While football may have ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the delay in the 2019/20 season has presented an opportunity to players to make a comeback when the campaign does start up again. From Robert Lewandowski to Zack Steffen, bundesliga.com looks at who stands to gain from the hiatus…
Club: Bayern Munich
Appearances in 2019/20: 23
Lewadowski's absence due to a left knee injury sustained on UEFA Champions League last-16 duty was as much a blow as it was a shock. In his decade-long torment of Bundesliga defenders, the 31-year-old had missed just 16 league games - but never more than four in a single campaign. He had played through a minor groin problem during the first half of 2019/20, plundering 20 goals before going under the knife during the winter break. Capable of going from zero to goal without warning, the fully fit Poland international scored five times in six games in 2020 to propel the defending champions back to the summit.
Bayern won the three games Lewandowski missed, beating Hoffenheim 6-0 and Augsburg 2-0 in the Bundesliga, and Schalke 1-0 in the DFB Cup quarter-finals, but recently welcomed their prized No.9 back to first-team training. For the rest of the competition, that means normal service will be resumed as soon as the season gets back under way. Statistically, that means Bayern maintaining their three-goals-a-game league average.
Watch: All 25 of Lewandowski's Bundesliga-leading 25 goals so far in 2019/20
Lewandowski has struck 39 times in 33 competitive matches in 2019/20. He heads the Bundesliga scoring charts with 25 goals, and is on track to snare a third successive top scorer's cannon. The chances of him missing Der Klassiker in Dortmund - originally slated for his possible comeback on 4 April - have all but gone out of the window. With them, you do wonder about BVB's prospects of overturning the four-point deficit on the defending champions during the run-in...
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Position: Attacking midfield
Appearances in 2019/20: 19
... but there is hope in the form of Dortmund's talismanic captain, Marco Reus. His Bundesliga record is remarkable, having a hand in over 200 goals from 279 appearances, but unfortunately injuries have prevented the 30-year-old from wreaking even further havoc on opposition defences. And that has been the case again this season, this time with a groin tear keeping him out since the start of February.
The injury sustained in the DFB Cup last-16 defeat to Werder Bremen has seen Reus miss the last seven competitive games in the league and UEFA Champions League. While results have been more than acceptable with five victories and two defeats, the fact is that Dortmund are better with their skipper.
Watch: All of Marco Reus' goals and assists so far in 2019/20
From the 19 Bundesliga games in which Reus has featured, Borussia average more points, shots and goals than in the six fixtures without him. With just a four-point deficit to leaders Bayern, including a Klassiker at the Signal Iduna Park to come, the chance for Reus to return could prove key in Dortmund’s attempt to lift the title for the first time since 2012.
Appearances in 2019/20: 8
As one of Germany’s finest young centre-backs, the loss of Süle would be a setback for any defence. The 6’5’’ man mountain commits less than one foul per game and wins roughly two thirds of his challenges, which is among the best rates in the Bundesliga this season.
His absence since the opening minutes of the 2-2 draw at Augsburg in October, when he tore his cruciate ligament, has resulted in Bayern’s defence changing beyond recognition. The back four that day consisted of Joshua Kimmich, Süle, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. There was only one survivor when the sides met again for the champions’ most recent fixture in early March, with Pavard lining up at right-back alongside Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Alphonso Davies.
As experienced as that central pairing is, 24-year-old Süle would without doubt return for one of them once fit. Although conservative estimates ruled him out of the summer’s planned Euros, there was quiet optimism he could be back for the end of the season in May, with the defender already taking part in light training.
A delay to the campaign now presents the him with the chance to feature in up to nine league games, as well as the potential remainder of the UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup. It would also come as a relief to head coach Hansi Flick, who admits he has been restricted in his defensive options and ability to rotate due to injuries.
Appearances in 2019/20: 10
The philosophy at Schalke is that no player is bigger than the team, but the absence of the 6’5’’ Sane is a giant hole to fill in defence. The Senegal international is almost impossible to pass on the pitch, winning nearly 70 per cent of his duels, including over 80 per cent of those in the air – both of which are league bests.
Prior to suffering a knee injury at Augsburg in November, the Royal Blues had conceded just nine goals in nine games, including three clean sheets. Since then, David Wagner’s side have let in around 1.7 per match and kept just four shut-outs across 16 league games.
On top of his defensive qualities, Sane has also proven himself an asset in attack with two goals and an assist. It may not sound much, but when you consider that Suat Serdar is Schalke’s top scorer with seven goals, it is a notable total.
Sane’s injury also came just a week after Benjamin Stambouli’s own foot fracture, meaning Schalke lost both central defenders in quick succession and Wagner had to reorganise his backline. The pair are both on the mend having returned to light training. A couple of months may prove enough time for the Royal Blues’ first-choice centre-backs to make a comeback with plenty of games remaining.
Club: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Appearances in 2019/20: 17
Steffen’s start to Bundesliga life was of the highest calibre as he put in a Man of the Matchday display, making 10 saves in Fortuna Düsseldorf's 3-1 win away at Werder Bremen on the opening weekend. The USA international would go on to play every game of the Hinrunde, making 67 saves – the second most in the league – at an average of four per match.
It turned out, though, that the 24-year-old had been playing through a knee injury. It would become too much for the Coatesville, Pennsylvania native and he’s spent the whole of 2020 on the sidelines.
Watch: Zack Steffen - Making the most of his second chance in the Bundesliga
New Fortuna boss Uwe Rösler had positive news ahead of the postponed Matchday 26 fixture against Paderborn in March, confirming that Steffen had trained for the first time this year. Yet he added the caveat: “There’s no need to ask yet if he’s ready to play. He still needs some time”.
Well, time is what the goalkeeper has been afforded with the suspension of play. The 17-time USMNT international has been able to quietly go about his rehabilitation, not missing any further games. A fit-again Steffen will also provide Rösler with a positive selection headache as he provides competition to Florian Kastenmeier, who has also impressed in his eight games as deputy, as well as chipping in with a rare assist in the DFB Cup quarter-final defeat to fourth-tier Saarbrücken.