If anything good has come from Bayern’s lack of depth, it’s the emergence of Aleksandar Pavlović. The 19-year-old midfielder has done a superb job filling in for Bayern’s ailing midfield, showing his defensive ability while also scoring a goal and assisting two more.
Pavlović has played out of necessity, not necessarily because Tuchel thought he was the best option. In his nine appearances this season, all but three have come when at least one of Goretzka and Kimmich were missing from the squad. He entered as a substitute in all three of them: against Copenhagen (where Goretzka was playing center-back), Heidenheim, and Union Berlin, respectively. However, it might be time for him to take over in midfield.
The problem with Bayern’s midfield right now is that there is no clear partner for Joshua Kimmich — who, despite criticism, is the only midfielder in the club who has proven to be consistent enough to start. Kimmich is an excellent technical midfielder, relying on his passing, vision, and control in possession. Out of possession, he’s very aggressive, hard-working, and willing to make challenges, but he is on the smaller side and can lose some physical challenges.
For a while, Leon Goretzka was the perfect fit. Goretzka is also a good passer, but his size and strength meant that he compensated for Kimmich’s weaknesses. The two soon became Bayern’s regular midfield-pivot and also linked up in midfield for the German national team. However, Goretzka’s inconsistent performances over the past two seasons have left Bayern searching for another Kimmich partner.
In the summer, Bayern brought in two possible candidates: Raphael Guerreiro and Konrad Laimer. Laimer was a great fit on paper: he’s a high-energy, aggressive, hard-tackling midfielder, which made him a valuable piece of RB Leipzig’s squad. However, in Bayern’s more technical, possession-focused side, he has struggled to control the game and be involved next to Kimmich. He has largely featured at right-back, as well, with Tuchel often preferring him over Noussair Mazraoui.
Guerreiro, on the other hand, is very similar to Kimmich. The Portuguese international started his career as a full-back before moving into midfield. While he played left-back for most of his career, Tuchel has preferred him in midfield — not only at Bayern but also when the duo was with Dortmund. The problem is that Guerreiro is maybe a bit too similar to Kimmich, so the duo struggle together — just look at the loss to Werder Bremen, where the midfield was non-existent.
Bayern has long flirted with the idea of bringing in a big-name defensive midfielder — someone who would provide defensive cover and a physical presence to the midfield. It looked like they had found their man when João Palhinha was set to join from Fulham, but the deal fell through on deadline day. Palhinha then renewed his contract, so Bayern elected not to pursue the deal further. Despite further rumors, it doesn’t look like there will be any additions to midfield any time soon.
So if Bayern isn’t going to sign a midfielder, the solution has to come from within the club. That solution is Aleksandar Pavlović.
Pavlović is the perfect fit next to Kimmich. He is more of a physical presence than either Laimer or Guerreiro, and he rarely shies away from making a tackle. Despite his age, he’s also quite confident, rarely showing nerves and keeping his head under pressure. Pavlović also excels at finding the right pass, whether it’s a short sideways pass to Kimmich or it is a through-ball to Harry Kane — as he did in Bayern’s 4-0 thrashing of Dortmund in Der Klassiker. It also helps that he is a set-piece expert.
Of course, Pavlović isn’t perfect. He’s not quite a midfield destroyer like Palhinha, but, then again, he’s only 19 — the more he plays, the better he will get. There have been times when his first touch or an errant pass has put him in a bit of trouble, but he has recovered each time and prevented any major errors.
There is, of course, always the issue of pressure. Too much pressure on a young player can ruin their career — which is why I believe Barcelona should stick with former Bayern man Robert Lewandowski instead of recently-signed talent Vitor Roque. However, these are completely different scenarios: Pavlović doesn’t have to adjust to a new country or even a new city, as he comes from Bayern’s academy, while Bayern is also strong enough that midfielders like Kimmich can pick up the slack if Pavlović is struggling.
When Bayern was dealing with injuries and depth in 2021, they made the decision to turn to Jamal Musiala — who has not disappointed. Now, three years later, they have a similar situation in midfield — and it’s time to let Pavlović follow Musiala into the starting eleven.
Image Courtesy of bayern.com.