The return to full fitness of Joshua Kimmich following his shoulder injury will be welcome news on the one hand for Bayern Munich trainer Thomas Tuchel’s whose injury list seems to lengthen after each match. He will on the other hand face a quandary as to whether 19-year-old midfielder Aleksandar Pavlovic returns to the bench after some highly impressive displays as an understudy.
The Bayern youngster has long been on the club’s radar for his huge potential, but the midfielder has really come to the fore this season proving that football can take twists and turns of fate when you least expect it. There are so many ifs and buts this season which could have seen things pan out quite differently. If Bayern had succeeded in signing Joao Palhinha in the summer, it’s unlikely we would have seen Pavlovic in the first team. If Konrad Laimer and Joshua Kimmich hadn’t suffered injuries, we would perhaps have seen Pavlovic remain on the bench. Had Ryan Gravenberch opted to stick it out at Bayern and try to break through, the teenager would have been further down the pecking order.
But fate was aligned in his favour and having been given his chance in the Bayern first team, he has grabbed it with both hands. He has impressed hugely since coming in to partner Leon Goretzka in the centre of midfield and has shown a maturity beyond his tender years.
His first start came on matchday 11 in the 4-2 home win over Heidenheim with Joshua Kimmich suspended and Leon Goretzka out injured. He was then called upon again on matchday 15 against VfB Stuttgart with Kimmich and Goretzka out through illness. His set-piece deliveries caused the visitors many problems and he provided the assist for Kim-Min Jae’s goal that sealed a 3-0 win. His partnership with Raphael Guerreiro in the midfield was needed again in the following game against Wolfsburg to end the year.
Having shown what he could do, there was no hesitation from Thomas to start him against both Augsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach with Joshua Kimmich and Konrad Laimer both on the treatment table. Pavlovic grabbed his first senior goal for the club as he equalised away at Augsburg (3-2 win) and then repeated the feat to bag his first goal at the Allianz Arena in the 3-1 victory over the Foals. “I was a ball boy here for many years. To score a goal in front of these fans is just fantastic. FC Bayern means everything to me” he said after.
This is all quite the dream for the local Munich-born teenager, who has been with the club since the age of seven when he joined the academy. At the start of the season the defensive midfield was an area many depicted as a problem for Bayern and their failure to land Joao Palhinha from Fulham was seen as a missed opportunity that would come back to bite them.
Aleksandar Pavlovic has however stepped into the breach and become the solution to the problem few people realised was there all along. Against Gladbach he had a 91% pass completion rate, made 51 carries, and had 83 touches (third highest on the team). He was also third on the team for progressive distance with his passing.
“Aleks plays with great confidence, he’s a skilled football player and a really good guy. He has now scored two important goals for us” coach Thomas Tuchel said after the Gladbach win. “Big credit to him and the team. They make it very easy for him. He’s doing very well.”
The club’s bosses are also delighted with the speed with which Pavlovic has settled into the first team and the way his potential has been realised. There is always a feeling that local Munich players bring something special to the team and the fact that Pavlovic could end up saving the board millions of Euros in transfer fees (the Palhinha bid was €65 million) is of course an added bonus.
“I am happy that Aleks Pavlovic has developed so well,” President Herbert Hainer told Sky Germany after Saturday’s win. “He is getting his chance with us and he is making the most of it. He’s playing excellently, he’s calm on the ball and has a very good vision, which is great – and shows that we’re able to develop players from our own academy.
“If he continues like this, he will certainly get his chance [in the national team]. But we’ll have to see if that happens before the European Championship.”
Praise indeed, but praise which is potentially going to give Thomas Tuchel a selection headache when Kimmich and Laimer return to fitness. Given his performances of late, will Pavlovic return to sitting behind Kimmich, Goretzka, Laimer and Guerreiro in the midfield pecking order? Or will Tuchel keep faith in the youngster as a reward for his displays and drop Goretzka/ Laimer to the bench?
It’s a problem, but a luxurious problem to have, and a problem Bayern didn’t realise could even be a problem at the start of the season.