Robert Lewandowski’s injury: How will Bayern Munich cope?

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https://www.dw.com-Bayern Munich’s normally indestructible frontman is expected to be out for a month at a crucial point of the Bundesliga season. With no obvious replacement in the squad, how will Hansi Flick live without Lewandowski?

Robert Lewandowski is a striker with many remarkable qualities. His positioning, composure, strength, awareness and finishing are among those that mark him out as probably the best number nine in world football.

But perhaps his most valuable trait to Bayern Munich over the last few seasons has been his incredible durability.

The Polish forward has missed just 11 matches through injury since joining on a free from Borussia Dortmund in 2014, with only one absence longer than a single match – a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games back in April 2017.

One of those was a goalless draw with Bayer Leverkusen, the other was a home defeat to Real Madrid (for which he was suspended anyway) in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Bayern took the second leg to extra time but went out.

Since then, he’s been rested for a handful of dead rubbers and he timed recent groin surgery to conincide with the winter break, meaning neither Hansi Flick nor his predecessors Niko Kovac or Jupp Heynckes have had to go to plan B when it mattered.

Since a brief dalliance with Sandro Wagner ended with Wagner moving to China after growing frustrated by his role as Lewandowski’s back up, Bayern haven’t suffered from their failure to sign a second senior striker.

But with just four points separating the top three, and Borussia Mönchengladbach also still in the mix, every game is crucial. If the four week timeframe Bayern placed on the knee injury sustained in the win at Cheslea proves correct, the 31-year-old is likely to miss league games against Hoffenheim (a), Augsburg (h), Union Berlin (a) and Eintracht Frankfurt (h) as well as a trip to face Schalke in the German Cup and the return leg against Chelsea.

Perhaps not the toughest set of fixtures but, given that Bayern required two late Lewandowski strikes to overcome bottom club Paderborn at home in their last fixture, Flick will be taking nothing for granted. So what are his options?

Thomas Müller

The former Germany international was the man tasked with replacing the irreplacable in those Leverkusen and Real Madrid games and failed to score in either. While his World Cup golden boot testifies to his poaching instincts, Müller is not a natural with his back to goal and leading the line detracts from his ability to roam in to areas where he’s difficult to pick up.

His goal output has dwindled in recent years, too. After reaching double figures in six of his first seven Bundesliga seasons with the club he’s failed to do so in his last four, including the current campaign in which he has scored five times so far. But the appointment of Hansi Flick has helped Müller rediscover his creative touch and he, along with Jadon Sancho, leads the league in assists with 14.

An efferevescent display against Chelsea was just the latest in a series of strong performances from Müller in a nominally right-sided role under Flick and, despite the presence of Philippe Coutinho in Bayern’s squad, Flick may well feel he’ll lose more from moving Müller than he’ll gain.

Serge Gnabry

The same could be said for Gnabry, who also enjoyed himself on Tuesday night but is much less comfortable leading the line than driving in from wide. The 22-year-old is a good finisher and has the pace to stretch defenses but struggles to act as a pivot for attacks in the same way as Lewandowski.

Gnabry did enjoy playing more centrally in his loan spell at Hoffenheim under Julian Nagelsmann in 2017-18 but hasn’t played the role for Bayern. With Kingsley Coman limping off midweek and likely to miss the Hoffenheim game and Alphonso Davies needed further back, moving Gnabry inside would also deny Bayern real pace in the wide forward positions.

Joshua Zirkzee/Jann-Fiete Arp

The alternative to making changes further back is to throw the dice and give youth a chance. Zirkzee has already made a significant impact on Bayern’s season, scoring the winner against Freiburg with his first touch off the bench on debut in December before repeating the trick with the deadlock-breaker late on against Wolfsburg three days later.

The Dutchman, 18, has a similar frame to Lewandowski and is a more natural striker than Gnabry or Müller. And he’s learning from the main man. 

“[I watch] his movement from crosses or how he moves between the lines,” he told Dutch outlet Voetbal International. “His timing, how he shields the ball, his sprints towards goal – I’m taking in everything Lewandowski does.”

Arp had a similarly explosive start to his Bundesliga career, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to feature in the league in a short cameo before two goals in his next two games catapulted him in to the public eye.

But as his club, Hamburg, dropped into the second division, the goals dried up. Arp didn’t score again in the 2017-18 season and got just one in 506 minutes in the second tier after Bayern bought him and loaned him back to HSV last term. He was on the bench for Bayern’s last fixture but is yet to make his debut.

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