Though not the most heralded of names in the Bayern Munich squad, it could be argued that Sandro Wagner is the club’s most important transfer in recent seasons.
Wagner’s signing was a perfect fit for the player himself – he had just turned 30, was returning to the club where he emerged as a professional and can possibly look forward to lifting three trophies this term. Yet what he has given the club in return is what could be the most invaluable component in the equation.
So often reliant on the brilliance of Robert Lewandowski to lead the line on his own in recent seasons, Bayern now have a second, equally reliable, frontman to use as a platform for their attacking play. While he may not be as prolific in front of goal as the Pole, Wagner performs the other side of the game – hustling, harrying, holding the ball up and bringing teammates into play – just as well.
“He’s an unbelievable competitor,” says German football scout and pundit Lutz Pfannenstiel. “He’s always working hard, never giving the defenders a rest, talking to them to try and put them off. He’s a nightmare to play against but the type of guy you really want in your team.”
Watch: Wagner: "Lewandowski is the best striker in the world"
Furthermore, strikers are signed to score goals, and in addition to that cocky, natural competitive streak – Wagner recently declared himself “the best German striker” – he is delivering on the goalscoring front too. The rangy forward has netted seven goals in ten league appearances at an average of one every 67 minutes following his brace against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 30.
Crucially, that tally also includes six in six starts, which means Wagner plays his part, and more, when Lewandowski is given a rest. And with the former Borussia Dortmund man again enjoying another hugely productive season – he has 36 goals in all competitions, including 27 in 27 in the league – Bayern are making the most of having the luxury of two out-and-out strikers to spearhead the attack.
It is this depth up front that gives this season’s Bayern vintage an edge on its predecessors of the last few seasons. Since Lewandowski arrived in 2014, he has been the main man in attack, and while he has become of the greatest strikers in Bundesliga history, Bayern have not had another out-and-out striker on whom they can consistently rely.
Pep Guardiola occasionally used Thomas Müller and Mario Götze in attack in 2014/15, while the veteran Claudio Pizarro only managed one goal in Lewandowski’s first year in Bavaria. In the previous campaign of 2013/14, Mario Mandzukic was the first-choice striker, though Pizarro contributed 11 goals in all competitions.
We have to go back one more season, to 2012/13, arguably the greatest in Bayern’s history, to find a squad where the German record titleholders had the luxury of multiple elite strikers from whom to pick. In winning the treble of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League that season, the Bavarians reaped the richest of rewards from Mandzukic, Pizarro and Mario Gomez, all recognised strikers, who notched 22, 13 and 19 goals respectively.
In charge of rotating and motivating that free-scoring trio was Jupp Heynckes, the veteran coach who is now performing a similar trick with Lewandowski and Wagner, two thoroughbred strikers whose skill sets have Bayern’s strike force resembling that of the glorious campaign of 2012/13. With Heynckes back at the helm and the treble still on this season, the symmetry could hardly be more appropriate.