Robert Lewandowski has left Bayern Munich for Barcelona, but Sadio Mane and Matthijs de Ligt have arrived from Liverpool and Juventus respectively. How will the record champions line up in 2022/23?
bundesliga.com weighs up the options at head coach Julian Nagelsmann's disposal…
Between 2014 and 2022, Lewandowski put away some 344 goals in 375 competitive appearances as a Bayern player. He finished as the Bundesliga’s top scorer in six of his eight seasons at the club, hitting at least 30 goals on five occasions, including in each of the last three campaigns in a row.
As the numbers attest, Lewandowski is a natural-born goalscorer, the like of which the modern game has scarcely seen. He is a peerless frontman, and a finely tuned one at that. The 33-year-old was present and correct for 384 of a possible 408 Bundesliga matches in his time in Germany, including four formative seasons at Borussia Dortmund, and never missed more than five in a single 34-fixture campaign.
Watch: All 312 of of Robert Lewandowski's Bundesliga goals
Given Lewandowski’s formidable nose for goal and prizefighter fitness, back-ups were seldom needed. In the twilight of his career, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is content making sporadic, and largely cameo appearances. US youngster Malik Tillman is at the opposite end of the spectrum, and will spend the 2022/23 season on loan at Rangers in Scotland.
So unless Bayern recruit a direct replacement for Lewandowski - incoming 17-year-old Mathys Tel is more of a long-term prospect - it's fair to assume Nagelsmann will opt for an interchangeable forward line. After all, his self-professed role model Pep Guardiola won the 2021/22 English Premier League at Manchester City with largely makeshift No.9s, while new Bayern signing Mane moonlighted through the middle for a Liverpool team that pushed City all the way and reached last season's UEFA Champions League final.
Even if it is not Mane's strongest hand, the Senegal winger - along with Müller, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane - can be expected to bridge the post-Lewandowski gap. Last season alone, the quintet were worth a combined 64 goals and 55 assists in all competitions. And at least three of them have had prior success in a central role.
Mane scored 12 of his 23 goals for Liverpool in 2021/22 when deployed through the middle; nine of Gnabry's 20 international efforts for Germany have fallen as a false No.9, while Müller averages 10 Bundesliga goals per season in a quasi-second striker position. Needless to say, record champions Bayern won't be short of goals in 2022/23.
For Nagelsmann, it is a question of how to best maximise output. Recent history points to Bayern being a 4-2-3-1 club. It’s a formation that has underpinned the most successful era in their history: 10 straight Bundesliga titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues and five DFB Cups since they finished as runners-up in all three competitions in 2011/12.
Nagelsmann initially adopted the tried-and-tested set-up after replacing sextuple-winning coach Hansi Flick in summer 2021, before experimenting with the three-man defence that served him so well in charge of former employers Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. A proponent of tactical flexibility, Nagelsmann's 4-2-3-1 would often become more of a 3-2-4-1 mid-game, and vice versa.
Watch: Analysing Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern in 2021/22
In terms of preferred personnel, de Ligt goes straight into the heart of defence after completing his high-profile move from Juventus. A two-footed centre-back, the coveted Netherlands international has been praised for his "natural leadership qualities" and answers Nagelsmann's call for a ready-made defensive chief.
Benjamin Pavard and Dayot Upamecano enjoyed regular minutes last season, but Lucas Hernandez is the frontrunner to partner de Ligt. A tenacious left-footer, Hernandez would provide welcome balance to a central defensive pairing cast in a comparable mould to 2019/20 treble-winning duo Jerome Boateng and David Alaba.
A student of the Alaba school of defending, the incendiary Alphonso Davies has first dibs at left-back, leaving summer arrival Noussair Mazraoui and Pavard as Nagelsmann's primary options on the opposite flank. Considering that Pavard has reiterated his desire to play centrally - despite making the majority of his appearances for Bayern and reigning world champions France at right-back - Mazraoui perhaps gets the nod.
In the case of a three-man defence, Pavard may get his wish, tucking in to the right of de Ligt and Hernandez. Davies and Mazraoui then become wing-backs - a position Gnabry occupied at times under Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim. Like Upamecano, Tanguy Nianzou is another alternative at centre-half in both formations.
Whatever the system, goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer remains Bayern's undisputed No.1. The Germany stopper conceded a joint-league-low 37 Bundesliga goals in 2021/22, underlining his standing as the best goalkeeper in history. His reward was a new deal through to summer 2024, by which time he'll be 38.
Joshua Kimmich - Neuer's potential successor as skipper - enjoys a similarly glowing reputation as the heartbeat of the Bayern midfield. The walking battle cry will continue to hold down the fort alongside Germany teammate Leon Goretzka, though the arrival of Netherlands international Ryan Gravenberch - a box-to-box player - adds another string to Nagelsmann's bow, especially with Goretzka sidelined for the start of the campaign. The Bayern tactician could even unleash all three when fit, in the style of Real Madrid's Casemiro-Kroos-Modric midfield axis.
Variety is the standout feature of the attack, meanwhile, with Mane and Müller - the latter the Bundesliga's top provider for three seasons in succession - the nailed-on starters. Coman's importance has been singled out by Nagelsmann before, putting him at the front of the queue in the attacking wide areas, ahead of Gnabry - also a potential false nine - and Sane.
All three - as well as Mane - are comfortable on either flank; not forgetting teenaged trump card Jamal Musiala, who has been used as a No.6, No.8 and winger since breaking into the senior side in 2020. Austria international Marcel Sabitzer is a reliable understudy in the central and wide positions. In many ways, Nagelsmann is spoilt for choice.
Losing a player of Lewandowski's ilk would be a blow to any club, but Bayern have recruited wisely, and boast the individual quality to go forth and conquer as one formidable unit.
Nagelsmann's 2022/23 incarnation promises to be equal parts fascinating, flexible and fruitful.
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