Ranking Bayern Munich's 5 Most Important Players so Far This Season
We are more than a third of the way into the 2013-14 Bundesliga season, and Bayern Munich look as dominant as ever.
Now on a 38-game unbeaten run, the European champions appear to have gotten stronger under the tutelage of new manager Pep Guardiola.
Four points clear of their nearest rivals Borussia Dortmund (who have only stayed so close in contact with Bayern thanks to their best-ever start to a German top-flight campaign), things seem to be falling into place for Guardiola and Co.
But while the new boss deserves credit, anyone with half a footballing brain could tell you that players ultimately drive a team.
In Munich's case, we may be looking at one of the most star-studded sides in the history of world football.
As such, it's difficult to pick out which footballers in particular have contributed the most toward the continued success of the Bavarian giants so far this year.
In order to formulate this list, I evaluated the key members of Munich's squad on a variety of factors: goals scored, creativity, defensive duties carried, match time and the individual flair that they bring to the side. I ranked each variable from one to 10.
My results left me with these five men topping the ranks of Bayern's best players at this interval.
So, let's take a look at who ended up where.
5. Mario Mandzukic and David Alaba
OK, so I lied—this slideshow includes technically the six most important players.
Mario Mandzukic and David Alaba both ended up with the same overall score after their stats were entered into my parameters.
The Croatian centre-forward has been on top form this year, despite Guardiola's famous favouritism of the false nine ahead of a recognised striker.
Mandzukic's continuing ability to score goals (with eight already in the Bundesliga this season) has seen Guardiola change his stance on playing an out-and-out forward. The Croat now finds himself with a genuine chance of a starting position (again, to emphasize, a forward starting under a tiki-taka manager like Guardiola is nothing short of a miracle).
With his nation facing an important pair of World Cup qualifiers against European minnows Iceland this week, that form will no doubt play a part in carrying his side to Brazil 2014.
David Alaba's Austria side will not be featuring at the World Cup, which is good news for Bayern.
The full-back can now concentrate on the coming season, dedicating all of his time and effort to the German champions.
As a versatile defensive player, he has allowed Guardiola the freedom to experiment with the Munich defence and midfield more freely than he would have been able to at another club.
His contributions to the side have been well and truly noted by a lot of doubters, and he is slowly starting to win his critics round.
Alaba has even shown an ability to get forward and carve out threatening chances for his side. These factors have all earned him a spot this high in the rankings.
4. Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben brings a lot to any side he plays for.
This year, the Dutchman has continued the form that has played a role in Bayern becoming the dominant force they are today.
While he is perhaps not the most inclined to track back and defend, Robben's brilliance on the attack more than makes up for this gap in his skill set.
Able to play as a winger, central-attacking midfielder or even (on rare occasions) as a false nine, when it comes to scoring and creating chances, Robben has few equals or betters.
Shortlisted for this year's Ballon d'Or award, he will look to have a huge impact again in Bavaria this campaign.
3. Thomas Muller
Thomas Muller has excelled with the added responsibilities that he has been given this year.
With the aforementioned arrival of Guardiola, it was hardly a surprise that we saw a serious shift in playing style in regard to the Bayern attack—primarily the immediate introduction of the false nine.
With Mario Gomez sold to Fiorentina and Mandzukic (for a short period of time) dropped to the Bayern bench, it was left up to Muller to fulfill what is effectively the "Messi role" at Bayern.
So far this year, this has, for the most part, worked well.
During those games where it was necessary to bring on or start Mandzukic in the centre-forward spot, Muller's versatility meant he could slot into his former and more accustomed position on the wing.
Bringing goals galore and the option to completely shift from one tactic to the next seamlessly in a match earn the German international the third-place rank on this list.
2. Philipp Lahm
It's hardly a shock to see a player of Philipp Lahm's calibre this high up the list.
Quite possibly one of the most influential defenders-cum-midfielders of the past decade, Lahm now has the honour of captaining the team that he has served since 1995 at the age of 12.
This season, the full-back has had yet another purple patch (it's questionable whether it ever really ends for him), playing an integral part in Bayern's dominant start to the year.
I don't need to list what the German captain brings to the side, as any follower of the Bundesliga will be more than familiar with his attributes by now.
Both defensively and creatively on the offensive, Lahm is able to boss opponents, carve out space and deliver all important passes that rip open defences.
While he may not often contribute to the goalscoring tally, the full-back does have a wicked right foot when given the space to shoot.
Lahm, like most of the names on this list, is also nominated for the 2013 Ballon d'Or and has a real shot at making the top five.
While he may not end up ranking as highly on that table as he has here, his skills and continued contributions to Bayern cannot be ignored.
1. Franck Ribery
Franck Ribery tops the list after what has been the best year-and-a-half of the Frenchman's career.
While some might have expected his form to drop after such an impressive season, he seems to have only excelled further into the 2013-14 campaign.
With four goals and a whopping six assists already this year, Ribery has once again been a key figure in Bayern's rise to the top of the table.
Robben, Muller and Lahm may be nominated for the Ballon d'Or, but this particular Munich winger has a the best chance of picking up the trophy. He is currently the bookies' favorite, per Oddschecker.com.
With a whipped-in cross-field ball that rivals any, the perfect eye for a pass and the ability to glide past defenders with ease, Ribery is a member of an elite tier of the current footballing world.
His performances this season have only backed up his world-class billing. If he tracked back and helped out at the back more often, he would no doubt be elevated to Lionel Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's status on a more permanent basis.