Robert Lewandowski missed Bayern Munich's win over RB Leipzig, and is out for their game against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League. Who will play up front in his stead?
By the time of his Matchday 26 hat-trick in the mauling of VfB Stuttgart, Lewandowski had only missed 16 games in his seven seasons with Bayern since joining the record German champions from Borussia Dortmund in 2014, and never more than three in a row. He was also hurtling towards Gerd Müller's 40-goal single-season record, set nearly half a century ago.
Then came along his injury on international duty with Poland, where Lewandowski picked up two goals as well as a damaged collateral ligament in their 3-0 win over Andorra. Bayern have since confirmed they will be without their star man for four weeks, which makes for a big miss over a crucial run of fixtures.
Who will Hansi Flick turn to in his stead?
Plan A: Respect the system with Choupo-Moting?
Flick's Bayern have been remarkably consistent in terms of their tactical set-up this season. Occasionally the constellation of midfielders changes - one or two pivots in front of the defence depending on the opponent and available personnel - but in each of their 26 league games leading up to Lewandowski's injury, they featured a flat back four and one man, invariably the Pole, leading the line.
Lewandowski had only failed to start two league matches in 2020/21 before his setback. Joshua Zirkzee was up top in the first of those - an upset 4-1 loss to Hoffenheim last September - and has since been allowed to leave on loan for Parma. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting got the nod against Cologne a month later, although it was Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry who got the goals in a 2-1 win.
Flick made it 27 league games in his preferred system as his team edged out Leipzig to move seven points clear of their nearest title rivals at the weekend, and it was Choupo-Moting who stepped into the enormous shoes of his teammate. The Cameroon international has been handed starts in the Champions League and DFB Cup, with his five goals and one assist in all competitions coming in at a rate of one every 168 minutes he has played.
Choupo-Moting allows Bayern to keep to their trusted 4-2-3-1 formation, and has the added bonus of being a former PSG player when those teams collide on Wednesday. The newly-crowned Leon "SCOREtzka" Goretzka's form in front of goal from further back also eases the burden in Lewandowski's absence, while allowing Flick to keep continuity in his tactical setup.
Plan B: A fluid front four?
Only Lewandowski has started more games among outfield players than Müller this season, and the Raumdeuter's place in the team is assured. Flick has been trying to turn three into two for most of the campaign, though, with Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman and Gnabry competing for the wide berths either side of him.
A Lewandowski injury would allow him to play all four at once, perhaps with Sane and Coman switching touchlines and Müller and Gnabry taking it in turns to drop deep. Any one of those players would be a nightmare to mark at the best of times, let alone when they are changing positions on the fly.
Sane and Gnabry are two of Germany's preferred front three, alongside Timo Werner or, latterly, his Chelsea teammate Kai Havertz. Gnabry has scored an incredible 15 goals in just 19 games as a Germany forward. Die Mannschaft enjoy being underpinned by Bayern players, but the champions could do worse than look at how they are used by their country this time around.
Plan C: A surprise package with company?
Müller is also the perfect strike partner. He has laid on a league-best 15 goals this season having set the record for single-season assists (21) last term.
"It's better if I can play alongside someone in attack," Lewandowski confessed to bundesliga.com a couple of seasons back. "With Thomas next to me it's easier. He helps me a lot. We complement each other very well."
Watch: Müller under the tactical microscope
With Zirkzee in Italy until at least the end of the season, and German-American Malik Tillman injured, Fiete Arp perhaps finds himself the next striker in line. The 21-year-old may only have four goals in 23 games - 15 of them starts - for Bayern II this season, but he does already have Bundesliga games, and goals, under his belt from his time at first club Hamburg.
It would be a gamble, but playing Arp, or any other youngster, next to arguably the most misunderstood, and surely the most selfless, player in world football could be the ideal solution if Flick decides against Choupo-Moting or that the fluid front four could be too top-heavy against PSG.
Bayern will continue to give Lewandowski until the last moment to prove his fitness, and neutrals would love to see more goal records tumble, but the champions have other options, no matter how temporary.