We have been here before. Franck Ribery was suspended for the 2010 final; David Alaba, Luiz Gustavo and Holger Badstuber were missing for the 2012 final — Bayern Munich lost both. However, do not underestimate a team that won six trophies.
Robert Lewandowski is a huge absence
It is impossible to downplay how Robert Lewandowski has made himself invaluable and virtually irreplaceable to this Bayern side. The goals and assists obviously speak for his importance; he was on course to beat Gerd Müller’s Bundesliga record of 40 goals in a single season; he was on course to help Bayern possibly win another Champions League. What regular observers of Bayern know which others do not is just how much work the Polish forward does for the team. He is willing to track back and defend, collect the ball at the halfway line and run his socks off for this team.
Lewandowski, two years ago, was not willing to defend when the opposition came forward. That has changed since Hansi Flick came on board and since Bayern proved to him that they could deliver the UEFA Champions League trophy missing in his cabinet. Add to that the development of his buildup play and you end up missing a person who could be a one-man spine of your side. He carries his national team, Poland, on his back as well, and, in an unfortunate incident, ended up injured in a World Cup qualifier against Andorra.
Bayern fans will be missing the tip of the spine for their side. Hansi Flick is sitting on his couch at home at this very moment with a clipboard, planning what to do. Or, he is at Bayern’s Säbener Strasse facility with Miroslav Klose, training Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to become Lewandowski 2.0. Aren’t we all glad that Choupo-Moting wasn’t called up for international duty due to miscommunication with the Cameroon national side? He is now fit and rested if Flick chooses to use him.
The tip of the spine, not the fulcrum
I believe the spine of this Bayern Munich side consists of Manuel Neuer, David Alaba/Jerome Boateng (depends on who is the better passer on the day and does not have a howler), Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Thomas Müller and Lewandowski. The fulcrum is definitely Joshua Kimmich. Every Bayern fan remembers that, during Kimmich’s absence last year, Bayern struggled massively in the Bundesliga. Upon his return against Bayer Leverkusen in December 2020, what he contributes was evident for all to see when his pressure led to an error by Jonathan Tah which led to Lewandowski’s winner in a 1-2 win for Bayern.
When Bayern lost Goretzka to COVID-19 for a short time, his absence was palpable too; when Bayern lost Neuer to a long term injury a few years back, his deputy Sven Ulreich did an excellent job, but made a season-changing error against Real Madrid in a crucial Champions League game — Bayern narrowly lost that tie. Injuries to both Alaba and Boateng would leave Bayern short of a visionary passer or a defensive leader at the back.
What will Lewa’s injury do? It will take away a potent goal scorer; it will take away the focus of the attack. However, behind the front four, a potent midfield and a quietly improving defense still stands — let me put it this way: behind the front four stands a treble winning midfield and defense.
Joachim Löw, for once (since 2016), might be showing the way forward
Nobody is quite prepared to allow Choupo-Moting to take on Lewa’s spot in the front four, although the former Schalke man has proven to be a very solid backup. However, several teams, including Germany, plays without a recognized number nine. Look no further than RB Leipzig, a team which decided to forget about a striker, especially due to Alexander Sorloth’s adjustment problems until later in the season, and play with a false nine. Do you know what Leipzig accomplished with a false nine? They beat both Manchester United and PSG in Germany in the Champions League in the 2020/2021 season; arguably, they were incredibly unlucky to lose against the French side in France.
Manchester City, seemingly most pundits’ favorite for just about everything, does not play with a world class striker (Gabriel Jesus just about passes for a striker). In fact, Bayern themselves made do with three excellent, but not world class, strikers in Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro in the 2012/2013 season when they won the treble. Bayern can adjust. The only issue is that the adjustment has to be made rather quickly.
Enter Joachim Löw; he dropped an out-of-sorts Timo Werner and played Serge Gnabry up front for Germany against Iceland and Romania. For the most part, it worked. Sometimes, Leroy Sané seemed to take on the front man role; sometimes, Leon Goretzka was the focal point of the attack.
In addition, Bayern can fit in any three of five behind Lewandowski on a given day: Gnabry, Coman, Sané, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Müller are the options. This team is not reliant on one man. This team is much bigger than one player. Last season, in the quarterfinals, Lewa only scored after Bayern had already dismantled Barcelona; he added the third in the dying minutes against Lyon in the semifinal; he did not score in the final. Bayern needed his hard work but not his goals in those three games. A certain Serge Gnabry proved vital in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals; he is finding his form at just the right moment.
Bayern has options. Leave it to Hansi Flick to pick the best one.
Lewandowski’s loss is a huge one but it is one that can be partially compensated for. I would argue that the loss of Kimmich (I really hope Joachim Löw rests him against Macedonia) would be a much bigger issue for Bayern than the loss of Lewandowski.
In previous seasons, Bayern did not have options to compensate for the lack of a big player; for example, Ribery’s replacement in the 2010 final was a tame Hamit Altintop (respectable but not up to the mark). This time, while there isn’t exactly a like-for-like replacement aside from Choupo-Moting, there are a plethora of midfield options to make up for it.
I know Lewa’s loss hurts the team’s chances against Leipzig and PSG; however, if there is any team and any coach who can overcome such an issue, it is Hansi Flick.
There is a reason the games must be played, regardless of how the teams match up on paper.
Let us know your thoughts below and, as always, thank you so much for reading!