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Bayern’s ‘thin’ squad faces Champions League test as injuries bite

Bayern Munich face Copenhagen after their first-game victory over Man. United. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Injury-hit Bayern Munich travel to Copenhagen on Tuesday in the Champions League, facing a depth problem which is effectively of their own making. 

Injuries kept first-teamers Serge Gnabry and Matthijs de Ligt out of Bayern’s 2-2 draw at RB Leipzig. Gnabry will miss weeks with a broken arm while De Ligt also looks set to miss Tuesday’s match. 

Combine the duo’s absence with injury clouds hovering above remaining centre-backs Dayot Upamecano and Kim Min-jae and the Bayern hierarchy may begin to understand manager Thomas Tuchel’s persistent complaints about a lack of depth in his squad. 

Bayern remain undefeated in the league, German Cup and Champions League this season, but have made a habit of conceding goals against better sides. 

The German champions have conceded three in meetings with RB Leipzig and Manchester United so far this season, along with two against league leaders Bayer Leverkusen and again against Leipzig. 

While Bayern make Tuesday’s trip to Copenhagen as strong favourites, it is the kind of midweek fixture that will test their depth as they hope to fight for all trophies on offer this season. 

‘We’ll see’

Despite a transfer window which brought England captain Harry Kane, Serie A defender of the year Kim and Konrad Laimer to Munich, Bayern allowed several players to leave in the summer. 

The list of departures included France defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, midfielders Ryan Gravenberch and Marcel Sabitzer and right-back Josip Stanisic. 

After the window shut in early September, Tuchel described his squad as “a bit thin, a bit small” saying it was “thinner than before (the window closed)”. 

A frustrated Tuchel told Germany’s Sky network “it’s a courageous squad composition. We’ll see if it’s enough for the club’s goals this season.”

Complaining about a lack of depth is hardly unusual for managers and in particular for Bayern managers. 

Tuchel’s predecessors Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann made similar complaints during their tenures — and any transfer window where a club lands Kane and Kim should be viewed as at least in part a success. 

However the way in which Bayern allowed the closing of the window to sneak up on them gives some substance to Tuchel’s complaints. 

Fulham’s Joao Palhinha was in Munich having pictures taken in a Bayern shirt on deadline day, but needed to fly back to London after the deal fell through. 

Stanisic, a local junior who had been getting more and more game time, was allowed to leave for rivals Bayer Leverkusen, who now sit first in the Bundesliga table, with Bayern third. 

Like Stanisic, Pavard — a wing-back who said he wanted to leave unless he was played at centre-back — also left without a replacement.  

Tuchel admitted in September “we wouldn’t have let Stani (Stanisic) go if we had known about Benji leaving”, despite the 2018 World Cup winner having pushed for a transfer for weeks. 

Injuries to De Ligt, Kim and Upamecano forced Tuchel to select midfielder Leon Goretzka and wing-back Noussair Mazraoui in central defence in Bayern’s 4-0 German Cup win over Preussen Muenster last Tuesday, an added irony considering Pavard’s stated positional aims. 

Boateng back?

Bayern’s depth concerns were best illustrated on Sunday, when former centre-back Jerome Boateng was seen training with the side ahead of a possible return. 

Boateng won the 2013 and 2020 Champions League titles with Bayern but was deemed surplus to requirements in the summer of 2021 and allowed to leave for free.

Bayern announced Boateng’s return to training on their website, with German media indicating the club wanted to see if the 2014 World Cup winner would be able to return to the squad. 

Relegated to the bench last season, Boateng played just eight matches with Lyon and is likely to serve as little more than a back-up in Tuchel’s side should he re-sign.  

Bayern captain Joshua Kimmich tried to put a positive spin on the situation after the Leipzig draw on Saturday, saying “it can be an advantage sometimes when the squad is a little smaller, because everyone is required and everyone is important.”

“It’s still the case with us that we’ve got players on the bench we can bring in to change the game.”

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