Finding Bayern Munich a long overdue replacement for Robert Lewandowski – data analysis
The club tried to compensate for the loss of the prolific Polish striker by bringing Sadio Mané in from Liverpool in the hopes that the Kop legend would take some of the goalscoring pressure away from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
While Mané’s arrival hasn’t necessarily been a failure, he didn’t quite have the impact that was anticipated.
Bayern scored five fewer goals this season than in the previous campaign, won three fewer games and drew three more. Fortunately, Borussia Dortmund’s failure to win at home on the final day handed the title to Thomas Tuchel’s men and so their lack of an elite striker wasn’t as glaringly obvious as it would have looked had Dortmund clinched the victory on the last game-week.
It has been widely reported in the media that Bayern are on the search for a new striker as well as a centre-back. The signing of Kim Min-jae is close to being completed but the German giants are no closer to confirming the signature of a new number ‘9’ to replace Lewandowski, albeit twelve months later.
With that in mind, in this data analysis, we will use xGold to creatively find a new centre-forward for Bayern ahead of next season. In this analysis, we use data and statistics to pick three players who are similar to Lewandowski that could fill in the blank up top.
Lewandowski’s final season at the Allianz Arena
A huge disclaimer must be put out before we proceed with this analysis piece. Unless Bayern sign obvious candidates such as Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappé, Erling Haaland or Victor Osimhen, nobody will hit the goalscoring heights of Lewandowski.
The four players listed above are all highly unlikely to move the Bundesliga champions, apart from perhaps Osimhen, and so potentially no candidate selected will reach the heights of consecutively hitting 30 to 40 goals per season.
In fact, in Lewandowski’s final season with Bayern, he scored 35 goals in the Bundesliga, including 30 from non-penalty situations which is truly incredible for a man who was 33 years old at the time.
Lewandowski even pipped the goal-machine Haaland to the top goalscorer crown by 7 goals and scored fewer penalties too.
The goals have been more spread out this season across the front three but this isn’t always a good thing necessarily, especially considering that there were no forwards who stepped up in massive games for Bayern in the Bundesliga or in Europe.
Manchester City are a great example of when a more centralised attack has arguably greater benefits than spreading goals out among several players. Last season, City didn’t really have a focal point up top and a number of players rotated the number ‘9’ position including Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus, and Kevin de Bruyne.
City won the Premier League but couldn’t get over the line in Europe or domestic cup competitions. This season, the attack became more centralised around one man. While some critics tried to argue earlier in the campaign that Haaland made Pep Guardiola’s side worse, the treble and Haaland’s 53 goals say otherwise.
Excluding Jamal Musiala, the attacking quartet of Choupo-Moting, Mané, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry scored 39 goals in total in the Bundesliga across the 2022/23 season, just four more than Lewandowski did in his final campaign with the club.
Gnabry finished as the team’s top goalscorer in the league but suffered prolonged spells where he couldn’t find the net throughout the season. Likewise, Musiala bagged 12 times in the Bundesliga, but just once in the last three months in all competitions.
Without signing a player who can consistently put the ball into the net when it matters, Bayern may struggle again next season in all competitions, particularly in Europe.
With our xGold player comparison search, there are certain limitations we’ve put in place to filter out any unrealistic players. Firstly, we will focus only on players playing in leagues that are categorised as Tier 1 and 2 in world football. These leagues are; the Argentina Liga Profesional, the Belgian Pro League, the Brazilian Serie A, the EFL Championship, the Premier League, Serie A, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, the Eredivisie, Liga Portugal, the Russian Premier League and the Turkish Super Lig.
Furthermore, the players must be between the ages of 17 and 30 and have to have played at least 1,000 minutes of action.
Also, xGold uses only data from the most recent season and so Lewandowski’s data will be taken from his time in La Liga with Barcelona.
We’ve tried to make it as interesting as possible – no boring answers! Yes, we could have written about Osimhen and the likes but there’s no fun in that.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few centre-forwards that are the most similar to the Polish frontman that could finally take his place at Bayern.
A surprising but interesting name on the list is that of Tigre loanee Mateo Retegui. The Italian is currently loaned out by Boca Juniors but has had an exceptional season so far in Liga Profesional, a name that has sprung up out of nowhere.
After leading the goalscoring charts in Argentina early in the campaign, Retegui earned a call-up to Roberto Mancini’s Italian national team and now looks to be a mainstay with the Azzurri.
The 24-year-old’s wonderful form in South America has garnered interest in Italy from the likes of Internazionale and even Lazio. Given he is now a regular with the national side, a move to a top-five league seems inevitable. Perhaps Bayern could join the conversation.
His development has not been linear. Having developed in the academies of River Plate and Boca, Retegui was never touted to be a future top striker but over the last six months, he has blossomed and is improving game on game. Now seems like the right time for Retegui to make the leap across the water.
Our xGold tool found that there was a 91 percent similarity between Lewandowski and Retegui. In terms of playmaking, Lewandowksi is trumping his fellow striker. This was always an underrated aspect of the Pole’s game.
Lewandowski is excellent at dropping deep and executing link-up play and combinations to keep possession ticking or to potentially break through the opposition’s defensive line. To play in a side like Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern, this is an area that Retegui may need to improve, although he has shown a capability to do so during his brief few matches with Mancini’s ball-oriented Italy.
However, it must be noted that Tigre are down near the bottom of Argentina’s top-flight whereas Lewandowski is playing with the champions of Spain.
Nevertheless, Retegui is performing pretty similarly to Lewandowski in almost all goalscoring and chance-creation metrics compared to the rest of their respective leagues while he is outperforming the iconic number ‘9’ in aerial duels.
Retegui has proven himself to be a decent finisher too. While he is marginally outperforming his non-penalty xG, the sample size is relatively small and the gap could widen with more games played.
What the Italy international’s xG map also tells us is that the chances he does score are high-quality opportunities. As noted in the legend at the bottom of the graphic, the bigger the circle, the larger the value of the chance is.
Retegui’s movement is exceptional too. The Italian is an incredibly intelligent centre-forward and likes to stay on the blindside of opposing defenders before making bursts inside to latch onto the end of a cross.
He can also shoot from a variety of different situations, with his left foot, right foot and head. In the previous screenshot, Retegui burst in front of his man once the ball was played across before hitting a side-footed volley with his right foot that trickled wide of the near post.
He also times his runs really well. Like Lewandowski, Retegui is not the quickest frontman, although not slow either. Nonetheless, he likes to sit on the shoulder of the last defender, orienting his body to receive to feet before punishing the opposition. This is a trait we often see from the former Bayern man too.
Again, referring back to the disclaimer from the previous section, Retegui is not as good as Lewandowski and may never be. But there are a lot of similarities in how the two men play and so perhaps he would be worth a fair crack of the whip for a relatively modest price too.
Quite a lot of players have moved from Argentina to top-five leagues in recent years and have adapted quite well such as Julián Álvarez, Carlos Alcaraz and the likes which could be further evidence that Retegui could be a very astute pick-up for a top club.
Sydney van Hooijdonk
The next player that our xGold engine has found that could join Bayern Munich in the summer is Bologna’s Sydney van Hooijdonk. According to xGold, van Hooijdonk has a similarity rating to Lewandowski of 89 percent.
Those of a certain age may remember his father Pierre, a prolific goalscorer in the 90s and 00s who plied his trade with some top European clubs, including Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Benfica, Feyenoord and Celtic, so Sydney certainly has a good teacher.
Van Hooijdonk was sent out on loan from Bologna last season to Heerenveen in the Eredivisie and had a superb time developing in his native country. Already, Sydney is being touted with a move to a bigger team, including Notts Forest and even PSV Eindhoven.
Regarding the xGold pizza chart, Lewandowski is outperforming the 23-year-old in almost every metric apart from aerial duels, but van Hooijdonk is much younger and far more inexperienced. However, like the Poland captain, he is still a very well-rounded player and has a bright future ahead.
On loan in the Netherlands for the entirety of the most recent season, Sydney scored 18 goals in all competitions for Heerenveen, while just one came from the penalty spot. Furthermore, he outperformed his npxG of 16.44 too.
What is more impressive is that every single goal scored by van Hooijdonk was inside the penalty area and so the young centre-forward can be classified as somewhat of a fox in the box.
Nevertheless, labelling van Hooijdonk solely as a poacher would be remiss. He is so much more than that. The Netherlands U21s international also likes to drop deep and link-up play and can offer a lot to his side in possession apart from merely finishing off chances inside the penalty area.
However, what will matter most for Bayern next season is that they have a striker who can convert chances, especially when it matters.
Van Hooijdonk has an innate instinct for finding space in the box and, despite not being very nimble, is incredibly intelligent at creating room to take a shot. Lewandowski also excelled in this area.
Here, van Hooijdonk was running towards the six-yard box alongside the opposition’s centre-backs, waiting for the ball to be hit across the face of goal. But as the centre-backs were dropping back towards the goal line, he halted his run, creating a little pocket of space for himself to receive a cut-back cross and finish off the chance at the near post.
Sydney is similar to his father inside the box – a very powerful and rather tall number ‘9’ with broad shoulders but with a wonderful eye for goal
It seems inevitable that the 23-year-old will move on from Bologna this summer to bigger and better things. Bayern Munich should be in the market for the prolific Dutchman, even if they don’t view him as a starter right now.
The last name on this list is one that could definitely be on the move this summer – Folarin Balogun. After a difficult start to life in the Premier League with Arsenal, the academy product was loaned down to Championship outfit Middlesbrough last season.
Unfortunately, the striker failed to impress at the Riverside Stadium and returned to the Emirates with just three goals to his name.
Balogun’s next loan move was to Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims and this one was much more beneficial for the young centre-forward. In fact, Balogun bagged 22 goals during his time in France’s top-flight, the joint fourth-highest total of the 2022/23 campaign, more than Lionel Messi and Neymar.
The biggest issue for Balogun has been his finishing. 22 goals in a top-five league is an excellent return. However, 15 goals from a npxG of 23.02 is quite appalling. This is an area that Balogun desperately needs to improve, but thankfully, he has age on his side.
But how does Balogun’s play style compare to Lewandowski, and can the USMNT frontman finally occupy Bayern’s empty throne?
According to xGold, Balogun has an 89 percent similarity rating to Lewandowski. Again, Lewandowski excels regarding link-up play. In fact, link-up play is an area where Balogun needs to massively improve, hence why there is doubt over whether he is in Mikel Arteta’s plans for next season.
Nevertheless, in terms of shot-creating actions, goals, dribbles and shots, the duo are pretty inseparable, with Balogun even edging the goal machine in some metrics.
One area that Balogun will offer something different to Lewandowski is his speed in transition and ability to press from the front due to his lightning-fast pace.
Reims pressed in a mid-to-high block, especially during Will Still’s reign. This would get the best out of Balogun who could use his pace to aggressively press the opposition’s backline, often winning the ball high up the pitch and sometimes in the final third, although he did give away quite a few fouls as well.
But his speed is particularly useful in transition – attacking transitions, that is. Words simply cannot describe just how fast Balogun is but we’re not even sure there’s a defender in European football right now that could catch him in a foot race.
Reims used this to their advantage last season and Balogun thrived in a more transitional team which got the best out of his strengths.
Here, the odds were stacked against Reims in a 3v5 transition versus RC Lens. Fortunately, because of Balogun’s blistering speed, it didn’t matter how many men Lens had around the ball. One simple pass into space behind the last defender was all that was needed for the Arsenal striker to get ahead of everyone and bear down on goal.
The Bundesliga is naturally a highly-transitional league right now and has been for a while. Balogun’s finishing will need to greatly improve to be Bayern’s primary number ‘9’ as well as his overall link-up play and so the young striker may be unable to reach the heights of Lewandowski’s goal tally. However, he will be far more useful out of possession and in transition than Lewandowski’s game allowed and would be a really interesting purchase by the German champions.
You may be mad at us by now for including somewhat unrealistic names. But the intention of this article was to have a bit of fun using our xGold player comparison engine and to think outside the box at potential options that Bayern Munich could sign instead of splashing large wads of cash on an already-proven goalscorer like Osimhen, for instance.
Retegui, van Hooijdonk and Balogun are all incredibly talented strikers with bright futures ahead. Will these futures be at Bayern? Who knows, but it’s likely that all three of them will get big moves this summer, so let’s hope one is heading for the Allianz Arena.