This is a disaster. That may sound like hyperbole, but for anyone who has watched Bayern Munich play soccer over the past few months, not to mention the past decade, knows how significant it is for Der FCB to lose captain Philipp Lahm for three months to an ankle injury. Not only is Lahm the team’s captain, he is their most versatile and talented defender and is easily one of the best full backs playing right now. Losing him, just as both their Bundesliga and Champions League campaigns heat up, could very well prove to be the Bayern’s undoing.
It is not just Lahm’s injury that is so problematic for Bayern. It is his injury coupled with existing injuries to David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger that makes this a precarious time for the men in Munich. Under coach Pep Guardiola, players are less confined to a specific position than they are asked to perform certain tasks. Positional fluidity is a key to Guardiola’s success and has become a huge strength for Bayern this year, despite struggles to adjust last year.
One perfect example of this positional fluidity has been Guardiola’s response to Schweinsteiger’s prolonged absence. We have seen Lahm play further forward in an attempt to alleviate Basti’s absence, even resulting in Lahm’s first career brace earlier this year against Werder Bremen. Now, with Lahm missing as well, Guardiola will have to reassess how to replace Schweinsteiger andLahm.
This is where Alaba would have been a godsend, especially given his notable progression this year. Of course, Alaba is out as well. Lahm would have been the natural choice to spend some time at left-back to replace Alaba, but now without any of the three players, Guardiola must use some of his ingenuity to shore up Bayern’s defense.
The problem with losing Lahm is that Bayern has no real facsimile for him. The best hope Guardiola has is 19-year-old Dane Pierre-Emile Hojberg. While certainly a talented player, Hojberg has just 17 Bayern appearances in the last two seasons, a fact that makes it hard to imagine him ably taking over for Lahm. It is not that he lacks the ability; he is a preternaturally talented young man. Lahm simply plays the fullback position in a way that no one else can. He can play both sides of the field, he can cut incisively, he may be the best tackler in Europe and his dribbling skills are bar none. Hojberg is a young, raw talent, but Lahm is a generational player who is playing some of the best soccer of his already splendid career.
So yes, while this may be Bayern, a team with seemingly unlimited resources and an ability to somehow endure even fate’s cruelest twists, the Lahm injury is indeed bad news of the highest order. He is not their best player, but he is the hardest to replace, and he is their captain. There is no player on this team that is not vital to the team’s success, but there is no player as important as Lahm right now. This will be a tough three months for Bayern and how they deal with it will answer a lot of questions about their ability to compete come April and May.
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