Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeness, Jürgen Klinsmann, Giovane Elber, Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni. A small septet, on the fly, which illustrates the cultural fusion between Bayern Munich and the concept of a centre-forward. World champions, Ballons d’Or, records galore – such as the 68 goals in 62 appearances by the first city, the most famous of all strikers in the history of European football, owner of an unrivaled mark of 365 goals in the German championship.
Carsten Jancker, probably the most needy, if not the most caricatural – let’s leave that to the unforgettable Ruggerio Rizzitelli –, of the series, pure goalscorer, half hound half clumsy, would never have believed his ears if someone had told him, in his heyday, that the Bavarian giant – not him, the club – would start a season with the greatest ambitions… without a starting centre-forward.
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It’s a revolution: looking at a Bayern match sheet at the start of the season is looking in vain for a number 9. There is a No. 19 – Canadian full-back Alphonso Davies – and a No. 39 – the little prodigy from Rennes Mathys Tel. And that’s all. The transition is brutal, after eight seasons of an essential Robert Lewandowski at this number. And above all, knowing the history of the club in the six Champions Leagues.
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The Poland captain had amassed 191 Bundesliga goals with Bayern, securing the competition’s top scorer title on six occasions. With his 344 goals and 94 assists in 375 matches in total, the neo-Barcelonian inevitably leaves a void. Exactly 43 goals on average per season, which must now be filled in another way, the artist Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting not being exactly of the same caliber.
Kimmich: “Our game has to change, that’s for sure!”
“Our game must change, that’s clear!“, Assaulted Joshua Kimmich when his team had just spent five in Leipzig, in the Supercup, on July 30. We must”distribute the load on other shoulders“, he added. An opinion, even an observation since the first matches have proven it, shared unanimously at Bayern, from the players to the president – a former very high-ranking goalkeeper – via the sporting director and coach, Julian Nagelsmann, who does not hide his appetite, even if he does not put it that way, to play without a No. 9. “We will have solutions. Many players can evolve in front“, he estimated. The beginnings proved him right in an explosive way, Bayern having pulverized the European champion (in the Europa League), Eintracht Frankfurt, on the occasion of the first day of the championship.
How did he do it? In 4-2-2-2, one of his favorite systems. Mané and Gnabry in front, Müller (right) and Musiala (left) in support, for a de facto 4-2-4, recalling the greatest hours of miniature football on mats from the childhood of any football fan who respect each other. Even for a 2-4-4, Alphonso Davies on the left and Benjamin Pavard on the right (to a lesser degree, perhaps) regularly contributing to the Bavarian offensives. The advantage is plural: not only are the players no longer looking for the usual fixation point in the axis but in addition, they can alternate short game and long game, Mané and Gnabry lending themselves to this last option with relish.
Guardiola, relative influence
Tracing the genesis of this revolution to the contribution of Josep Guardiola is only relevant up to a certain point since the Catalan had the Polish center forward in his squad. He had, however, waltzed Mario Mandzukic unceremoniously and even installed, on occasion, Arjen Robben as a false No.9. With the former FC Barcelona coach, patience was a virtue, searching for flaws, meticulous ambition. With his young successor, the Bavarians play their technique in movement in a more chivalrous way. But Nagelsmann wants to temporize: “Maybe it will be different the day we have to center more in a game“, he advances, evoking here defenses more curled up than those of RB or Eintracht.
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The former Hoffenheim technician does not refrain from playing with three attackers or just one. Nor to change during the match. The Müller sector in support-Lewandowski as a finisher has lived, so much Mané and Gnabry can reverse their roles indefinitely, on the one hand, and so much the midfielder will act as a mobility laboratory, on the other hand. Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich are the prototypes, far from the Jens Jeremies or Xabi Alonso of yesteryear, the wing players too, such as Leroy Sané or Jamal Musiala, at ease in both axial and transverse movements. Same thing with a three-man defense, with a choice of one or two central defensive midfielders. The options are endless… with every action.
A brief look in the rear view mirror is enough to measure the revolution: on the occasion of the club’s last two continental titles in 2013 and 2020, the 4-2-3-1 with the classic striker was immutable. In the 3-4-3 or the 4-3-3 which could follow, same thing. “There are not many strikers who can score 40 goals per season“, recalls Nagelsmann to justify the plasticity of Bayern version 2022-2023. But in this club, once again, this emptiness is unprecedented.
There were even some seasons when the position of centre-forward was provided with two international sizes, such as Roy Makaay and Claudio Pizzaro – the second obligingly giving way to the first by stepping back a notch – from 2003 and for four seasons. , such as Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni a little later, such as Mario Gomez, Mario Mandzukic and the same Pizarro after them, in 2012-2013, the year of the Cup-Championship-Champions League treble. With his two or three small goals in twenty matches, the 1991 Golden Ball Jean-Pierre Papin stands out negatively, of course, but he too was a very high level center forward.
Hoeness: “Who will score 25 goals?”
“I’m a No. 9 lawyer at all costs“, believes Dieter Hoeness, another highness of the function, which he exercised at Bayern at the same time as Rummenigge. “Getting things right will take creativity“, he harangues. “I’m very curious to see how this will all work out tactically. Who will score 25 goals?” We could add: who will score with a header? Perhaps this is the reason why, despite everything, Bayern keep “Choupo” (1.91m) and Zirkzee (1.93m) in their squad, loan income from Anderlecht.
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But he especially enlisted Mané (1.74 m) and Tel (1.81 m). And, unlike Hoeness, he will remember that in 1985, it was Lothar Matthäus, with his 16 goals, who finished top scorer in the house. In 1987 too, with 14. And again in 1988, with 17. Or better in 1995, Christian Ziege, with 12. Or Arjen Robben, in 2010, with 16. And especially that, in the recent past, the goal load was sometimes divided between several players, as under Louis van Gaal. This is precisely what president Oliver Kahn wants this season, who hopes that, the shadow of Lewandowski faded, the other offensive players try their luck more, such as Kingsley Coman.
The trend of 2022 is not inevitable, however. The recruitment cell has its eye on Hugo Ekitike, Cristiano Ronaldo and, above all, is considering 2023-2024 with a certain Harry Kane, the center forward captain of England. However, on a Bundesliga scale, the coincidence is striking: not only did Lewandowski get away, but so did Erling Haaland. Either the two goal machines of the two biggest German clubs of the moment. Like Bayern, Dortmund will have to rely on their speed and the flexibility of their attacking forces. And the others ? Frankfurt has Alario but the Italian does not start. Freiburg by Petersen, bench man par excellence.
Hoffenheim of Dabbur but, although also from Nazareth, the Israeli is not the messiah. Wolfsburg de Nmecha but the hopeful European champion is slow to win. Schalke de Terodde but the latter stacks the records especially in the 2nd division. There remains Bayer, who managed to keep Patrik Schick. And the RB Leipzig which, although renowned for its taste for experimentation, stacks at the time of writing these lines four advanced attackers: Sörloth, Silva, Poulsen and Werner. Unless the n°9 are already, again, the future in the Bundesliga?
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