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Thiago Alcantara at Bayern Munich: Playing could be a problem, but welcome to modern soccer

Jul 14, 2013, 6:51 PM EDT

Italy v Spain - UEFA European U21 Championships: Final Getty Images

A common lament in the wake of Thiago Alcantara’s move to Bayern Munich centered on potential playing time, assumed to be one of the reasons the Spain U-21 star was moving in the first place. With Bayern Munich’s midfield featuring Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martínez and Toni Kroos as first choices, Thomas Müller and Luis Gustavo also seeing time in the middle, and Mario Götze acquired from Borussia Dortmund, is there any room in Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 formation for Alcanatara?

Perhaps not, but there are a number of assumptions within the complaint that may prove false. If so, Bayern’s midfield will prove slightly less muddled:

  • Javi Martínez could resume the role he played at the end of his time at Athletic Bilbao: Central defense. He has the type of on-the-ball skills Guardiola covets in his central defenders and may immediately become one of the new coach’s first choices at the back. Unfortunately, this would also create a log jam among the center back, with Bayern also having Dante, Jerome Boateng, Daniel van Buyten, and a to-return Holger Badstuber at the position. But that’s a topic for another post.
  • Though he proved valuable last year, we’ll have to see if Luis Gustavo plays as prominent a role under Guardiola. Given his game and the team’s other options, he may not be viable competition for Alcantara, despite his obvious qualities.
  • If Guardiola goes back to playing the “false nine” striker he did during his final days at Barcelona, the likes of Müller and Götze are more likely to compete for time with Mario Mandzukic than the rest of the central midfielders.
  • And if that false nine-approach is utilized, it’s unclear that Bayern will play 4-2-3-1 this season. For all we know, Guardiola could be planning on a 4-3-3 variant that sees Kroos playing slightly wider and within the attacking three, squeezing out somebody like Arjen Robben.

Until Bayern plays meaningful games, it’s all speculation. However, it would be strange to assume that Alcantara would move without some assumption of playing time. Promises aren’t always kept, but between Bayern’s significant cash outlay, Thiago’s motives for moving, and the player’s talent, there are a lot hinting the Barça product will see time in the Bundesliga. (

Plus, we know how Barcelona plays. We know they not only have a lot of midfielders, but they don’t rotate their squad as often as other teams. Without somebody leaving the Blaugrana, Alcantara was only likely to see playing time increase as others’ decreased. It was hard to see that happening, though he had made 81 appearances (many as a sub) over the last two seasons.

But this isn’t about Bayern Munich versus Barcelona. This is about how much playing time Alcantara would have gotten at Manchester United, where there’s without question less competition in midfield. Ultimately, however, the Red Devils seem to have taken too long closing a deal with a player they were been linked to for months. They let the European champions come in and swipe their target, prolonging their search to find help for Michael Carrick.

This is just the way modern soccer works. The best teams are consolidating talent to an unprecedented degree, even in the face of concerns over playing time. Just as Isco went to Real Madrid amid their glut of attacking midfielders and Manchester City acquired Fernandinho despite going four or five deep in central midfield, Bayern have brought in Thiago Alcantara, just as they brought in Dante, Mario Mandzukic and Xherdan Shaqiri last year.

Did they need them? Perhaps, though they had stars in all those positions before their arrival. In the end, Bayern wanted the players, and the players wanted to go. With those facets in place, conjecture about playing time becomes irrelevant.

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