Jupp Heynckes may have to promote the ex-Rostock man to an attacking role if he is to get the best out of the Frenchman and jump-start his struggling attack
By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
In the first half of the 2011-12 season, Franck Ribery had a personal renaissance. The Frenchman, who had been plagued by injuries in previous years, became a reliable source of inspiration in nearly every game.
Many have attributed Ribery’s resurgence to the moving of Philipp Lahm to left-back, and it is clear that the duo have combined to make a formidable presence on the wing. But there is another critical factor to Ribery’s success, a third member to form a triangle: central playmaker Toni Kroos.
The Frenchman’s performance has dropped off as of late, and it is no coincidence that his less dazzling displays have corresponded with Kroos being moved into a defensive midfield role, where his interactions with the winger have been limited. Together, the two formed an impressive partnership, and Ribery hailed the influence of the ex-Hansa Rostock youth player in a November interview.
It's better for me when Toni Kroos plays as a No. 10. He is better in possession of the ball, he gives good passes. The No. 10, for me, is Toni Kroos
- Ribery, to Sport1
The trouble is, with Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger all fit and in the starting XI, there is only one role Kroos can fill: in defensive midfield. On paper, it makes for a tantalising combination, one that in theory should be extremely creative and produce goals by the dozen. But in three games since the Bundesliga restarted in January, Bayern have managed to score a modest four times. At least in this combination, more attackers has meant fewer goals.
|RIBERY & KROOS: A MATCH MADE IN PLAYMAKING HEAVEN
| RIBERY'S RECORD WITH KROOS AS NO. 10
GOALS & ASSISTS PER GAME
|RIBERY WITHOUT KROOS AS NO. 10|
GOALS & ASSISTS PER GAME
*Includes one game in which Ribery replaced the No. 10 Kroos as a substitute
In the current system, Thomas Muller occupies the ‘No. 10’ role behind Mario Gomez. Compared to Kroos, who by nature is a classic box-to-box central midfielder, the lanky 22-year-old is a very different type of player: somewhere between attacking midfielder and striker. Muller’s form has been dreadful in recent months, with his last Bundesliga goal dating back to September.
Muller’s drought will not last forever, of course. The player has proven himself as a world class talent, having finished top scorer at the 2010 World Cup. And it is quite evident that at club level at least, his natural position is not on the wing, but in the centre.
Unfortunately for Bayern, what is optimal for Muller quite clearly does not bring out all of Ribery's class. But what works best for the Frenchman - and arguably Kroos, who was among Europe's best No. 10s before the winter break - means a bench role for either Muller or Robben.
Bayern are perhaps blessed with an embarrassment of riches in midfield and attack: when all players are fit, not all can be used to their greatest strengths at the same time. Heynckes' current system at least minimises disharmony within the squad by utilising all six of his top midfield and forward players. But this system is only worthwhile if it leads to positive results.
As it stands, attacking midfield trio Ribery, Robben, and Muller are not producing, and even lone striker Mario Gomez is finding it difficult to hit the net. There will come a time when Robben and Muller will find their form once more. But with each game that Heynckes opts to use two struggling attacking midfielders alongside Ribery, he risks another disappointing 90 minutes.
The trainer recently claimed that his attackers will start scoring soon. If he wants to expedite the process, bringing Kroos back into the playmaking role could be just the spark he needs.
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