It is safe to say that not everybody was convinced that Frenchman Benjamin Pavard was the right signing for Bayern Munich when he arrived from Stuttgart. The World Cup winner has however proved all the doubters wrong this season becoming one of the club’s most consistent performers as they move closer to an eighth Bundesliga title.
Much of the fanfare last summer was reserved for the €80 million arrival of defender Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid and then the later loan signing from Barcelona of Philippe Coutinho. Pavard’s transfer from VfB Stuttgart had been announced part way through the previous season so wasn’t exactly news.
Having just been relegated with the Swabians, Pavard’s stock wasn’t anywhere near as high as it had been when winning the World Cup in Russia for France and scoring ‘that goal’ against Argentina.
Many queried whether he had what it took to succeed in Bavaria and there were questions as to just where Bayern intended to field him in their back four. With Niklas Süle, Jerome Boateng, Hernandez and even Javi Martinez pencilled in for the centre, David Alaba a shoo-in at left-back and Joshua Kimmich the world’s best right back, a space for Pavard seemed lacking.
Pavard started the season as a centre back with Hernandez out injured and didn’t particularly impress on his debut on matchday 1 against Hertha Berlin in a 2-2 draw. Further errors and uncertainty against Mainz on matchday 3 had the doubters muttering in the background.
Since then however, he has become a near ever-present switching to right back. Bayern’s injury-imposed defensive jiggling has thrown up a first choice back four that has developed into a formidable unit- and one which it seems is set for the future.
Alphonso Davies at left back and David Alaba in the centre have grabbed a lot of the headlines, but the impact of Pavard at right back cannot be overlooked. Indeed, he probably produced his best performance of the season in Bayern’s recent win over Fortuna Düsseldorf scoring one and providing the assist for Zanka’s own goal.
This season Pavard ranks 3rd in the entire Bundesliga for possession behind only teammate Joshua Kimmich and Leverkusen’s Sven Bender. At Bayern only Kimmich has covered more distance than his 298.6 km (15th in the league) and with 1953 intensive runs he ranks 16th (again only Kimmich at FCB has more). He is 7th in the Bundesliga for sprints (755) ahead of the likes of Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry.
Defensively he has made more interceptions (43) and clearances (91) than any of his back four teammates, while he has won 56% of his tackles against dribblers putting him 10th overall in the league and once more best at the club. His pass completion rate of 89.0% puts him just behind Thiago (13th in Bundesliga) while his passing progressive yards (12709) puts him 10th in the division overall.
Benjamin Pavard’s career has so far been one of ups and downs, peaks, and troughs. Promotion to the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart and the World Cup win were obvious peaks, while relegation with the Swabians and the early doubts over his Bayern credential were troughs.
This season Pavard is experiencing a peak with his consistently high displays. During the 2018 World Cup he wore shin pads bearing the wise words of Nelson Mandela “I never lose. Either I win or I learn”. That is exactly what Pavard has done this season and is reaping the benefits.
Such has been the revelatory success of the Pavard, Boateng, Alaba, Davies back four, that aside from Niklas Süle, it looks a tricky prospect for anyone to dislodge them as first-choice. Bayern are being linked with a move for Ajax’s US fullback Sergino Dest, but Pavard’s performances this season should cause him little concern over the potential arrival.