David Alaba , Bayern’s first choice left back since February-March 2012 suffered a horrid stress fracture on his left foot during a pre-season friendly against Napoli in July. The resultant surgery has kept him out of action for a good 14-15 weeks now meaning he hasn’t played for Bayern this season. Alaba came under the spotlight early this year (2011-2012 season) when Jupp Heynckes used him as a left back moving skipper Lahm to the right.
Alaba was largely used as a defensive midfielder or on the left wing before this, though he had made his debut in a Bayern shirt as a left back against ACF Fiorentina in March 2010. His inclusion at left back revived Bayern’s 2011-2012 season which saw them finish as runners-up in three competitions.
Bayern Munich have so far played either left-footed center back Holger Badstuber or young midfielder Emre Can (early this season) at left back keeping Lahm at right back. Bayern were unfortunate not to have the services of full-backs Contento and Rafinha who were also sidelined with pre-season injuries. Bayern barring their game at Minsk have been air-tight at the back to say the least. They have let in just 3 goals in all competitions this season with Neuer being a mere spectator in most games.
But this does not highlight Badstuber’s miserable performance at left back this season. Memories of Valencia turning a young Holger (playing left back) inside-out at Old Trafford still haunts many Bayern fans and his recent performances at the same position brings back these torrid images. Bayern will be glad to have Alaba back since he provides a different aspect to Bayern both while defending and when on attack.
The 4-2-3-1 system that Bayern employ requires the full-backs to provide the necessary width and ball play in midfield during attacks. They play a crucial role in linking up with their wingers on either flank and also in providing crosses into the box. But in going forward, they must also be quick to track back when the opposition counters. Badstuber despite his excellent vision and ability to cross into the box lacks the pace to track back when there is a counter. The sublime understanding between Ribery and Alaba/Lahm on the left last season was also missing when Badstuber assumed the role. The lack of interplay and understanding with the full back this season has seen Ribery drift more centrally and a lot of times to the right flank as well. Alaba possesses both the vision and crosses of Badstuber in addition to his quick pace and should help Ribery be more adventurous on the left.
Another attribute the young left back brings into the game is his excellent ability to position himself and time his tackles. His performance against Real Madrid last season showed just why he’s considered a top prospective full back. Alaba’s return against Düsseldorf was fairly promising and this could see him returning to the starting XI pretty soon.
Mario 9 vs Mario 33
An injury to Mario Gomez last season would have worried the Bayern board with no able back-ups to substitute him. This season new signing Mario Mandžukić has done well in picking up the baton. Mandžukić has scored 9 goals in 11 outings so far this season and looks to have made a case for his inclusion in the starting eleven. But what when Gomez gets back to full fitness? Will Mario 9 be benched and brought on only as a substitute?
The playing styles of both Mario’s differ quite a bit. Gomez is your classic burly center forward, a goal poacher. His key attributes include his clinical finishing, strength to hold off defenders, hold the ball up for his teammates and his powerful header. Gomez is often noted for his positioning and anticipation in the box. He’s not someone who would run back to retrieve the ball and pass it forward to a teammate nor can one expect him to dribble the ball past 2-3 defenders before scoring.
Mandžukić on the other hand loves to drift to the wings allowing a wide player or a central midfield player to make a run into the box. Known best as an aerial threat, Mandžukić also brings in his teammates into the play through clever passes and one-twos. Less of a physical presence than Gomez in the box, the Croatian does have a decent finish but is more often guilty of missing out on simple chances.
Mario Mandžukić will get his playing time, but his starting role will be in doubt once Gomez is back and finds his scoring touch. After-all you don’t keep a man who’s scored 79 goals in the last 2 seasons with 20 of them coming in the Champions league on the bench. Moreover Bayern’s playing style makes Gomez more lethal in the six yard box than his namesake.
Gomez provides a definite focal point for the attack. He plays upfront knowing that on the wings and behind him, he’s got enough creativity and pace to break open the opposition defense. His physique allows the ball to be held up-field and his finishing makes him one of the top poachers in the game today. Mandžukić’s constant movement does confuse the defense but on the other hand fails to provide the ball holding aspect and six-yard poaching as evident in Bayern Munich’s defeat to BATE Borisov.
A better role for Mario number 9 will be to play the second striker role in the team, a position currently played by Kroos. Kroos becomes ineffective against teams that sit back deep to defend. Mandžukić’s movement and aerial ability can come in useful here to break through such teams.
Overall, the return of Alaba and Gomez will add a new dimension to Bayern Munich’s play and the Bavarians can be expected to be even more unforgiving for the rest of the season.