By Clark Whitney
At long last, Bayern Munich have landed a qualified centre-back. When he officially joins, Jerome Boateng will become the German giants’ first central defensive signing since Breno arrived in January 2008. Even though he was the Bavarians’ third choice behind Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes, the former Hamburg and Manchester City man adds much-needed pace to his team's backline, and with his strength and aerial prowess, brings a no-nonsense approach to defending.
The addition of Boateng thus concludes the reformation of Bayern’s defence, which began earlier this summer with the signings of Manuel Neuer and Rafinha. Now it is quite clear: if all goes according to plan, Philipp Lahm and Holger Badstuber will retain their roles, with the newcomers filling up the remaining vacancies in defensive areas.
One can ask a number of questions of the new-look Bayern defence, each offering a different, useful perspective.
For example, if the question were posed as to whether the new rearguard has individual class in all areas, the answer is 'yes'. Neuer and Lahm need no introduction, and Rafinha was the second-best full-back in Germany before his move to Genoa. Elsewhere, Boateng proved his calibre of defending against Bayern while a Hamburg player, and even though he struggled for form last season, Badstuber has shown that with proper coaching support he can be of international class.
On the other hand, if one were to ask whether the new Bayern back five has all the attributes of a world class defence, the answer would not be so positive. The German record champions are missing a true foundation in central defence, a player who offers stability in both his individual class and leadership. Looking at recent Champions League-winning defences, Manchester United boasted that in the form of Nemanja Vidic; Barcelona in Carles Puyol; Inter in Lucio. Neither Boateng nor Badstuber currently has the confidence or experience to take on such a role, although Neuer’s vocal presence could make up for the central defenders’ relative timidity.
Bayern's new defence
The most important question, though, is whether Bayern’s defence is good enough to win trophies, particularly the Champions League. And to that, the answer is, again, 'yes'. Just two years ago a vastly inferior Bayern back five - one that lacked a proper left-back and was of decidedly lesser class in central defence and between the posts - reached the final of Europe’s elite competition. With better composure at the back, their 2-0 defeat to Inter may have been reversed.
And two months ago, Barcelona were crowned European Champions after deploying a rearguard with no true leader, and a makeshift centre-back in Javier Mascherano. Of course, Barca have a world class attack. But so do Bayern: in Europe, only the Catalans and Real Madrid can contend with the Germans’ firepower. Provided their midfield and attack are in form, Bayern now have enough at the back to make them serious contenders in continental play.
|BAYERN'S DEFENSIVE SIGNINGS|
|*Including performance bonuses
Even so, partnerships take time to forge, and each member of the back five will have to overcome hurdles. Rafinha and Badstuber each had a miserable 2010-11, and will need to regain their confidence. Lahm, too, had difficulty even after being named club captain. If he is to achieve his full potential, Boateng will need to work on his concentration and the finer aspects of his defending. And Neuer still has to overcome a small but vocal minority of adversaries in the crowds who continue to prove bothersome to club management.
The biggest battle of all is that which Jupp Heynckes has taken upon himself. As coach, he will be responsible for optimising his defence. The veteran trainer will have to be careful to create the best partnership without cycling through too many different combinations, as Louis Van Gaal did last year. And after requesting and receiving nearly €45m (performance bonuses included) in defensive transfer expenses, the pressure is on to not only create a better rearguard, but one of international class.
Having invested heavily following an unsuccessful year, the pressure is on Heynckes and his new team. The potential is there: now it is up to players and coach to make something of it.
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