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Pros and cons of potential replacements for Robert Lewandowski

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Robert Lewandowski will be out for at least four weeks with a knee injury. Here’s how Bayern will need to cope without him.

Chelsea FC v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Visionhaus

After a resounding 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League yesterday, the hopes of FC Bayern and its fans came crashing down in the worst way possible: Robert Lewandowski, arguably Bayern’s best player in London last night, will be sidelined for at least four weeks with a minor fracture to his knee. Of course, four weeks is probably optimistically speaking, as many Bayern fans will remember how long it took for Manuel Neuer to get back to full fitness after his metatarsal fracture.

Like it or not, Bayern will need to find a replacement for their star striker, and fast, as the team enters a busy stretch of the season. But how exactly do you fill a Lewandowski-shaped hole? BFW dives into the potential replacements, and their pros and cons.

Option 1. Serge Gnabry

Pros: Gnabry is probably the most obvious option to take Lewandowski’s place at the pinnacle of Bayern’s attack. The good thing about using Gnabry as a center forward is that he has ample experience there while playing for the German national team, as Joachim Low has been using him as a center forward to great effect. Gnabry has played all but one of Germany’s Euro qualifiers as a center forward or second striker (minus the Estonia away win, when he didn’t play at all), scoring seven goals in as many games. He also featured as a center forward in Germany’s 2-2 friendly draw with Argentina, scoring one goal and assisting another. Likewise, Gnabry’s talent as a striker has been fully showcased throughout the year, and it is no stretch to think he can do the same for his club.

Add that to the scintillating form that Gnabry has been on, and we just might have ourselves a new number nine.

Cons: Gnabry has barely played as a center forward for Bayern, though, and he has not impressed in that role when he did. An example would be the embarrassingly hard 2-1 win over Bochum in the DFB Pokal. Although he scored once in that game, it was after Lewandowski had been subbed on and Gnabry had been moved to his usual berth on the wing. It is hard to say whether Gnabry will be able to replicate his Germany form with Bayern when his results are not as impressive.

Moreover, moving Gnabry to the middle means that Bayern will lose their best winger, and with both Ivan Perisic and Kingsley Coman out of commission, not to mention Philippe Coutinho’s lack of form, Bayern’s attack will inevitably fall short on the wings. Of course, there is always the option of moving Thomas Muller to the wing, but we all know how well that works.

Option 2. Joshua Zirkzee

Pros: Zirkzee made headlines all across Germany back in December when he scored with his first two touches in his first two games for Bayern’s senior team. Although he is only 18, the Dutchman is physically well-built, and is a clinical finisher, as we all saw when he single-handedly won Bayern their last two games of the decade. Even in his limited time on the pitch, he has shown his talent for getting into spaces and exploiting them. Another good example would be his showing against Hoffenheim in the Pokal, when he got himself into a 1-on-1 with the keeper almost immediately after coming on. Moreover, he was the one who freed up enough space in the box for Lewandowski to score Bayern’s winner against Paderborn last weekend.

Zirkzee has thus proven his worth as a striker twice in important games, and can be seen as a viable candidate to replace Lewandowski. Injury crises have sometimes allowed new talent to flourish, a prime example being winger-turned-left-back Alphonso Davies. Who’s to say Zirkzee can’t do the same?

Cons: Although Zirkzee has rarely disappointed in his few minutes for the senior team, he has oddly found it hard to find the back of the net for Bayern II, for some reason. He has only scored twice in the 3. Liga, and has not been as impressive as he has as a starter for them as he has been an impact sub for the senior team. This may show that at the moment, Zirkzee might be better off coming off the bench in the second half rather than starting, which means that he can’t be a direct replacement for Lewandowski in this case. But then again, ever since his breakthrough with the pros, Zirkzee has been showing better performances with the II team (both his 3. Liga goals came after his first Bundesliga goals), so this might mean something.

Option 3. Kwasi Okyere Wriedt

Pros: Kwasi Wriedt is doing what Zirkzee has not been doing in the 3. Liga; that is, scoring goals. The Ghana striker has 17 goals and 3 assists in 24 games this season, and is responsible for Bayern II’s steady progress in its first season being promoted to the third tier. The big man is also well built, and is a well trained goal machine, which is just what Bayern needs in Lewandowski’s absence.

Cons: Alas, Wriedt has even less experience than Zirkzee for the first team. He has only played twice for them, and his last appearance for the pros came two years ago, in a 1-2 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga, when Jupp Heynckes was still in charge. Since then, Bayern has changed coaches twice, which just goes to show how long it has been since Wriedt played professional football. Putting the pressure on Wriedt to replace the best striker in the world when he himself has not had a proper taste of the biggest stage is just plain unfair, and could be detrimental for both the player and the team. As of now, Wriedt is the least likely candidate to start in Lewandowski’s place.

Option 4. Thomas Muller

Pros: Muller is in the form of his life, performing brilliantly week in week out under Hansi Flick. Der Raumdeuter has been scoring goals and providing assists regardless of opponent, and he is also a serious option to replace Lewandowski. If Muller can play higher up the field, he could potentially change his role to goalscorer instead of provider. We saw how well Muller can dart into spaces time and time again, and if he can do just that, there is no reason to suggest that he can’t pull off the no. 9 role.

Cons: Well, we have all seen how well Muller does at no. 9, and as much as we hate to admit it, he is not a good striker. His hold-up play is average at best, and he cannot be expected to find the space that he normally does without a striking partner to support him. What’s more, Muller has already adapted to a more assist-oriented player this season, and suddenly pushing him up and expecting him to score goals may take him some getting used to. Of course, being the versatile player that he is, Muller may surprise us all, but from what we’ve seen so far over the past few seasons, Muller as a no. 9 limits his abilities, and why would anyone want to waste arguably the best attacking midfielder in the business by playing him in a position he clearly does not feel at home in?

Bonus: Possible Formation Changes?

If Gnabry plays, Bayern may revert to a 4-3-3 and take a more direct, speed oriented approach. When Germany played Gnabry as a center forward, they would often play him in the middle of a 4-3-3 attacking line, flanked by players like Timo Werner, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt, etc. It is possible that Flick may do the same, and play Muller as a winger to support Gnabry, along with Coutinho, Coman, and Perisic once the latter returns. The problem with this approach, however, is that it departs from the usual 4-2-3-1 that works so well for the current team, in which the pressure and ball playing are almost perfectly balanced.

Of course, there is a chance that Flick will stick to said 4-2-3-1 regardless of who he plays, especially if it means leaving Muller in the middle, so that he has a partner in crime to open up space for and vice versa. Should Flick play an actual striker like Zirkzee or Wriedt, there would be no reason to change the formation, as it would just mean replacing one striker with another.

Conclusion

Lewandowski’s injury is a major setback for Bayern, especially considering the run of form he was on this season. It is true that Bayern will probably struggle to adapt to life without him, and may have their title hopes damaged. But then again, this could be a blessing in disguise. Again, if it weren’t for the various injuries to our defenders this season, we may not have discovered what a gem Davies is at left back. Neuer’s injury two years ago was brutal, but we discovered that Sven Ulreich is much more than just a decent backup goalkeeper. Sometimes replacements can prove their point big time, and judging from the talented options that we have at our disposal, we have room to be slightly optimistic.

Here’s hoping Bayern will find a way out of this dilemma, and also that Lewandowski will make a full and speedy recovery.