Had the Ballon d’Or been handed out in 2020 as it had been every year since its inception in 1956, Robert Lewandowski surely would have been the recipient. The Polish forward had the calendar year and season of his life, firing Bayern Munich to an historic treble of trophies in the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League.
Lewandowski hasn’t allowed his form to dip in 2021, finding the back of the net an incredible 25 times for club and country since the turn of the year. Injury, however, has stopped the 32-year-old in a way no opponent could, with a knee ligament strain expected to keep him sidelined for up to four weeks.
Notably, this means Lewandowski will miss both legs of Bayern Munich’s Champions League quarter final tie against Paris Saint-Germain, the team the Bavarians saw off in last season’s final in Lisbon. With the most lethal finisher in the game absent, this would appear to be the perfect opportunity for PSG to get their revenge.
Bayern Munich’s 1-0 away win over RB Leipzig on Saturday suggests they might still have enough to make the Champions League’s final four without their main man. Lewandowski also missed the top-of-the-table clash, but Hansi Flick’s side were still measured and controlled in their performance. RB Leipzig should have done better with a couple chances, but otherwise it was a show of strength by Bayern Munich. They didn’t even need Lewandowski.
PSG, however, are a more potent opponent than RB Leipzig. In Kylian Mbappe, they boast a talent widely considered the next best player in the world. Bayern Munich’s high line could be an issue against an attacker with pace to burn and this is before the threat posed by Neymar, Angel di Maria and Moise Kean is even mentioned.
Marco Verratti will miss Wednesday’s first leg after testing positive for Covid-19 and so it’s possible Bayern Munich will dominate the centre of the pitch through the partnership between Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich. Idrissa Gueye and Leandro Paredes will have a lot of ground to cover.
One area Bayern Munich will likely target is out wide against a PSG side lacking in true quality in the full back positions. Alessandro Florenzi is also set to miss Wednesday’s first leg through a positive Covid-19 test, meaning Thilo Kehrer will probably start on the right side of the defence. Abdou Diallo has most recently been favoured at left back over Mitchel Bakker, who started nearly every match in the first half of the season. Such is the precarity of PSG's back line.
Flick has a number of elite level wide forwards who could exploit this weakness in the PSG team. Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane are all capable of doing damage at the Allianz Arena this week and at the Parc des Princes next. This could ultimately be where the biggest difference between the two teams is.
Nonetheless, this Champions League quarter final match-up will be the true test of what Flick has built at Bayern Munich. The Bavarians were European soccer’s dominant force last season and while some vulnerabilities have since appeared they stand a good chance of staying at the top of the pyramid by winning the Champions League again this season. But how much of this is built on the goals of Lewandowski?
“These are situations that coaches have to face,” Flick told reporters ahead of Bayern Munich’s clash with PSG.
“We all know that Robert is an important player. Now we have to see how we will solve this. We have players who can play that position. It is a challenge for us all and we have to tackle it.”
Against RB Leipzig, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, a former PSG player, was deployed up front, but the Cameroonian international wasn’t in the team to get on the end of chances. Instead, he was there to facilitate others around him and he did this effectively as Thomas Muller, Coman and Sane all found space to exploit in behind. In fact, it was through this creation of space that Muller assisted Goretzka for the winner.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Choupo-Moting selected to perform the same role against PSG, but this would put great emphasis on Bayern Munich’s wide men and attacking midfielders to find space between the lines. A safer option would be to use Muller as a central forward and deploy Coman, Gnabry and Sane around him. How Bayern Munich cope without Lewandowski will reveal a lot about the integrity of their structure as a team.