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James entering decisive days at Bayern with future unclear

MUNICH (AP) — Leon Goretzka's emergence at Bayern Munich is bad news for James Rodriguez. James, as he is known, watched from the bench Friday as Goretzka - playing in the Colombian's favored No. 10 position - scored two goals in Bayern's 3-1 victory at Hoffenheim.

"We did everything right with this decision," Bayern coach Niko Kovac told Eurosport. "We've stumbled onto something." James only had a brief opportunity to shine when he came on for Thiago Alcantara in the 78th minute, but he showed his class with a fine lobbed ball over the Hoffenheim defense for Thomas Mueller to set up Robert Lewandowski's win-clinching goal in the 87th.

Kovac now has a dilemma in deciding who should start for the suspended Mueller against Liverpool in the Champions League next month. Mueller is suspended for both legs, though Bayern have appealed and hope he will be available for the second leg in Munich.

"We have many more No. 10s, just you don't know it yet," Mueller joked after the Hoffenheim game. James suddenly finds himself further down the pecking order with Goretzka's coming of age. "Leon has a really good shot, and he was also dangerous in front of goal last season at Schalke," Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said. "He normally needs a bit of space. But he did really well as a No. 10."

The 23-year-old Goretzka is quickly settling in following his transfer from Schalke. "I never had a problem with my confidence. I was playing professionally very early on and slipped into a role at Bochum that did not necessary correspond with my age and experience," the Germany midfielder told Kicker magazine on Thursday. "But it goes without question. To play at Bayern you need a broad chest."

Goretzka joined Schalke in 2013 after impressing as a teenager for second-division Bochum. He made his Germany debut in 2014 but missed out on the final World Cup squad. He now has 19 appearances for the national team.

If not Goretzka, then Alcantara is another who could fill Bayern's No. 10 position behind Lewandowski. It was already shaping up to be a frustrating second season in Munich for James following his loan switch from Real Madrid in 2017. The 27-year-old Colombian has made only five league starts for Bayern this season.

After ankle problems, James' progress took another setback in November with a partial ligament tear in his left knee from training, days after a 3-2 loss in Dortmund. He wasn't even selected for that game - Bayern's biggest of the season to date.

"He's playing for his future," Kovac said as the league's winter break was drawing to a close. "He has to deliver top performances." James remains a Madrid player, but Bayern has the option to make his two-year loan move permanent once it ends at the end of this season.

Kovac doesn't seem to be letting the contract situation affect his lineup decisions. "We're a great club with great footballers. James is a great footballer who deserves to play," Kovac said. "Those who aren't called James also want to play."

The Bayern coach said it was up to the Colombian to convince the club he deserved to stay, not the other way around. Meanwhile, reports in Spain say Madrid would be willing to use James, if Bayern didn't sign him, as a makeweight in a bid to sign Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen. Arsenal, Juventus and Napoli are also reported suitors.

"It's up to him now to show that he belongs in the team," Kovac said. For now though, Goretzka has his nose in front.

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