With Jerome Boateng set to miss "several weeks of action" with a groin injury, FC Bayern München coach Pep Guardiola will likely need to utilise the full range of his tactical options to compensate for the influential defender's absence.
Accordingly, bundesliga.com takes a look at two potential systems the Spanish tactician could choose to employ…
Option one: Three-man defence
While discussion of formations is often rendered futile when it comes to Guardiola's starting line-ups, it is worth noting that the Spaniard has started with a three-man defence in six Bundesliga games this season, winning all of them.
The advantages of a three-man defence for a coach with Guardiola's intent to attack and dominate are obvious. With the insurance of three men in the centre, full-backs can push high and overload either side of the field. Two of the three centre-halves can then advance into midfield to offer an extra ball-playing option, while the third ball-playing centre-half can also venture forward in order to help recycle possession quickly against sides pressing high, a popular tactic in the Bundesliga.
That in turn means a higher likelihood of retaining possession and being able to shift the attack swiftly to the opposite flank once one side has been overloaded, one of Guardiola's guiding attacking principles.
Usually the man in the centre of the back three, Boateng's range of passing and tactical awareness of when to drop deeper has been crucial to Bayern's success so far this season. The FIFA World Cup winner has completed 87 per cent of his 1,152 passes but also made notable contributions to his side's attacking play, particularly against Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker on Matchday 8. Switched into the centre of defence halfway through the first half, his inch-perfect raking pass for Robert Lewandowski to make it 3-1 just after the interval effectively settled the game, and was his second assist of the encounter after he had teed up Thomas Müller for the opening goal.
Boateng's pace on the turn also acts as an insurance policy against sides who come to the Allianz Arena and set up to counter-attack, as FC Ingolstadt 04 did very effectively for the first 65 minutes of their eventual 2-0 defeat on Matchday 16. A further disadvantage of a three-man defence is a potential exposure to cross-field passes aimed at the flanks and designed to capitalise on the space left vacant by the marauding full-backs.
While a squad with Bayern's depth and talent can compensate for most absences, there are fewer potential solutions than usual for Guardiola to circumvent the loss of his most in-form central defender. David Alaba - who has impressed as part of a back three this season and boasts a fine range of passing - could be a replacement, but Guardiola may not want to lose the Austrian's explosive ability when going forward by positioning him deeper.
Medhi Benatia is another potential solution and has completed more than 91 per cent of his passes this season, but the Morocco captain is only returning to full fitness and has played just six league games this season. For their parts, both Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber have struggled to nail down a regular starting berth since suffering long-term injuries.
One further option Guardiola may consider is pushing Xabi Alonso deeper to play between two traditional defenders, although the tactician is again likely to judge that his compatriot's passing ability is better served in midfield and closer to the opposition's goal. Such a headache may therefore encourage Guardiola to consider a four-man defence.
Option two: Four-man defence
Reverting to a back four, however, has not proved entirely successful this term for the champions. Bayern's only defeats this season have come when starting with a four-man back-line (Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 15 and Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League), while last season's seismic 4-1 loss at VfL Wolfsburg also came with the Reds playing four in defence.
Nevertheless, there remain advantages to a more traditional flat back four. A deeper back line offers greater protection against sides looking to attack on the break, and indeed, the four at the back can become three when the full-backs push high, providing a midfielder such as Alonso drops in.
In terms of personnel, four at the back may make more sense for Bayern with neither Martinez nor Badstuber – two of Guardiola’s remaining fit centre-halves – as effective or as quick as Boateng in occupying the central role in a three-man defence. Pairing those two as part of a back four would allow Alaba to reprise his natural position of left-back, while picking three ball-playing midfielders - Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal, for example) - would ensure Bayern would retain control of midfield.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are the opponents this weekend and after conceding to Kevin Volland after just nine seconds back in August, Guardiola will certainly prioritise defensive stability this weekend. Whatever he decides in compensating for Boateng's absence, it is sure that it will be as innovative as it is entertaining.