Vidal’s possible replacements at Bayern: Thiago, Rudy, James, Martinez and Tolisso
Bayern Munich remain in the hunt for an unprecedented second treble of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League. With three fronts still open, coach Jupp Heynckes needs his full squad available to him. He is, however, without Arturo Vidal for the decisive run-in after the Chilean underwent surgery on his knee.
bundesliga.com presents five ready-made replacements Heynckes can utilise to fill the gap left by the versatile midfielder’s absence.
When fit this year, Vidal has played in every game under Heynckes. The Bayern coach knew the Chilean from their time together at Bayer Leverkusen, knew what “El Guerrero” (the warrior) was capable of both as a destroyer and creative influence, but had to have a stern talk with the midfielder when he took over at the club.
Watch: Vidal – the man who makes Bayern tick
“I wasn’t pleased with the way he’d been playing when I arrived. I made that absolutely clear to him and told him if he doesn’t get back to form then there are other players who can play ahead of him,” Heynckes admitted in December. A run of four goals in four games silenced any critics, but injury has now forced Heynckes’ hand and he needs to pick a replacement for his midfield general from the ranks.
Corentin Tolisso (23 Bundesliga appearances: 4 goals, 4 assists)
The club’s record signing from Lyon at the start of the season, the 23-year-old Frenchman immediately began to repay the trust placed in him with a goal on his Bundesliga debut on the opening night of the campaign. He is perhaps the most like-for-like replacement for Vidal and likely his long-term replacement.
In his first year away from his native Lyon, the France international’s numbers compare favourably to those of the experienced Vidal. At times forced to play on the right wing, Tolisso’s four goals and four assists in the Bundesliga are still equal to the six goals and two assists provided by the Chilean.
His passing and tackling stats also stand up strongly against a player who has won seven league and two Copa America titles for club and country. Key for a central midfielder, Tolisso’s pass competition is an impressive 90.6% this Bundesliga campaign – just 0.4% less than that of Vidal, although the Frenchman has attempted a greater number despite playing fewer minutes.
As a destroyer, it is difficult to compete with Vidal, and of the five possible replacements Tolisso has some of the weakest tackling statistics. The Frenchman contests fewer and wins a lower proportion of his challenges than his Chilean teammate, while he is far more susceptible in the air, winning almost 20% fewer aerial duels. With Heynckes likely to employ an additional out-and-out midfielder in the Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid, Tolisso looks to be the most like-for-like replacement, but the question remains how the relatively inexperienced 23-year-old will fare on such a stage.
Sebastian Rudy (21 Bundesliga appearances: 0 goals, 2 assists)
A summer arrival from Hoffenheim, Rudy’s debut campaign with the record champions has been rather stop-start. Despite playing just one game fewer than Vidal in the league, he has most commonly come off the bench. The Germany international has, however, been given more playing time of late alongside Tolisso in midfield, with the pair playing every minute of the 4-1 and 5-1 wins over Augsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach, respectively.
Not exactly in the Vidal mould, Rudy is considered a more defensive option than Vidal and is often considered a replacement for Javi Martinez as the holding midfielder rather than the Chilean’s box-to-box role. It is, however, a role he played well under Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim. With a ball-playing centre-back behind him, as he now has at Bayern with Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and (as at Hoffenheim) Niklas Süle, he had freedom to get forward and create more – scoring two and creating nine last season.
In terms of a goal threat, this season has not been of the same calibre from Rudy. With no goals and just two assists in the Bundesliga, he is well off Vidal and Tolisso in terms of his obvious contribution to the team. However, dig deeper and his statistics are comparable to those of the injured Chilean. While Rudy’s passing, aerial, ground and overall challenge success rates are all lower than those of Vidal, the difference is marginal each time – and never more than 2%.
Despite the clean-cut man from near Freiburg looking far less menacing than the tattooed warrior from Santiago, it all means Rudy can pass and tackle just as convincingly as Vidal. Is the German also a ready-made replacement for those big games? With 24 senior caps for Germany and a FIFA Confederations Cup winner’s medal, where he played all but 16 minutes in Russia and beat Vidal’s Chile in the final, to his name, it would be hard to say Rudy is not a man for the big stage with the DFB Cup final and (at least) a European semi-final to come this season.
Thiago (15 Bundesliga appearances: 2 goals, 1 assist)
Injuries have severely curtailed Thiago’s season but the Spaniard is one of the first names on the Bayern teamsheet when fit. His return of just two goals and one assist this term are well down on last year (6 and 5) and fewer than those provided by Vidal this campaign, but he is the motor that has consistently powered Bayern towards trophies, winning five Bundesliga titles in five years since moving to Munich.
Thiago is not a box-to-box midfielder akin to Vidal. He is, by nature, a lock-picking No.10 with an enviable eye for that key pass. His role as the replacement for Vidal could come down to the formations Heynckes decides to employ. His attacking line-ups of late have seen Martinez anchor the midfield while four attackers go about their business behind the lone striker of Robert Lewandowski or Sandro Wagner. It has allowed the likes of Thiago, Vidal, James Rodriguez and Thomas Müller to roam with relative freedom in the attacking third.
Watch: Goals, passes and tackles – Thiago can do it all
Slightly more defensive formations like a 4-3-3 have required a more disciplined role slightly in front of Martinez in the midfield three. Some may think that is not necessarily the role best suited to a diminutive Spaniard from Barcelona’s La Masia academy, yet Thiago’s numbers this season beg to differ.
It may come as no surprise that his 92% pass completion rate is among the best in the league, but Thiago’s ability to win the ball back and defend it is also impressive. The 27-year-old wins a vastly greater proportion of his challenges than Vidal, including more in the air despite being three inches shorter than the Chilean.
A simple look at Thiago’s trophy haul doesn’t just tell you that he is a talented footballer, but that he is also the man for big occasions and has been since a young age. A European champion with Spain at U17 level and twice at U21, Thiago did not just play in those tournaments but scored in all three finals – including a hat-trick in the 2013 final against Italy. The man for those big occasions, he is also very familiar with Bayern’s Champions League opponents Real Madrid – and as a former Barcelona player will be pumped for that encounter.
Javi Martinez (19 Bundesliga appearances: 1 goal, 2 assists)
The pivot in this Bayern team, Martinez has been restored to his more accustomed holding midfield position under Heynckes after spending a number of seasons at centre-back under Pep Guardiola and then Carlo Ancelotti.
The Spaniard is a different sort of player than Vidal being more defensive in nature, but there is a possibility for him to play in a more Vidal role as Bayern. While this is unlikely with Heynckes more than content with the 29-year-old playing where is he right now, there could be a shift in tactics late on this season.
Martinez has the third-best passing rate in the league and wins a greater proportion of his challenges than Vidal, so there is scope for him to take a step forward and adopt a role more akin to the Chilean. Süle and Rudy have both played as the holding midfielder in his absence so Bayern are covered in that position should Heynckes wish to push Martinez slightly further forward.
A survivor of the treble-winning team in 2013, the first Spanish player to captain Bayern is Heynckes’ man for all occasions and one of the first names in the team for a big game. Could he also compensate for the goal threat provided by Vidal? Perhaps, yes. His deep position has often meant he supplies the ball that leads to the assist – an act that often goes unnoticed. He is also not shy of looking to score when the chance presents itself. He would have had a goal in the DFB Cup semi-final win over Leverkusen had it not later been awarded to Lewandowski for a slight touch off the striker.
James Rodriguez (20 Bundesliga appearances: 6 goals, 10 assists)
The Colombian’s performances at Bayern have been consistently on the up following a tough initial start after his loan move from Real Madrid and he is now a guaranteed starter for the Bundesliga champions with his ability to both score and set up teammates.
Could he really be seen as a replacement for the injured Vidal, though? Not per se. Like with Martinez, it would likely need to see a slight shift in system, which we are unlikely to see at this stage under Heynckes.
Watch: James’ key role in Bayern’s Bundesliga triumph
James is all about creativity. He is not there to break up play and then create like Vidal. Nevertheless, the winner of the Golden Boot at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil has been found in a much deeper position of late, generally playing alongside Martinez in a deep-lying playmaker role.
The Colombian, however, is not a Vidal replacement. He is James and much better suited in the final third on the ball than chasing the ball around the middle of the pitch. It’s a fact he has stated in the past to Spanish publication Marca while in Madrid: “I feel more comfortable as an attacking midfielder with Colombia than I do in my deeper role at Real. I’m closer to the goal where I can score and pass, so it works better for me.”
So while still technically a possibility to replace his fellow South American, don’t expect the idea of James ‘Arturo’ Rodriguez to catch on unless you wish to name your son that.