It is a truth universally acknowledged that a top-level coach in possession of a world-class football team must be in want of James Rodriguez – yet surprisingly, the Colombian magician has only started three of Bayern Munich's 10 competitive outings in 2018/19.
Slow and steady wins the race
With the Bavarian giants having already dropped points – drawing with Augsburg and Ajax, and losing to Hertha Berlin - bundesliga.com explains why the 27-year-old playmaker boasts an X-factor that should in fact make him one of the first names on Niko Kovac's teamsheet.
James returned from the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a calf injury that ruled him out of Colombia's last-16 defeat to England, which perhaps explains Kovac's reluctance to throw him straight back in at the deep end. After all, the Bayern No.11 sustained a number of minor niggles last term which limited him to just 19 Bundesliga starts.
When he was in the starting line-up for Bayern in 2017/18, James helped the record Bundesliga champions register 16 victories – an impressive win rate of 84 per cent – while they picked up an average of 2.5 points per game. Without him, they still took 2.4 points a game, but the average win rate dropped down to 73 per cent.
Watch: James' sensational debut season for Bayern
One of a kind
Bayern are blessed with some of the world's best attacking talent, but James' profile makes him unique even among their star-studded ensemble. Thiago, Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka and Renato Sanches are more classic central midfielders – even if each man brings something slightly different to the table – while Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry are wingers. Robert Lewandowski and Sandro Wagner are pure strikers, while Thomas Müller – well, he's Thomas Müller.
James is the squad's only true attacking midfielder, an inimitable combination of technical finesse, inch-perfect passing and ice-cool finishing. With just one or two deft strokes of his supernatural left boot, the on-loan Real Madrid man can carve open defences or leave goalkeepers stranded. Last season, he had a hand in nearly a goal per game, notching up seven strikes and 11 assists in 23 league appearances.
"The first season was very positive," James told fcbayern.com over the summer. "I want to win more trophies this season and be an important member of the team. I'm very happy here, I'm only thinking about Bayern. It's a magnificent club and I can see myself staying here for longer."
A team player
Once described as a "godsend" by former Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, the angel-faced James demonstrated his versatility in the first of a two-season loan from Real. He began life as a classic No.10 before dropping slightly deeper into midfield – where he could exert greater influence and act as the springboard for Bayern's attacks – and even starred occasionally from the wings. As well as showcasing his own exquisite talent, the Colombian has the happy knack of bringing the best out of his teammates, and has at times shown an almost divine understanding with fellow string-puller Thiago and 'space interpreter' Müller.
Kovac handed James his first start of the season in September's UEFA Champions League win over Benfica, on the left side of midfield in a 4-3-3, with Javi Martinez holding and Sanches further up on the right. As expected, James was given licence to roam and often found himself drifting into the No.10 role. He even provided the assist for Sanches' fine second-half goal, linking up nicely with Ribery before floating a delightful ball over for his 21-year-old teammate – who grabbed all the headlines against his former club. Once again, James showed that he doesn't need to be in the spotlight in order to shine.
He may only have played 225 minutes in the 2018/19 Bundesliga, but James has still managed to make a difference, nodding in a late third goal in the recent win over Bayer Leverkusen before having another effort disallowed, as well as opening the scoring and winning a game-clinching penalty on his first league start of the season in the Matchday 4 triumph at Schalke.
Watch: James opened his Bundesliga account for the season against Die Werkself
Furthermore, the injuries to Coman, Tolisso and Rafinha – which have left Kovac with just 16 available outfield players – make it hard to see how the Croatian can do without James in the coming weeks. The Colombian also remains something of a good-luck charm for Bayern, who have won all eight Bundesliga games in which he has found the back of the net.
Kovac is clearly keen to ensure that his twinkle-toed playmaker stays at 100 per cent heading into a busy run of fixtures. The Bayern boss asked James to forego Colombia's September friendlies against Venezuela and Argentina so that he could remain in Munich and make up for the pre-season training he missed because of his calf injury.
James may not be ready to play 90 minutes in every game, but there is no denying that the record Bundesliga champions are a different prospect with their midfield magician on the pitch. Kovac has already made it clear that he plans to rotate his squad throughout 2018/19, but starting his No.11 as often as possible looks like a sure-fire way to guarantee success.
After all, nobody does it quite like James.