Last month, I questioned Pep Guardiola’s decision to sign Thiago and mentioned all the potential pitfalls that were to come with it. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, it seems as though the inevitable has happened. An experienced Bundesliga and Champions League winner in Luiz Gustavo looks set to be chopped from the squad in order to make more room for Thiago, an unproven Spanish youth player who has no experience whatsoever in the Bundesliga or UEFA Champions League. Arsenal have reportedly stepped up their interest and a move for around £14-£16million pounds seems to be imminent in the coming days.
Gustavo was perfectly content at Bayern Munich. His place in the Brazilian national team was given to him even as he performed a back-up role for his club side. After the Confederations Cup in Brazil, he was perfectly content on fighting for his place at Bayern. Brazilian head coach Scholari even reiterated that Gustavo’s place would not be dependent whether he started every game. His position in the pecking order at the club last season did not seem to matter. However the latest developments all seem to indicate that Guardiola has deemed him to be surplus to requirements.
With his new 4-1-4-1 formation, Pep Guardiola may get excited about the prospect of a Bayern side with six attacking midfielders but the average Bayern fan will remember the dark and painful days under Klinsmann and especially Van Gaal where Bayern were very attacking but lacked any sort of defensive spine or cohesion whatsoever. Jupp Heynckes finally addressed the problems that plagued Bayern for years with a style based on defensive solidity and smooth transition into attack that depended on two pivots in midfield in his 4-2-3-1. The placement of Martinez next to Schweinsteiger into the starting line up with Gustavo as an able back-up proved to be the final piece to the puzzle as Bayern vanquished all in their sights. But with the departures of Tymoschuk and potentially Gustavo, Bayern have only one recognized defensive midfielder left in the form of Javi Martinez. And even he might be moved out of midfield and into defense in order to make way for Thiago.
New signing Jan Kirchoff, a center back by trade, seems to be capable of playing in defensive midfield so far but it remains to be seen if he can fill in that role against the top sides on a regular basis. Pep’s 4-1-4-1 with Schweinsteiger in a single pivot role has made Bayern vulnerable on the break. The sheer number of one-on-one situations that the Bayern defenders had to face in the season opener against Gladbach last weekend seemed to be a throwback to the Louis Van Gaal era. Bayern were able to score and attack with verve but the cohesiveness in defense were sorely lacking. Gladbach were unable to finish effectively on the break but against a team of superior skill, Bayern may have suffered as they did against Dortmund in the Supercup.
Pep himself did not seem to be too satisfied over the weekend and it is clear that the players are still learning his system. He even stated that he is open to changing the system. But the sale of Gustavo is a big risk. It is reminiscent of Pep’s early days at Barca where he got rid of established household names such as Deco, Ronaldinho and Zambrotta. Those decisions ultimately proved to be successful. But will Pep’s questionable choice to let go of Luiz Gustavo in favor of Thiago pay off? Only time will tell.