There are a lot of things that go into winning the Champions League. First, and foremost, you need a deep roster with great players. You also need a little bit of luck throughout the year and you need to be disciplined. You also need to try to stay healthy. Bayern Munich knows all too well about the fight to stay healthy. Now their hunt for a sixth European Cup will have to be done without the services of Jerome Boateng.
Bayern Munich is a team in recent years that have seen almost a comical level of injuries. Last year, they ran into Barcelona missing players like Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery. Robert Lewandowski played in that semi-final, but he was concussed and should probably not have been allowed on the pitch.
The Bayern team never made injuries an excuse, Barcelona was just a better team last season. This year will be the same. If they don’t win the Champions League, it won’t be because they missed Boateng, but his absence leaves a big hole that Pep Guardiola needs to fill.
Boateng’s injury, which came on the first day after the Bundesliga returned from the winter break, will highlight Bayern’s Achilles heel. Their defensive depth is a problem. When everyone is fit, Bayern has a back line that most teams envy. The problem is players like Javi Martinez, Medhi Benatia and fan favorite Holger Badstuber are very injury prone. Boateng was the one centerback on the roster that could reliably stay healthy. Bayern went out and bought Serdar Tasci in response to Boateng’s injury, but given his debut performance against Darmstadt, there are doubts he’s going to be able to provide enough cover.
So without Guardiola’s rock in central defense, what chance does Bayern have? What can Guardiola do to give his team an opprotunity to win without Boateng? Well right off the bat, there is good news for Bayern. They have a pretty good offense, and it’s healthy. Franck Ribery returned this past weekend, and looked like he never left, Mario Götze is back from his long layoff as well. Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski are also on Bayern’s roster, and they have been good, to put it mildly. It’s no secret that Guardiola’s form of defense is to keep the ball. With a full assortment of attacking players, Bayern can hope to control the game, at least in theory.
The one wrinkle in all of this is that Boateng is an important part of Bayern’s offense. His long ball distribution can be out of this world, just ask Dortmund. Finding a replacement to do that job won’t be easy, but players like Xabi Alonso could handle the distribution from the back. He’s done it before this year when Bayern have been short a centerback. Alonso is suspended for the first leg against Juventus though, so Guardiola will need to come up with something different in Turin. Expect Thiago Alcantara and David Alaba to play a big role in distributing the ball. If those two can find success feeding the forwards, Bayern will be ok.
Bayern also needs to find a way to replace Boateng’s aerial ability. Without him, headers become a bigger concern. Benatia will be counted on for this, in Boateng’s absence. The Morrocan has not impressed in Munich, but he’s been a capable defender in the past. He’ll be needed to keep an eye on players like Mario Mandzukic. Most importantly he’ll need to stay healthy as well. Tasci allowing a free header against Darmstadt that led to a goal is bad when it’s against Darmstadt, it could be fatal against Juventus.
Bayern has to hope they can get far enough in the competition to allow Boateng time to return. If they can make the semi-final or final, there is a real chance he’ll be back. So for Bayern, these next two moths are about surviving. Bayern can win the Champions League without Boateng, there is too much talent on that roster for them to not be one of the favorites. They’re one of the best teams in Europe for a reason. More importantly, they aren’t the only team in Europe dealing with injuries. Juventus will be without key members of their defense as well, so in the end, these things tend to even out. Winning the Champions League without Boateng isn’t going to be easy, but in all honesty, even with the German international, it wasn’t going to be.