With the end of one transfer saga comes the start of another.
Robert Lewandowski has secured a long-awaited move to Barcelona, fulfilling a “dream” in the process and leaving Bayern Munich in the market for a new striker to lead their line.
But just how do you go about finding a like-for-like replacement for the most prolific marks anywhere in the world?
One suggestion is that Bayern will make do with what they have, with Sadio Mane – a wide forward rather than a striker – having already been recruited from Liverpool this window.
While that may work, there are other potential options out there for Bayern to consider ahead of their latest title defense as they aim to win the Bundesliga for an 11th time in a row.
Here, Stats perform takes a closer look at exactly what the Bavarian giants are losing in Lewandowski, and where they could go next.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 18, 2022
LEWY LEADS THE WAY
Labelling Lewandowski as the best striker in European football is not hyperbolic when assessing the cold hard facts.
The Poland international is coming off the back of a campaign that saw him register 50 goals in 46 games in all competitions, which is six goals more than the next-best Karim Benzema among players from Europe’s top five leagues.
It is not like Lewandowski’s output levels were dropping, either. The 35 league goals he registered last season are second only to the record-breaking 41 netted in the 2020-21 campaign across his 12 seasons in the German top flight with Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern.
Indeed, he has finished as the league’s top scorer in each of the past five seasons, scoring 161 goals across that period, with no other player managing such a long streak in the competition’s history.
BEST OF THE REST
Put simply, Bayern surely cannot match those numbers with one player alone. If it is a pure goalscorer the German champions are after to fill the void, the aforementioned Benzema would be their best bet, the Real Madrid striker having scored 44 goals in 46 games last time out.
Persuading Madrid to let go of their focal point in attack would be nigh-on impossible, of course, likewise with Kylian Mbappe – Europe’s third most prolific player in the 2021-22 season (39 goals in 46 games) – at Paris Saint-Germain .
Next on that particular list is RB Leipzig’s highly-rated talent Cristopher Nkunku, who scored 35 goals in 52 matches last season and also chipped in with 16 assists. When purely weighing up goal involvements, Nkunku was only five short of Lewandowski last season, in a team with far less quality.
Indeed, Nkunku’s 35 strikes last season came from an expected goals (xG) value of 28.23, meaning that he found the net 6.77 times more than he should have judging by the quality of the chances. Only Benzema (9.9) can better than across Europe’s top five leagues.
Nkunku is not strictly a number nine, though, and his arrival – even if Bayern could tempt Leipzig into selling – would mean Julian Nagelsmann having to adapt his system in the final third of the field.
FORGET KANE… GO FOR KALAJDZIC
The likes of Timo Werner, Patrick Schick and Harry Kane are other names to have been touted as possible replacements for Lewandowski. Kane in particular would suit Bayern’s system, and Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn admitted last week it would be a “dream” signing – while at the same time completely dismissing a move for wantaway Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
With another couple of years to run on Kane’s contract, however, and Tottenham demanding a nine-figure sum from Manchester City this time last year, the Bavarians would have to spend big to bring in the England international.
For a club that has only once spent in excess of €40m on an attacking player – Leroy Sane from Manchester City two years ago – and having already splashed the cash to bring in Mane from Liverpool, that seems unlikely to happen.
There is more than goals alone to judging just how good a striker is, of course, and some players are certainly more attainable than others. Look no further than Sasa Kalajdzic, who boasts a number of qualities suited to Nagelsmann, not least his presence in the box.
At six foot and seven inches, Kalajdzic is one of the tallest players around and knows how to put that to good use, with exactly half of his 22 Bundesliga goals coming via his head.
Despite playing just 22 top-flight matches since his Stuttgart debut at the end of the 2019-20 season, those 11 headed goals are bettered only by Andre Silva (12) and – him again – Lewandowski (13), who have played 45 and 83 games in that period respectively.
Kalajdzic may have missed most of last season through injury, but six goals in 15 games for a side involved in a relegation scrap suggests he is a player with plenty of potential and, just as importantly, likely to be gettable, as Stuttgart director Sven Mislintat recently given admitted the 25-year-old is out of contract next year.
MANE AND GNABRY TO STEP UP?
Away from the dream options and outside picks to take over from Lewandowski, Kahn himself said last week that in Mane his side already have a ready-made replacement.
Position wise that is not technically true, of course, but there is no doubt that Mane’s goals return across his six seasons with Liverpool was mightily impressive.
With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, he averaged a goal every 189 minutes – exactly one every two matches. Mane also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes.
In the Premier League, only Kane (134), former team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy (104) scoring more goals than Mane (90) over the course of his Liverpool career.
Unlike with Liverpool’s front three, Bayern have been used to having one focal point up top in Lewandowski.
Serge Gnabry, who recently signed a contract extension at the Allianz Arena, can also play through the middle if called upon, and has done so to good effect for the Germany national side.
If reports from the German media are to be believed, that is the route Nagelsmann will have to go down for the 2022-23 season until a big-name number nine can be recruited further down the line.
Whether it will work will be intriguing to see, with the only certainty in all this being that Bayern can no longer turn to go-to man Lewandowski in their time of need.