Not only because Lewandowski has been the Bavarian side’s primary goal-scorer since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2014, but also because he always plays — Saturday was just the 17th game he has missed in his five and a half seasons with Bayern.
But after Lewandowski picked up a knee injury in the Champions League against Chelsea in London on Tuesday, Hansi Flick had no choice but to go in a different direction. To the interim coach’s credit, his solution to his Lewandowski dilemma against Hoffenheim, and the way he reached it, paid off in spades.
Flick’s first move was not only to include Philippe Coutinho in his starting lineup, but to announce beforehand that the Brazilian would start.
”Philippe will definitely play,” Flick said in his press conference on Friday. “From there, he has the chance to integrate himself into the game. He’s doing really well in training. I rate him as a football player and as a person. We all hope that, eventually, he’ll figure it out. Now would be a great time.”
A strong vote of confidence from Flick. But Flick granted an even bigger one to 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee, who received his first career start for Bayern’s first team. Before Saturday, the Dutch teenager had only 23 minutes in four career appearances on his resume — and had scored twice from the bench this season.
Coutinho and Zirkzee paid that trust back to the tune of three goals on 11 shots combined. Their contributions led to a 6-0 rout of Hoffenheim, a performance that signifies that Bayern will indeed survive the loss of Lewandowski.