Rewind 12 months and Leon Goretzka was at the top of every manager’s Christmas wishlist.
The metronome midfielder left Schalke on a free transfer when his contract expired in the summer and followed the tradition of the Bundesliga’s best falling into the clutches of Bayern Munich.
Tipped as the final piece in the jigsaw for the perennial German champions, It was anticipated that Goretzka’s game would reach new heights in Bavaria. In reality, it’s been nothing of the sort.
The midfielder’s arrival has coincided with the 28-time Bundesliga champions enduring a disastrous start to the season in which they find themselves trailing runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund by nine points.
Goretzka has described his experience at Bayern as “surreal” and even gone as far to say that the campaign resembles “a bad movie.”
He’s been part of an ensemble cast in one of Europe’s biggest horror shows.
Bayern have looked a side void of a plan under new head coach Niko Kovac with his tactical approach a far cry from the astute work that took place under Pep Guardiola and in the multiple Jupp Heynckes eras.
The Croatian has too often favoured relying on the individual brilliance of the stars at his disposal to carry the side but there’s only so much stardust that can be sprinkled.
Goretzka included has been part of a core of players who are struggling for form in a side longing for a new identity.
The signing of the former Bundesliga Team of the Season midfielder was a questionable one in itself with Die Roten already possessing a battalion of midfielders all competing for limited starting berths upon his arrival.
Goretzka was greeted by Corentin Tolisso, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez and James Rodriguez as the midfielders vying for the three central roles in Kovac’s favoured 4-1-4-1 system.
The new arrival has struggled to become a mainstay and started just seven of Bayern’s 20 games in all competitions, scoring twice and assisting as many.
When not warming the bench, the German has often been called upon to plug the gaps left by injuries and suspensions.
The 23-year-old has been deployed as an emergency wide man on both the right and left wings, as well as filling in at left-back in the absence of David Alaba. Hardly a like-for-like replacement.
The widely speculated unrest with Kovac was made public after Goretzka refused to deny rumours of dressing room spats between the players and their under fire boss.
Restricted game time has apparently led the former Schalke man to form part of a frustrated group which includes Rodriguez, Serge Gnabry and Niklas Sule as the names who are all unhappy under the current regime.
Injuries have also played their part in Goretzka’s struggles with an ongoing ankle problem preventing him from building up a consistent run in the starting XI.
Where does his stop-start season go from here?
There were signs of encouragement to take from the midfielder’s performance in Bayern’s 5-1 Champions League demolition of Benfica.
Goretzka played the full 90 minutes as part of a two man pivot alongside Kimmich in a tactical switch from Kovac that worked a treat.
The German was influential from a deeper role in the win, conducting proceedings with his pinpoint distribution and recovering the ball to allow Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben to do what they do best.
With the exception of his Man of the Match showing in the win over Stuttgart in September when he registered a goal and assist, the Benfica performance was Goretzka’s best in a Bayern shirt.
Despite signs of a mini revival for the 23-year-old at the Allianz Arena there might yet be more misery on the horizon.
With Arsenal’s contract rebel Aaron Ramsey rumoured to be joining Bayern at the end of the season Goretzka could well find himself falling further down the pecking order.
The German and his midfield rivals are arguably in direct competition to prove themselves to Kovac before the Welshman ousts at least one at the end of the season.
Will Bayern stick with the promising midfielder or cash in for a hefty profit?
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