Tuesday’s Champions League group C clash with minnows Viktoria Plzeň gives Julian Nagelsmann the chance to rotate after the Bayer Leverkusen game and ahead of ‘der Klassiker’ on Saturday. How will the Bayern coach shuffle his pack for the visit of the Czech champions?
With such an array of riches at his disposal it has been difficult for Bayern’s coach to keep all his players happy with those not seeing regular game time starting to voice their concerns publicly (Leon Goretzka and Ryan Gravenberch). A seemingly straightforward tie at home to unfancied Viktoria Plzeň therefore gives Nagelsmann the chance to give those players a rare start and with positive Covid tests for Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller his hand is somewhat forced anyway.
“We have to rotate a bit because of Thomas and Josh, but we won’t change seven players” he revealed at Monday’s press conference. “There are several ways: early substitutions or starting XI changes. You’ll see tomorrow how I decide.
“”Serge [Gnabry] is obviously a candidate, I haven’t decided 100 percent who’s going to play yet. I think very highly of Serge and have the expectation that he doesn’t think too much but plays freely from the soul. I put a lot of trust in him, so he can play freely.
Nagelsmann’s midfield conundrum centres around how his compensates for the absence of Kimmich. Marcel Sabitzer started against Köln at the weekend with Leon Goretzka coming on, although Ryan Gravenberch is also gunning for a spot in the starting XI.
“He’s [Goretzka] in good spirits after the injury and the corona infection. He’s doing fine. I expect him to bring his manager onto the pitch. We have to think about what position he’s playing. I’m currently leaning towards an eight rather than a six because I see him as more valuable there. He should play like he did when he was substituted on against Leverkusen.
Asked about Gravenberch, the coach was again coy on his thoughts. “The last week and a half he has made a very good impression. He’s also an option to start tomorrow, but I haven’t decided on that either.”
Giving Alphonso Davies a break is another option available to Nagelsmann although in the absence of Lucas Hernandez the central defensive partnership should remain Dayot Upamecano and Matthijs de Ligt. “Phonzy is still very young and can play a lot. It always depends on how the game is going. Josip Stanišić often played in the position. He’s doing well too and would be an option to start for Phonzy. But I haven’t made a decision on that yet.”
Thomas Müller’s Covid test means that Mathys Tel might get a start with Sadio Mané on the left, Serge Gnabry on the right and Jamal Musiala in the central role. The game has come too early for Kingsley Coman although he is thought to be an option for the squad to face Dortmund. Noussair Mazraoui is also an option in place of Benjamin Pavard.
Despite the temptation to rotate, the Bayern coach is certainly not underestimating his Czech opponents. “We still have to score points and we want that. The win against Leverkusen was important, the team did very well. It’s extremely important for the Champions League to win the game against Plzeň and also to keep the rhythm for Dortmund.
“We’re under a bit more pressure in the Bundesliga than in the Champions League. Basically, we want to win every game. I’m expecting a top performance, a very motivated performance, to continue what the players did very well against Leverkusen, including concentration in front of the opposing goal.
“I rather expect Plzeň to defend deeply. In the league, too, they often play on the counterattack. Up front they have two physically strong target players. They work a lot with early crosses, it’s a similar idea to Augsburg attacking, this is not always so easy to defend. We’re trying to achieve our optimum performance for the Champions League, but of course also for the upcoming Bundesliga tasks.”