Why Arturo Vidal was allowed to leave: Bayern Munich’s incredible strength in depth in midfield
The midfielder formerly known as el Guerrero and la Piranha is no longer Bayern’s warrior-like piranha marshaling the centre of their midfield, running over Bundesliga opposition seemingly at will.
And while you may be excused for thinking the 31-year-old’s exit from the Allianz Arena will prove as much a blow for Bayern as a collective sigh of relief from Bundesliga midfielders up and down the country, that may not prove the case at all.
Despite losing Vidal’s immense experience and pedigree of lifting two German championships, a DFB Cup and Supercup, Bayern’s embarrassment of riches in midfield means the move makes a lot more sense than you may initially imagine.
bundesliga.com looks at the men who are more than capable of filling Vidal’s shoes…
The 2014 FIFA World Cup Golden Boot winner was a revelation in the second-half of his first full season at Bayern, something brought about by his drop into a deeper role under Jupp Heynckes. Having started the season operating in his more accustomed No.10 deployment, James starred as Bayern’s creative launching pad alongside two of the Thiago, Vidal and Corentin Tolisso triumvirate.
Watch: James’ stunning debut season at Bayern
A return of 11 assists and seven goals in his debut Bundesliga campaign shows just how effective James can still be from further back in the deck. With his ability to play across the front three, operate behind the striker and now as a marauding playmaker, how James fits into Niko Kovac’s system is a luxurious headache for the new boss to nurse. He may be one of the best creators in world football, but perhaps James lacks the bite of a Tolisso. Worry not…
Key stat: 90.9 per cent of passes completed, 51 per cent of tackles won last season
A club-record signing from Lyon 12 months ago, Tolisso returns to Munich a World Cup winner and the most obvious heir apparent to Vidal’s midfield throne. Versatile, hard-working, loves a tackle and immensely creative, Tolisso offers comparative bite as Vidal in midfield and more than makes up for it with his contributions going forward.
Tolisso’s first-season was a relatively successful one, contributing six goals and four assists, a record that betters Vidal’s (six and two respectively). He also matched up to Vidal in terms of won tackles, with a 51 per cent success rate of 254 challenges compared to Vidal’s 51 per cent of 321. Any grace period to settle into the country will now be forgotten and Tolisso will be expected to push on and make the position his own, albeit among fierce competition to fill Vidal’s boots. There’s one man in particular who offers possibly even more creativity in the squad…
Key stat: Won 59 per cent of his attempted tackles in 2017/18
Despite the now customary seasonal injury setback, Spanish pass-master Thiago has become an integral cog in Bayern’s creative engine room since arriving from Barcelona with Pep Guardiola in 2013. Thiago will never be the pitbull biting at the heels of opposition midfielders but he did add to this aspect of his game last season, winning a greater percentage of tackles than Vidal (59 per cent against 53 per cent), while also showing his artistry in possession by finding a team-mate with 92.7 per cent of his 1,241 passes in open play versus Vidal’s 91 per cent of 1,082.
Born in Italy when his Brazilian father Mazinho was playing for Lecce, Thiago will orchestrate the Bayern midfield, pulling its strings as the footballing puppeteer he is. If he can stay away from the physio’s room then it will be up to his competitive rivals to partner the Spain international. While question marks do hang over Thiago, there are fresh legs returning to the squad…
Key stat: 83.6 per cent completed passes for Swansea (their team average was 78.2 per cent)
After a disappointing season as part of Swansea City’s relegation from the English Premier League, Sanches has returned to Bayern with a point to prove. The stylish midfielder moved to Germany shadowed by the sky high expectations that stalk a teenager’s big-money move and while things didn’t quite work out in England, Sanches has looked the part in the Bavarians’ pre-season. His fantastic free-kick goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the International Champions Cup is a case in point.
Physically strong, comfortable on the ball and equally at home transitioning from attack into defence and vice versa, Sanches has all the attributes to make up for Vidal’s exit. The sheer depth of Bayern’s midfield may see opportunities limited but being among the quality in this squad and featuring when opportunity does knock over a long campaign battling across many fronts will do the Portuguese the world of good. Expect him to get better and better as a result. New coach Kovac’s penchant for bringing through youngsters should make sure of that. Sanches is an inexperienced option but experience certainly isn’t something Bayern lack…
Key stat: Won 57.2 per cent of tackles, completed 93.4 per cent of passes last term
Having established himself as one of the finest ball-playing centre-backs in the world under first Guardiola and then Carlo Ancelotti, Martinez was moved back up the pitch to central midfield by Heynckes last season. It was a decision that worked for all parties and, while Kovac may have his own ideas as to where Martinez’s piece fits in his tactical puzzle, the Spaniard remains a more than capable option to say the least.
Martinez more than kept up with Vidal, winning more tackles, headers and completing more passes than the Chilean. His versatility and vast experience will more than make up for what Bayern lose in Vidal and the mere presence of Martinez in the squad as yet another world-class option highlights the quality of depth that Bayern boast. Should Martinez operate at the heart of Kovac’s defence, there is still a ball-carrying midfielder as complete as Martinez in the ranks…
Key stat: 46 shots on goal last season, only bettered at Bayern by Vidal (49), Arjen Robben (52), Sandro Wagner (54) and Robert Lewandowski (124).
The 23-year-old Germany international will surely go down as one of the signings of the season after completing a free transfer from Schalke at the end of his contract. Great in the air, strong in the tackle, a playmaker and goalscorer, Goretzka has shown he is a truly complete midfielder during his five breakout years in Gelsenkirchen. If his talent can shine amid the even greater demands of playing for a European heavyweight such as Bayern – expected to compete for top honours domestically and across the continent – then he could prove the man who makes Bayern forget about Vidal.
Comparisons with Bayern legends Lothar Matthäus and Michael Ballack will further raise expectations, but if anyone has the talent to get close to fulfilling these most large of shoes then it is Goretzka. And while Goretzka will most certainly relish getting involved further up the pitch, there is one more option who adds a bit of sanity to proceedings…
Key stat: 90.6 per cent pass completion in 2017/18
Signed from Hoffenheim a nudge over a year ago, Rudy’s first season at Bayern was up-and-down to say the least. The Germany international proved a reliable operator in the Bayern midfield, but largely went unnoticed as the more defensive officer of the ranks. He doesn’t offer the same potency as Vidal going forward, but does bring a more defensively astute flavour to a midfield littered with creative genius.
Rudy may be the biggest victim of the addition of Goretzka and returning Sanches, but a player who has 26 Germany caps and completed 90.6 per cent of his attempted passes last season is yet another compelling example of Bayern’s quantity of quality in their midfield department.