"You're doing alright, Chris" - Robert Lewandowski has taken USA youth international Chris Richards under his wing at Bayern Munich - © imago images / MIS
"You're doing alright, Chris" - Robert Lewandowski has taken USA youth international Chris Richards under his wing at Bayern Munich - © imago images / MIS

Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards: "If I can play against Robert Lewandowski, I can play against anyone"


Bayern Munich's American defender Chris Richards is fit again and raring to resume fighting for a place in Hansi Flick's side, saying, "If I can play against Robert Lewandowski, I can play against anyone".

The 20-year-old made his Bundesliga debut at the end of last season, and was heavily involved in the early part of 2020/21, featuring off the bench in the Matchday 1 victory over Schalke and earning his first start in the Matchday 3 triumph at home to Hertha Berlin.

A calf injury forced him off the pitch in that game on 4 October and kept him out of action for a couple of weeks, but Richards has since recovered, playing twice for the Bayern reserves and taking a full part in first-team training again.

Richards had to be substituted off on his starting debut for Bayern due to a calf complaint. - getty images

And it is those sessions against the likes of Robert Lewandowski that Richards believes have honed him into a better player.

"I'll give him a 60-40 advantage [in terms of training battles won]," he said in an interview with SiriusXM. "I'm confident in myself. I know that him being one of the best strikers in the world, nothing's expected of me when we go up against each other in training, so I just want to show everybody that I can be that young American guy that turns down Lewandowski in training.

"Even though a lot of times he gets me, it's definitely a back and forth thing. If I can play against Lewandowski, I can play against any striker in the world."

Not only that, but his fellow defenders also give him tips on how best to stop the seemingly unstoppable UEFA European Player of the Year, who already has 10 Bundesliga goals to his name this term.

Iron sharpens iron: Richards regularly goes shoulder to shoulder with the best in the business in Bayern training. - Philippe Ruiz via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Philippe Ruiz

"Most of the time I talk with the other centre-backs," said the Bayern No.41. "Guys like Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Niklas Süle, they give me pointers afterwards about what I could have done better and how to defend a guy like Lewandowski."

The Bayern striker may well be the best player on the planet at present, but Richards admitted that does prevent him crunching into tackles during practice matches: "At first it was hard finding the right in-between, but talking to the older guys, they said they'd rather I go 100 per cent than zero per cent. Nobody gets better from that. Everyone knows that stuff happens in training but if you see it's a risky tackle or a risky situation, you pull out of it because you don’t want to hurt anybody."

Although the Texas native was schooled as a centre-back, his start against Hertha came in the more unfamiliar position at right-back. He performed superbly prior to his injury, recording an assist for Lewandowski and having another ruled out because Thomas Müller was offside.

And that new perspective - getting forward down the flank, rather than staying back as central defenders are required to do – has also improved Richards' game.

"At the beginning of last year I started off playing a bit at right-back just because of the squad depth with the second team," the 6'3" US youth international explained.

"It was my first time ever playing at right-back. It teaches you a lot about the offensive side of the game, and also just seeing the field in a different aspect. You have to be perfect in your one-on-one duels, both offensively and defensively.

"So I think me playing right-back has helped a lot with me playing centre-back because you have to be sharp in your one-vs-ones. Especially being a defender, if you lose then it's right there in front of your goalie so I guess it taught me how to be more precise with my tackles and when to win the ball."

Richards has 12 caps for the USA 19s, but is eager to make the step up into the senior roster. - via www.imago-images.de/imago images / DeFodi

All of which feeds into his dual objectives of establishing himself in the Bayern first team and the US Men’s National Team.

Richards has played for his country at youth level but is yet to be capped on the senior international stage. Nevertheless, he is very much in head coach Gregg Berhalter’s plans.

"I've had talks with Gregg," Richards confirmed. "He's always asking how I'm doing off the field, if I'm healthy. He can obviously see all the games that I play. He gives me help if I need any advice with stuff I’ve been doing on the field.

"Hopefully I'll get called up to his next camp. Just being able to represent my country at the highest level would be an amazing on honour for me. It's something I've always wanted to do."