Robert Lewandowski will miss all of Bayern Munich's Champions League quarter-final tie with Paris Saint-Germain after injuring the ligaments in his right knee, the Bundesliga champions have confirmed.
Lewandowski, scorer of 42 goals in 36 games this season, was already a doubt for the top of the table Bundesliga clash with RB Leipzig after picking up the injury in Poland's 3-0 win over Andorra in the World Cup qualifiers. In ruling him out of tomorrow's match against England, the Polish federation had set an initial timeline of up to 10 days for the 32-year-old's recovery but that has been significantly upgraded after further tests by Bayern Munich.
"Robert Lewandowski has strained a ligament in his right knee," his club said in a statement. "The FC Bayern striker will be out for around four weeks.
"After Poland's 3-0 win over Andorra, Lewandowski returned early to Munich, where a diagnosis was made by the German record champions' medical team. The 32-year-old had scored the first two goals in Sunday's match, before having to leave the field after an hour following a clash."
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A four week timeline does not even guarantee Lewandowski would be available for the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals (due to take place on April 27 and 28) should Bayern make it that far. That task has become significantly harder for the reigning European champions without their star striker against a PSG side who knocked Barcelona out in the round of 16. According to sports book William hill Bayern's odds of winning the match have moved from -145 to -115, with the odds of a draw increasing from +320 to +300 and the odds of a PSG win going from +330 to +275.
In addition to being unavailable for the trip to RB Leipzig on Sunday, Lewandowski will also miss domestic matches against third place Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen in sixth. Bayern currently hold a four point lead at the top of the Bundesliga with eight games left to play.
How will Bayern line up without Lewandowski?
It is the scenario that Bayern Munich must have feared when they waved Lewandowski off to the Polish national team, that their most important player would return to them in worse shape than he left. That they lost him to a game against Andorra that Poland could have won without him will be all the more galling, though Paulo Sousa and his staff would be quite right to say that they have every right to use the players available to them as they see fit.
It is hard to overstate how important Lewandowski's absence is for Bayern. Arguably the best player left in European competitions, he has scored 40 of the 100 goals his team have scored in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season. Only one other player has even hit double figures. Hansi Flick's team is designed to get chances for Lewandowski, who will score a hatful of them. Now they need to rethink things.
Lewandowski's injury is quite the headache for Flick and one that Bayern managers have rarely had to deal with previously. Since the start of the 2016-17 season the striker has missed just nine games through injury. Such availability means the German champions have not really had to work out a plan B. This season Lewandowski has played 90 percent of Bundesliga minutes and only twice been left out of the starting XI, in a 4-1 defeat to Hoffenheim on September 27 and a win at Koln just over a month later. Similarly he started every Champions League game other than two de facto dead rubbers after top spot in Group A had been won.
In three of those four games Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has led the line (Joshua Zirkzee, now on loan at Parma, did in the Hoffenheim loss) and he would be Flick's natural choice if he wants to play with an orthodox striker. The former Stoke City forward may not exactly have the profile one would expect of a key player at a European superclub but the reality is when Lewandowski is so consistently available there is little sense spending big on a reserve option even if that approach is at risk of backfiring against PSG.
Choupo-Moting also has a history of delivering in big games and will know his opponent inside out, after all he fulfilled a similar role at PSG between 2018 and 2020 and scored one of their most important goals ever when he netted the winner against Atalanta in last year's Champions League quarter-finals. He also has a knack of finding shooting positions, in league and European games he has the second-highest expected goals (a metric that assesses the quality of shots taken) tally per 90 at Bayern behind Lewandowski.
Flick has more unorthodox alternatives as well. Thomas Muller has flourished as an attacking midfielder but has the build and technical qualities to lead the line, in 66 games as a centre forward for Bayern he averages a goal every 143 minutes, hardly the levels that Lewandowski has hit in recent years but nothing to be sniffed at.
Bayern Munich scorers in Bundesliga and Champions League
|Player||Goals scored||Shots||Minutes per goal||Expected goals|
|Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting||3||15||209.3||3.63|
If not him then Serge Gnabry could work as a wildcard option. He has been deployed up front by Joachim Low for the German national team more often than not and knows how to find the net from that position. The former Arsenal winger also has a healthy habit of excelling on the biggest stage with nine goals in last season's winning Champions League run.
Moving Gnabry to centre forward would necessitate a significant change to Flick's approach, possibly with more emphasis on rapid transitions from him, Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman with Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich in the supply line. But something major is going to have to change anyway. Bayern have just lost their best player. There are no easy solutions to that.