Among Europe’s top teams, Bayern Munich have one of the strongest line-ups using the players numbered 1-11 and there’s a half a chance that it could yet materialise.
That front six started together against Benfica in the Champions League last month while there have been a few games where three quarter of the defence have appeared – number 19 Alphonso Davies is generally preferred to Omar Richards at left-back, though.
Number fundamentalists will point to the fact that numbers 2 and 5 are in the wrong spots and it is frustrating that Benjamin Pavard, who wears 2 for France, opted for 5 when he arrived from Stuttgart in 2018 when 2 was free, but perhaps he expected or hoped to feature more in the centre.
Overall, it’s a fine effort though, especially since it wasn’t that long ago that Bayern’s first 11 was littered with high numbers. When they beat Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final for instance, the starting team featured 21 (Philipp Lahm), 25 (Thomas Müller), 27 (David Alaba) and 31 (Bastian Schweinsteiger), while 30 (Luiz Gustavo), 33 (Mario Gómez) and 44 (Anatoliy Tymoschuk) were on the bench.
Essentially, there was little or no cascade effect as players traded down for low numbers – Lahm did wear 29 prior to a stint on loan at Stuttgart, but he was a rare exception and, in any case, the move to 21 wasn’t a huge leap. The prestigious low numbers were still claimed – Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Thiago Alcântara, Franck Ribéry, Robert Lewandowski and Arjen Robben took 1, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 respectively when they joined, for instance – but it made for a mish-mash on the teamsheet as the stars who had come through the ranks kept their higher numbers.
However, that has changed in the recent past. In the summer of 2020, Thiago joined Liverpool and Joshua Kimmich swapped his number 32 shirt for the vacant number 6 while Serge Gnabry claimed the number 7 which had been empty during 2019-20 after Ribéry left for Fiorentina. Another change was young striker Joshua Zirkzee moving to 14 from 35.
With new signing Leroy Sané taking the number 10 that Robben had vacated, it gave the Bayern midfield and attack a tidier look and there was more to follow in the off-season before the current season. Javi Martínez had held the number 8 shirt for nine years – often playing in the centre of defence – but his move to Qatar allowed Leon Goretzka to drop down from 18, which he had worn since his 2018 arrival from Schalke, where he ahd worn 8.
The other big switch was notable and unusual. While Kingsley Coman had worn 11 for previous club Juventus, he had been with Bayern since 2015 and had had number 29 for the entirety of that time, including when he scored the winner against another former side, Paris Saint-Germain, in the 2019-20 Champions League final. Adding to the unexpectedness was the fact that the previous holder of 11, Michaël Cuisance, was still a Bayern player, albeit on loan at Marseille. Coman’s move meant that his compatriot had to move to number 17 for 2021-22.
Now, Müller’s 25 is the stand-out among the attacking players, though defender Lucas Hernández (21) and midfielder Corentin Tolisso (24) do feature regularly, too. A few high numbers are okay and Bayern’s overall changes are to be applauded – it gives us hope that other seemingly lost causes – we’re looking at you, Liverp66l – can be righted, too.