The previously indestructible Robert Lewandowski will miss up to four weeks with a left knee injury sustained in Bayern Munich's 3-0 rout of Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League. bundesliga.com looks at how the record champions will compensate for the Poland international's Bundesliga-leading 25 goals...
Lewandowski's absence is as much a blow as it is a shock. In his decade-long torment of Bundesliga defenders, the 31-year-old has missed just 16 league games - but never more than four in a single campaign. He 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. He has scored five times in six games since to propel the defending champions back to the summit, one point clear of RB Leipzig with 11 rounds of fixtures remaining.
If the four-week prognosis is correct, Lewandowski will sit out Bundesliga matches against Hoffenheim (a), Augsburg (h), Union Berlin (a) and Eintracht Frankfurt (h), as well as next week's DFB Cup quarter-final with Schalke (a) and the home leg of their Champions League tie with Chelsea on 18 March. The 4 April trip to former club and title rivals Borussia Dortmund has been mooted as a possible return date. Going like-for-like isn't an option the when the man on the sidelines is conceivably the best of his type in the world, but interim coach Hansi Flick does have alternatives.
Option I: Do as Jögi does
Bayern's next best goalscorer after Lewandowski is Serge Gnabry. The proverbial capital punisher hit a brace at Chelsea, adding to the FOUR goals he put past Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League group stage. He scored one and set up two in the 3-2 win at Paderborn, and stuck two away in the 4-1 victory at Cologne the week prior. The 24-year-old is on 17 goals for the campaign - 10 of which have fallen in 21 Bundesliga outings, meaning Bayern's 2018/19 MVP has tallied double figures in every single one of his four seasons of Bundesliga football to date. Not bad for a winger.
Gnabry has delivered with equal aplomb on the international stage. Arsenal's one that got away has helped himself to 13 goals in as many games for Joachim Löw's Germany, including a team-leading seven in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying. His budding international career is bookended by hat-tricks, some three years apart, against San Marino and Northern Ireland. He made his debut on the left wing, but has been deployed as the central striker in eight of his last 11. "I'll always pick him," said Löw in September 2019.
Gnabry boasts all the qualities of a dyed-in-the-wool striker, after all. Two-footed, strong on the deck, quick, skillful and selfish when he needs to be, it's hardly a curveball that the VfB Stuttgart academy product is the national team coach's first choice in attack. It's also no surprise he and Lewandowski currently rank as the most potent duo in Europe with 56 competitive goals combined. The waylaid Lewy has accounted for 39 of them, but Gnabry's 17 from a nominal attacking midfield role is a continental best. And with him doing the taking, it allows the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Leon Goretzka to come in and do more of the making.
Option II: Reconfigure the Raumdeuter
Thomas Müller is a big part of the season why Coutinho and Goretzka are not already enjoying regular first-team minutes. Underused by Niko Kovac but exploited to devastating effect under Flick, the self-titled Raumdeuter (space invader) has provided a joint-league-leading 14 goals for Lewandowski and Co. in 2019/20. And while he has floated the idea of morphing with age - "Maybe I'm not a goalscorer anymore" - a player doesn't score 115 times in the Bundesliga and help himself to 10 goals across three FIFA World Cups without having at least a few net-busting strands in his DNA.
Müller's career-best single-season haul of 20 goals in 31 appearances under Pep Guardiola in 2015/16 adds weight to the theory. It represented the fifth time in 10 seasons as a Bundesliga player that he ended a campaign on 10 goals or more - but surely won't be the last. He's on five for 2019/20, and a move from the quintessentially Müller No.10-second striker hybrid role to Lewandowski seat-warmer would only enhance his prospects of doubling up. As with the Gnabry variation, disruptions to Bayern's supply line are not expected.
Watch: Thomas Müller under the tactical microscope
Option III: Give youth a chance
Gnabry and Müller could stay where they are, if Flick goes the thoroughbred striker route. Promoted from the reserve team in November 2019, Joshua Zirkzee scored with his first touch of a Bundesliga match-ball to help Bayern record a last-gasp win at Freiburg on Matchday 16. The 18-year-old followed suit with another game-changing strike from the bench against Wolfsburg days later, but has been among the substitutes ever since, playing three wind-down-the-clock minutes at home to Paderborn. Although the Bayern reserves still call on him from time to time - he scored twice in as many 3. Liga games in February - they should probably get used to seeing less and less of the Netherlands youth international.
Single-minded like any budding frontman worth his salt, Zirkzee says he turned down a move to the English Premier League in favour of joining Bayern, where his objective "has always been to become first-choice striker". Ambitions don't come much loftier - not least when the Bundesliga's record foreign-born marksman it at the top of the pecking order - but the ex-Feyenoord prospect's opening gambit points to an upstart who can back up his words with actions. If it is a common tactic in battle to save your trump card for last, Zirkzee could yet be Bayern's ace of spades.
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