Who are the best Bundesliga strikers?
The Bundesliga is home to some of the best strikers in world soccer, including star names such as Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski and RB Leipzig's Timo Werner. They are just two distinct types of soccer striker, so how would you define their role and what does a forward do in soccer if not score goals?
Robert Lewandowski: The complete center forward
The 2010 decade very much belonged to Lewandowski as he netted a phenomenal 221 goals in just 307 Bundesliga appearances to now sit third in the league's all-time scoring chart. You don't reach such a total by accident, and the Poland international has developed into the perfect all-round center forward during his time at Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
Capable of scoring with his left and right foot, head, inside and outside the penalty area, free-kicks, penalties, one-on-ones, with lobs, powerful shots or deft flicks, using pace and strength, it's impossible to keep him quiet for 90 minutes. He doesn't just lurk around the box, though. He also comes deep when needed to link up play and allow teammates to get into the space behind him. He, too, can come from deep as shown in his solo effort against RB Leipzig in 2019, but he's at his most dangerous in and around the box.
Watch: All 19 of Lewandowski’s goals in the first half of 2019/20
Timo Werner: The modern striker
When you think of Werner, you often think of raw pace, punishing teams on the counter-attack. While that is still true, the Germany international has learnt to utilize his speed to greater effect under Julian Nagelsmann. No longer just hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, he is now also content to linger out wide and stretch defenses frightened of his pace.
It's a contrast to the traditional center forward who remains within the width of the box and in the final third of the pitch. Yet Werner is just as clinical when it does come to taking chances and in fact netted his career-best 18 goals in the first half of the 2019/20 season by converting every fourth shot he took. That is a better rate than Lewandowski got his 19 goals (4.1 shots per goal), proving he's about more than just running at defenders.
Watch: A closer look at how Werner is scoring his goals
Mario Götze: False 9
This is where the question of what a striker does in soccer comes becomes less clear. A false 9 like Götze is not primarily there to score goals himself but allow others to do so. They are a forward but not necessarily a striker. A false 9 drops deep, links up play with passes in behind and out wide.
Dortmund deploy Götze in that role when they don't use an out-and-out striker like Erling Haaland. It's a style that rose to prominence in soccer under former Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, who often chose not to play a center forward, both in Munich and Barcelona, but have a fluid offensive line, allowing players to drop between defensive lines and cause havoc by creating confusion among defenders as to who should be tracking the so-called forward.
Watch: Tifo Football puts four very different No.9s under the tactical microscope
Wout Weghorst: The target man
Only Lewandowski and Werner scored more goals in the Bundesliga in 2019 than Weghorst. His 18 strikes accounted for over a third of all Wolfsburg goals in the league and was built on a much more physical style of play. In contrast to Götze, the Dutchman is far more comfortable with his back to goal and providing an outlet further up the pitch.
Standing at over 6'4"’, the league's tallest outfield player is an imposing target man who’s frequently picked out as Wolfsburg look to bypass central areas of the pitch. His large frame allows him to take the ball down, hold it up and wait for reinforcements. Once he’s laid the ball off to the runners, he gets himself into the box where he becomes a true poacher.
Watch: Weghorst under the tactical microscope
Yussuf Poulsen: Defensive forward
Denmark international Poulsen provides a similar service at Leipzig but in a slightly different capacity. While Weghorst is the sole man up front with runners coming from deep, Leipzig often employ two strikers in Poulsen and Werner. The Dane's role is more that of the unsung hero, doing the physical work that creates space and chances for Werner. He, too, is capable of taking down long balls and holding it up when needed, but he's also a willing runner, looking to get in behind defenders, stretch things and allow others to finish off his work.
Poulsen averaged under two shots per game during the first half of 2019/20 but still scored three goals and provided four assists, demonstrating his ability to take chances as well we set up those better placed than him after his build-up work. Yet his duties are by no means limited to attacking. Poulsen's efforts in a defensive capacity can't be underestimated. Both in his ability to track back and form the first line of defense with a high press are crucial to the way Leipzig play.
Watch: Poulsen, Leipzig's unlikely star striker
Thomas Müller: The Raumdeuter
A question coaches and defenders alike have been asking for the best part of a decade is: what does Thomas Müller do? Well he scores goals and he creates them – in his own unique style. It's hard to classify the FIFA World Cup winner as a striker, but he has played as one. He doesn't do it as a false 9 or an out-and-out center forward. He isn't a target man or a hard runner. When he does get in the box, though, he can prove an elusive poacher.
Outside the area, though, he's just as hard to track and dangerous. When asked to define his style of play, Müller came up with "Raumdeuter", or space interpreter – a name that has now become part of the footballing lexicon. Similar to a false 9, he drifts into space between the lines, picking up the ball unmarked before finding teammates now in the space he's created by drawing defenders out. In 2019/20 he set a Bundesliga record with 11 assists after 17 matchdays, repeatedly proving his worth as a 'striker' who doesn’t just score goals but creates them for teammates in a way that's unlike any other.
Watch: All 11 of Müller's assists in the 2019/20 Hinrunde