July 21, 2017

The Forgotten Man: Does Holger Badstuber have a Place in Pep’s Bayern Squad?

It has been nearly 15 months since Holger Badstuber last featured in a match for FC Bayern München. The 24-year-old central defender has been sidelined by a rather serious ligament injury in his right knee initially suffered in a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund in December 2012. While on the road to recovery, Badstuber experienced a huge setback as he reinjured the same ligaments in training, which prompted several visits to the world-renowned knee surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman’s clinic in Vail, Colorado where he underwent 3 additional surgeries in 2013.

Now after a lengthy rehabilitation stint it appears that Badstuber has finally turned a corner in regards to a return to the first team. As recently as last week Badstuber took to the pitch to begin on field training with the hopes that he would resume training with the first squad in the not so distant future. While it is that he likely won’t be available to play for the rest of this season, including for Germany at the World Cup, the general feeling is that he should be back to full fitness and ready for the start of the 2014-15 Bundesliga season.

However, the landscape at Bayern has changed quite a bit since Badstuber last suited up; there is a new coach and with that new coach came a new philosophy and style of play that the defender has had virtually zero in-game experience with. The question that begs an answer is upon his return, will Holger Badstuber be a part of Pep Guardiola’s FC Bayern? Before we answer that, here’s a quick primer on Pep’s system.

Generally speaking, Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 (or 4-3-3, depending on how you look at it) contains within it a few key facets in which the system hinges upon; ball possession, building from the back, and involving the fullbacks are the hallmarks of the attack. The defence is characterised by a constant harassing of the opponents when not in possession of the ball and a strong presence in defensive midfield that can support the defence whenever required. To make this all work, Guardiola’s squad relies on players that are multi-dimensional and possess a high level of technical ability.

Where then does Badstuber fit in?

Before he was injured Badstuber, who has featured in 101 Bundesliga matches for the Bavarians, played primarily at left fullback and not at his preferred spot in central defence, as manager Jupp Heynckes opted to use the centre back pairing of Jerome Boateng and Dante. Closer to his injury however, Heynckes moved Badstuber into the middle as David Alaba emerged as first choice at left back. It is not a stretch to say that had he not been hurt Badstuber would have featured as a squad regular at centre back, but he at least appears to show some semblance of positional versatility.

His general strengths lie in his passing ability and aerial prowess (as you might expect from a central defender) but he also shows confidence and poise when he is on the ball. Badstuber seldom makes mistakes in his own end and is very cool under pressure and, given his high passing accuracy, rarely misplays passes to his teammates allowing for the team to retain possession of the ball and then build an attack from the back.

Given the evidence, it appears to be a no-brainer that when fit Badstuber will transition seamlessly back into the Bayern squad, however there is some evidence to the contrary that needs to be examined.

Firstly, it is unclear on whether or not Pep Guardiola rates Badstuber as highly as some of his predecessors at the Bayern helm; Louis van Gaal was especially full of praise and was the one who gave the young defender his chance in the Bayern squad. Guardiola on the other hand has never been able to see Badstuber on the training ground let alone in a competitive match and until that day comes, we won’t really have a solid idea of what Pep actually thinks of him.

Secondly, amidst all of the transfer talk regarding Dante’s potential departure in January, it was widely speculated that Guardiola was targeting Chelsea’s David Luiz as his possible replacement. Adding to that are the rumours of SC Freiburg’s Matthias Ginter being linked to Bayern (amongst others mind you). All of which could suggest that Guardiola may be overlooking Badstuber as a viable option in his squad.

Finally there is the issue of the actual injury and whether it in any way is going to negatively impact Badstuber’s career going forward. Everything that the player, the team, and the doctors have said seems to indicate that he will make a full recovery and won’t be hindered by this injury at all, especially given that a brand new ligament was used as a replacement for the old one.

In spite of this evidence (which really seems like a weak case in fairness) and to finally give an answer to the question, it would be very hard to believe that once he’s fully fit Holger Badstuber won’t play a significant role in the Bayern squad moving forward. At present Bayern have only 3 dedicated central defenders (excluding Badstuber himself of course), one of which is 36-year-old Daniel van Buyten who is likely to only see limited minutes; indeed defensive midfielder Javi Martinez would likely be Guardiola’s first choice replacement should anything happen to either Boateng or Dante. Having a player of Badstuber’s quality would be an asset for any coach.

And although Badstuber has no experience with Guardiola’s system, knowing what we know about him, all signs point to the young German’s success once he’s had a chance to train and get games under his belt, provided he’s able to stay healthy.

All of this, however, will have to play itself out at the start of the next Bundesliga season so until then we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria and the Black Forest. After some intense football soul searching he's now a fully fledged member of the Church of Streich. Follow @AdrianSertl

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