Canada's youngest-ever debutant and goalscorer, and at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup he became the first player born in the 2000s to score at an elite-level international tournament.
Davies, who is set to join Bayern from the Vancouver Whitecaps in January 2019, is already emerging as the poster boy of Canadian soccer. The fearless winger has enjoyed a blockbuster rise from his humble beginnings in a Ghanaian refugee camp, notching six goals and 11 assists in 29 MLS appearances for the Whitecaps this season. The lightning-quick forward has shown he is not afraid to stand up a full-back with his fancy footwork and either play a dangerous cross or cut inside and pull the trigger. Sound familiar?
Should the Bavarians continue to struggle after Christmas, Niko Kovac may call on the pace and power of the tenacious Canada international to fill a space on the left wing, where fans have already witnessed tinkering between Franck Ribery, Serge Gnabry and James Rodriguez. Davies is equally capable of playing on the right flank, too – so watch out Arjen Robben!
2) Lars Lukas Mai
Key stat: In April 2018, Mai became the first player born this millennium to play for Bayern’s senior team.
Bayern handed Mai his Bundesliga debut at the age of 18 years and 22 days against Hannover on Matchday 31 last season (3-0), and he also started against Eintracht Frankfurt (4-1). The imposing central defender (6'2") has an air of Niklas Süle about him and is arguably just as versatile as the Germany centre-back, capable of playing at full-back or in defensive midfield. Mai displays impressive maturity on the ball as he likes to step forward into midfield and play the simple pass, while his height also makes him a dominant aerial force. Maybe not the fastest defender in Bayern's ranks, but his ever-improving ability to read the game more than makes up for it.
A natural leader, Mai captained the Bayern U17s to the German title in 2016/17, before being made skipper of the U19s last season. A regular starter for the reserves this term, it seems only a matter of time before he moves up to the senior squad. “Lukas Mai is a super talent, a player the team supports and trusts," Süle said after Mai's debut against Hannover. "He's worked very hard for this, and it’s just the beginning for him.”
3) Woo-yeong Jeong
Key stat: The youth international is the first South Korean ever to wear the Bayern shirt.
Although the move was announced last June, it wasn't until January 2018 that Jeong joined Bayern from Incheon United, and the highly rated South Korean wasted no time in making an impact. The 19-year-old scored on his debut for the U19s and needed just six months to be promoted up to the reserves. He has been one of the team's star performers in 2018/19, with six goals and three assists in only 13 Regionalliga outings.
What Jeong may not have in strength he atones for with his speed, technique and uncanny ability to find the back of the net; a rare trait for a winger his age. Only 24-year-old Kwasi Wriedt has been on target more often this term than the South Korean, who has settled in superbly despite being in Germany for less than a year. Could the twinkle-toed youngster soon be following in the footsteps of his illustrious countrymen Bum-kun Cha and Heung-min Son?
4) Franck Evina
Key stat: Evina registered 26 goals and 15 assists in 48 appearances over two seasons with the U17s.
Evina has been a part of the Bayern setup since the age of seven and is already approaching the fringes of the senior squad. Last season, the powerful frontman appeared in two games for the first team, starting on the left flank in victories over Eintracht Frankfurt (4-1) and Cologne (3-1). Evina is the archetype of a modern-day forward. He can cut in from the wing and flash a shot on goal with his right foot, be the target man and bring others into the fold, or use his pace to play off the shoulder of opposition defenders.
The Cameroon-born forward, affectionately known as the “Bavarian Hulk” in Munich, is clearly expected to enjoy a bright future, having been offered a contract through to 2021 back in May. "Franck is a quick forward who has enormous athletic qualities," Salihamidzic enthused at the time. "We're very happy we've secured his services over the long term, and we aim to further promote his good progress."
Key stat: Bayern conceded only three goals with Richards in their line-up during the 2018 International Champions Cup, and six without him.
Richards spent 10 days on trial at Bayern in May 2018 as part of an academy agreement between the Bavarian giants and his club FC Dallas, and the young American made such an impression that he was promptly invited back to Munich on a one-year loan deal. "He's a very talented player," Kovac said after a 3-1 win over PSG in July. "He's excellent in training and he's played two great games. He still has to work hard, but I know that if we need him he'll be ready to go."
Not long after his arrival, the USA U20 defender confessed that Jerome Boateng was his "favourite player", and his style is not dissimilar to that of his teammate. Quick, powerful and comfortable in possession, his impressive skillset is there for all to see – even if David Alaba admitted that he forgot Richards' first name at one point in pre-season and simply referred to the Alabama native as "Texas"! Currently playing with the Bayern U19s, the Dallas loanee could potentially see his deal extended at the end of the calendar year.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Key stat: Shabani has scored five goals and set up another four in just nine games for the Bayern reserves this term, meaning he's had a hand in a goal every 83 minutes.
Like Evina, Shabani has been at Bayern since the age of seven and signed his first professional contract with the club in May 2018. He also made his Bundesliga debut in the 4-1 win over Kovac's Frankfurt at the end of 2017/18, having racked up eight goals and five assists in 20 appearances for the U19s. "Meritan is a hugely gifted and promising player who has come all the way through our youth system," Salihamidzic enthused. "We're pleased to have tied him to the club long term."
A tricky attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, the Germany U20 international can operate in a variety of roles: as a No.10, winger or even second striker. He caught the eye with a superb strike against PSG in the UEFA Youth League last December, and is sure to get further opportunities to showcase his talent at the highest level.
"The fact that so many players have been awarded a professional contract in recent months shows just how well the promotion of young talent works at Bayern, and how well we train our prospects," Salihamidzic declared recently. "I really hope that some of them can establish themselves at the very top."
Watch this space, Hasan, watch this space…