As the international break winds down, top clubs around Europe prepare for the most crucial stage of the season. For Bayern Munich, the very first game back involves a clash against second-placed RB Leipzig — an encounter that could decide who wins the Bundesliga.
Unfortunately for Hansi Flick, Robert Lewandowski is confirmed to be missing the game with a knee ligament injury. The Polish striker had to return prematurely from international duty after being subbed off against Andorra, and is set to be out for 5 to 10 days. Sources close to the club say that he only had a 50-50 chance of playing against Leipizg on Saturday.
[Note: Since this article was written, it was confirmed that Lewandowski will miss four weeks at the minimum. The rest of the article is written with Leipzig in mind, but it applies in general.]
This is, of course, far from optimal for Bayern Munich. RB Leipzig are the only team Hansi has failed to beat even once in his time as Bayern coach, and Julian Nagelsmann has a knack for getting his teams to perform against the Bavarians. With Lewy’s absence, Bayern will be missing a man who has scored 35 goals in 25 league games this season. That’s more than most clubs can manage in a year.
Therefore, the question is: who should replace him?
Option #1: Choupo-Moting at striker
The man. The myth. The legend. Lewy who? EMCM is the best striker in the world.
Jokes aside, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is Bayern’s main backup option at striker, and these are the kinds of games he was brought in to play.
Hansi Flick had already been giving the former PSG man some decent minutes as a sub before the international break, and he even scored against Lazio in the Champions League — a opponent whom even Lewy was having a difficult time with.
Choupo has a few key strengths to his game that make him a good backup to Lewandowski. His holdup play and overall pressing game is pretty decent, and he’s had two weeks to train alongside Thomas Muller and build up some chemistry with Bayern’s assist king. His profile means that Hansi Flick doesn’t need to make any significant changes to his tactics before the Leipzig game, which is always a benefit for the coach.
Unfortunately, Choupo doesn’t have 1/10th of the raw output that Lewandowski can generate, so the burden of scoring will fall on his teammates. Even with the wealth of attacking talent that Bayern has, replacing the best striker in the world is no small feat.
Option #2: Thomas Muller as a False 9
Longtime watchers of Bayern Munich will know full well that Thomas Muller doesn’t work well as a striker. The Raumdeuter is at his best when he has a target man to create space that he can exploit. In the absence of that kind of player, Muller’s talents, while effective, are somewhat wasted in a false 9 role.
The only reason I suggest this as a viable alternative for the Leipzig game is because of one man — Hansi Flick. This is one coach who knows exactly how the space investigator functions. If anyone can figure out a setup that utilizes Thomas’ strengths as a false 9, it’s him.
Going through with this option means that someone needs to come in and occupy the AM role. Luckily, Flick has just the man for the job.
Jamal Musiala, the 18-year-old Muller-regen, is clearly the best choice. He has proven his worth this season, playing a key role in Bayern’s comeback win against Leipzig during the Hinrunde last year, and scoring in the 4-1 win over Lazio away at the Champions League. Despite his youth, the youngster has shown that he can perform at the highest level.
Musiala has the talent, speed, and tactical awareness to form a strong synergistic partnership with Thomas Muller up top. The only issue is the fact that the lineup will be wholly untested when taking to the field against Leipzig. What works in theory may not work so well on a football pitch.
Option #3: Serge Gnabry at striker
With Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane available to man the wings, Hansi Flick has the very real option of moving Serge Gnabry up top and using him as a striker.
The 25-year-old has been far from prolific this season, but he’s been slowly regaining form since the beginning of February. Gnabry’s performances have markedly improved compared to the first half of the season, with the winger managing 5 goals 3 assists in his last 7 games for club and country.
Striker is a role Gnabry is familiar with, even though he doesn’t play that position at Bayern. He’s already displaced Chelsea’s Timo Werner from the #9 spot in the German National Team, and he often played up top back in his Bremen days. Additionally, Leipzig is a good matchup for him — Gnabry may struggle against teams that park the bus and allow very little space at the back, but he’s perfectly able to play up top against a more expansive opponent like Leipzig.
With Gnabry in good form and already getting match practice at striker for the NT, this may be Hansi’s best choice to solve the Lewandowski conundrum. Even so, club football is very different from international football, and Gnabry will need to raise his game if he wants to help carry Bayern to victory against the Lawnballers.
How should Hansi Flick make up for Lewandowski’s absence?
This poll is closed
The MooMoo (Muller-Musiala) pairing
Tell Gnabry that "Leipzig" is just a funny way of spelling "London"
Pull a Stuttgart and play with 10 men (again)
Disaster! Lewy is out for the next four weeks. The article above is still relevant. Despair below.