When Robert Lewandowski left Bayern Munich in the summer, taking his historic record-breaking goalscoring talent with him, little did the record champions realise that they had a piece to plug the gap already on the roster, in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
The arrival of Sadio Mane gave Julian Nagelsmann some much craved after flexibility regarding his attacking options, with the likes of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Thomas Müller, Jamal Musiala and Kingsley Coman tipped to share the goalscoring burden across several shoulders.
Choupo-Moting, with three and four Bundesliga goals in his first two seasons in a Bayern shirt, did not necessarily stand out as the man to fill Lewandowski’s golden boots, yet the Hamburg-born Cameroon international is currently enjoying a new lease of life. Not only is he dispatching the ball into the back of the net with a regularity which harks back to his Mainz days, the 33-year-old is displaying a clinical edge which is answering Nagelsmann’s prayers.
“Choupo’s in great form right now,” said the Bayern coach to DAZN after the midweek UEFA Champions League win at Barcelona, during which Choupo-Moting showed the whole of Europe how – on the same pitch as Lewandowski – he can be the one to stand out. “Since we’ve had him in the team, we’ve been looking very sharp up front and he’s scoring goals, which is good for the self-confidence and is helping us a lot.”
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“We’re pleased to have him in the squad,” added sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. “He’s had a few setbacks, but Choupo’s a great guy and fits in really well in our team. We’ve got quite a few options and when Choupo’s playing like this, he’s obviously going to be a regular starter, and we’re all delighted.”
When Nagelsmann needs a classic No9, he has one. And that has been quite evident over recent weeks.
A goal and assist against Freiburg was followed by two goals and a further assist in the 5-2 DFB Cup win over Augsburg. The following weekend, he also netted against Hoffenheim, before upstaging Lewandowski with his goal at Camp Nou. Then, on Matchday 12, he chipped in with another goal and assist as Bayern swaggered past Mainz with a 6-2 success.
As such, he has scored in five consecutive games (in all competitions) for the first time in his career, and in three straight Bundesliga matches for the first time March 2014, when he played for Mainz.
Evidently all of the hours on the training field with Lewandowski are starting to pay off, with Choupo-Moting showing a similar eye for goal as Bayern’s former No9. He has had just eight shots on goal in the Bundesliga this season, with three rippling the back of the net.
While little more than a bit-part player last season, with 19 of his 20 appearances coming from the bench, Choupo-Moting has now advanced his cause as a regular starter, making three successive Bundesliga starts, and doing what all strikers need to do to assure themselves of a recurrent role: scoring goals.
“We’re currently finding it easier to play with an out-and-out centre forward, who is good with his back to goal, can hold up play and give his teammates the time they need to catch up,” admitted Nagelsmann, who is reaping the rewards from having such a forward in Choupo-Moting.
And after surprising the Catalonian Camp Nou aficionados with the sort of performance they were expecting from their own number nine, he set out what looks increasingly like a realistic roadmap.
“I’m delighted for myself and for the team,” he said. “We go into every Champions League season with the aim of winning it, because we’ve got the quality to do so.
“Those are the ambitions of Bayern Munich.”
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