The Bundesliga champions retained the title by the skin of their teeth in 2022-23 and reportedly want to sign a high-profile number nine to cement their dominance in Germany.
When Julian Nagelsmann was asked about replacing Robert Lewandowski after the Pole’s departure to Barcelona in the summer of 2022, he seemed to indicate that he wanted to take his Bayern Munich team in another direction.
Nagelsmann initially said “Nein” to a nine. Making Bayern less reliant on the goals of one player would, in theory, make them a more dangerous and less predictable proposition for opponents.
The problem with unpredictability though is that it can work both ways. Die Rekordmeister blew hot and cold throughout the 2022-23 season, going out at the quarter-final stage of both the UEFA Champions League and DFB-Pokal, before having to rely on Borussia Dortmund dropping points at home to Mainz on the final day in order to pip them to the Bundesliga title on goal difference.
Nagelsmann admitted last September that, really, it was the lack of a suitable striker in the market that caused them to only replace Lewandowski with Sadio Mané, a very different type of attacker who also had far from an ideal first season in the Bundesliga after arriving from Liverpool.
Nagelsmann told the press: “If we had found a top nine for affordable money, we would probably have gone along with it anyways. There are few nines on the market that have the quality to improve us.”
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was the only experienced striker at the club, with teenager Mathys Tel providing back-up and the likes of Mané, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller sometimes filling in. Gnabry top-scored for Bayern in the league with 14 goals, with Jamal Musiala next on 12 and Choupo-Moting hitting 10, albeit from just 19 appearances.
That meant Bayern’s top Bundesliga scorer recorded 21 fewer than Lewandowski had managed in his final season at the Allianz Arena (35 goals in 34 games in 2021-22).
Bayern only scored five fewer goals overall compared to 2021-22 in the league, but it still almost cost them the title. Of course, the championship was actually secured by Thomas Tuchel after he replaced Nagelsmann in March, and it seems the former Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea boss wants Bayern to go back to what they know.
The brave new world of Bayern reportedly sees Tuchel wield a fair amount of power behind the scenes, with the outgoing CEO and sporting director pair of Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić replaced by Jan-Christian Dreesen and, for now, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Other positions are seemingly being dealt with first, with Raphaël Guerreiro arriving on a free transfer from Dortmund and negotiations reportedly ongoing for more defenders in Kim Min-jae from Napoli and Kyle Walker from Manchester City. A pursuit of West Ham’s Declan Rice has supposedly ended though, so that could mean there will be money left to spend on a striker.
So, who should Bayern go for? We’ve looked at the names most strongly linked to see who could be the one to step into those unfilled boots of Lewandowski.
It was quite a season for Napoli. Luciano Spalletti’s exciting side exploded into one of the most feared and impressive teams in Europe in 2022-23, leading to their first Serie A title since 1990.
One of the key reasons for their Scudetto success was Victor Osimhen, who scored 26 goals in 32 league games to end the campaign as Serie A’s top scorer, so it is no wonder he has been linked with clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea and indeed, Bayern.
Osimhen scored 31 in 39 in all competitions, at a rate of 0.92 goals per 90. Of players in Europe’s top five leagues to score at least 12 goals in all competitions, only Erling Haaland (1.13) and Kylian Mbappé (1.04) managed a better per-90 rate.
It is safe to say that Osimhen is a penalty-box striker, with all of his 31 efforts coming inside the area, and only two of them were from penalties. There was a healthy mix of goals as well, with 18 scored with his favoured right foot, four with his left and nine with his head.
The Nigeria international also profiles closer to Lewandowski than any other striker in Europe’s top five leagues according to our player radars. Osimhen ranks very highly for goals, shots and touches in the opposition box, as Lewandowski did in his final year at Bayern, while winning more aerials, creating slightly more chances but having fewer touches.
One issue with signing Osimhen, aside from the certain monstrous fee, is that he will likely be absent for the Africa Cup of Nations between January and February next year, though Bayern would probably not turn down the opportunity to sign such a player on a long-term deal just because of one month of inconvenience, especially with the exciting Tel potentially to step in for some much-needed experience in that eventuality.
The England captain feels like the obvious choice in more ways than one. Harry Kane is a proven goalscorer at club and international level, is in his peak years and has just one year remaining on his contract at Tottenham Hotspur. Kane scored 30 goals in the Premier League for a struggling Spurs side last season, so you wonder how many he could get at somewhere like Bayern.
However, there are two potential and significant stumbling blocks in the way. Kane is closing in on Alan Shearer’s all-time Premier League goalscoring record – currently 47 goals behind Shearer’s 260 – and so he might not want to leave England until he has broken it. Even if the 29-year-old can be persuaded, the prospect of convincing Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to part with his golden goose might be even tougher.
It might be now or never for Bayern though, even if Kane runs down his contract and leaves on a free transfer in 2024. The competition for his signature would increase drastically and you would fancy one of the Premier League giants to offer money beyond what Bayern could/would be willing to.
If they can get it done now, Kane would make all the sense in the world for Bayern and could potentially offer them the best of both worlds by having someone who is a reliable goalscorer but also so much more. Kane has developed his game in recent years and does not just play the number nine role; he floats around and helps build moves as well as finishing them off. His touch zones graphic below shows he had more touches per 90 centrally just inside his own half in the league last season than he did in the opposition penalty area.
His 199 attacking sequence involvements were the sixth most across the Premier League in 2022-23, and comfortably the most of any Spurs player. In fact, Kane not only had more shots (115) than any other Tottenham teammate but also created the most chances (53).
It would also be intriguing to see how Kane would link with the talented Musiala playing just behind, potentially bringing even more out of the young attacking midfielder in a similar way to how he developed a superb partnership with Son Heung-min at Spurs.
Randal Kolo Muani
Speaking of well-rounded players, Randal Kolo Muani burst onto the scene this season at Eintracht Frankfurt and is now one of the most sought-after strikers in world football.
The France international signed for Frankfurt on a free transfer after the expiration of his deal at Nantes last summer with little fanfare. After a season in which he recorded 26 goal involvements in 32 league games (15 goals, 11 assists) – four more than anyone else in the Bundesliga – he is now being courted by Bayern as well as reportedly Manchester United and others with a fee close to nine figures being mooted.
The 24-year-old might be best remembered for almost winning the World Cup final for France in Qatar in December, but he was denied in extra time by a fine save from Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. It has still been a breakout year for Kolo Muani though, who ended the campaign as joint-third top scorer in the Bundesliga.
He recorded 219 progressive carries in the Bundesliga in 2022-23, the most of any forward, while he had 72 successful take-ons in the German top flight, the joint-fifth most. He ranked first in the Bundesliga for take-ons in the opposition half (149), the most take-ons in the opposition box (28) and the second-most take-ons that drew a foul (23 – behind Jeremie Frimpong’s 26).
Kolo Muani feels like less of a Lewandowski type striker than even Kane, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing and it would likely be an easier deal to get done than Osimhen or Kane.
The primary tactic to Bayern’s long-standing dominance in Germany has so often been to simply buy the best players from other teams in the league. Granted, there is little chance of Werder Bremen stepping up to challenge them any time soon, but Niclas Füllkrug would feel like an old-school type of Bayern signing.
The 30-year-old is what you would call a late bloomer. After starting his career with Bremen, he moved on to have an unremarkable spell at 1. FC Nürnberg and a decent but injury-plagued time at Hannover 96 before returning to Weserstadion in 2019.
His goals in the 2021-22 campaign helped Bremen get promoted back to the Bundesliga, and Füllkrug carried that form into the top division, ending the 2022-23 season as the league’s joint-top scorer with RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku.
His form earned him a call-up to the Germany national team for the World Cup, where he scored against both Spain and Costa Rica, though was unable to save Hansi Flick’s side from a humiliating group stage elimination in Qatar.
Like Osimhen, Füllkrug is very much a penalty-box striker, with 15 of his 16 Bundesliga goals in 2022-23 coming inside the area, while 11 of his 16 came from his favoured right foot, and just one with his left (four headed goals).
Füllkrug has become a bit of a cult hero in Germany though, and given his propensity for finding the net, it would not be a surprise to see Bayern move for him as a short-term option should none of the above be available.
Those are seemingly the likeliest names currently, but are there any outside shouts to consider? Yes, here’s thee of them.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Serbian striker has not really been strongly linked with a move to the Allianz Arena, despite reports that Juventus are looking to cash in after missing out on Champions League qualification following their points deduction last season.
Vlahović hit 41 goals in 64 games for Fiorentina between August 2020 and January 2022, before scoring nine in 21 for Juve in the second half of the 2021-22 season after a big money move from the Stadio Artemio Franchi. However, he managed just 14 in 42 games last season for the Bianconeri, who often struggled to provide him with the service required.
The 23-year-old is a similar height and build to Lewandowski and showed at Fiorentina that he had a nose for goal. Reports currently suggest he is not near the top of Bayern’s list though, and they could be looking for someone a bit more mobile, and crucially, affordable.
The Arsenal youngster has made it clear he either wants to be the main man at the Emirates Stadium or secure a permanent move elsewhere after his successful loan spell at Reims, which seems fair enough. The 21-year-old scored 21 goals in 37 games for Will Still’s side in Ligue 1, with all of them coming inside the penalty box. Only Mbappé, Alexandre Lacazette and Jonathan David scored more in the French top flight last season. The same three players were also the only ones to record more touches in the opposition penalty area than Balogun’s 215.
According to our player radars, in the 2022-23 season across Europe’s top-five leagues, only Osimhen and Kane profiled closer to Lewandowski’s final season at Bayern than Balogun. Should the German giants take a risk on the United States international, they could solve that position for years to come.
On the other hand, perhaps Bayern could look to someone else with Arsenal connections on a more short-term basis.
This would also be a gamble given his lack of football in the last year, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ticks most other boxes. He has scored lots of goals at the top level, particularly in the Bundesliga during his time with Dortmund, he will likely be available given Chelsea hardly used him last season and the apparent fire sale currently ongoing at Stamford Bridge, and of course, Tuchel knows him well.
They worked together to great effect at Dortmund, with Tuchel unlocking Aubameyang’s potential as a striker at Signal Iduna Park. He scored 79 goals in 95 games in all competitions during Tuchel’s two seasons there between 2015 and 2017.
The current Bayern boss didn’t get much time to work with Aubameyang at Chelsea after signing him from Barcelona last summer, with the Gabon international ultimately only making 22 appearances (11 starts) in all competitions for the Blues, scoring three goals and registering two assists.
In 2021-22 though, Aubameyang showed he can still be a potent scorer, hitting 13 goals in 23 games at Barcelona following his exit from Arsenal in January 2022, where he had scored seven in 15 outings earlier that season.
It might not be an ideal scenario, but Aubameyang could be a solid short-term option should none of their primary targets be gettable.
Replacing Lewandowski was always going to be easier said than done, but whomever they go for, it seems like Bayern are once again ready to say “Ja” to a nine.