Thomas Mueller admits Robert Lewandowski’s knee injury could not have come at a worse time for Bayern Munich ahead of Saturday’s Bundesliga showdown at RB Leipzig and their Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain.
The Poland striker was sidelined for four weeks after damaging ligaments in his right knee last Sunday during a World Cup qualifier.
Bayern lead second-placed Leipzig by four points in their bid for a ninth straight Bundesliga title.
“Injury to ‘Lewy’ is bitter news for us. It’s the worst possible time,” said Bayern forward Mueller.
“Well, others will have to step into the breach.”
The statistics show Lewandowski’s importance to Bayern.
The 32-year-old has scored 35 goals in 26 league games this term to put him within range of Gerd Mueller’s record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.
Lewandowski will miss the Champions League first leg against PSG in Munich on Wednesday and the return game on April 13.
Should holders Bayern progress, Lewandowski would even face a race against time to be fit for the first leg of the semi-final against either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund on April 28.
Against Leipzig, Bayern coach Hansi Flick is likely to start Germany winger Serge Gnabry as a solo striker, playing in front of Mueller.
Selecting Lewandowski’s under-study Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting or moving Mueller forward are other options.
Bayern are also missing suspended defenders Alphonso Davies and Jerome Boateng, meaning Niklas Suele is likely to partner David Alaba at centre-back.
Leipzig expect a tough battle “even without Lewandowski”, according to sporting director Markus Kroesche.
However, captain Marcel Sabitzer sees it as a chance for the hosts.
“We have nothing to lose. The fact the pressure is not on us suits our team,” said Sabitzer.
US midfielder Tyler Adams said Leipzig want to “give them (Bayern) a good fight”.
Dortmund face top-four rivals Eintracht
Dortmund face Manchester City on Tuesday in their Champions League quarter-final first leg, but are in danger of missing out on next season’s tournament.
On Saturday, they host fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt, who fifth-placed Dortmund trail by four points with eight games remaining.
“This is incredibly important for us,” said Dortmund coach Edin Terzic. “It’s a landmark game because we can narrow the gap.”
Failure to qualify for the Champions League could see Dortmund lose the likes of Erling Braut Haaland and Jadon Sancho in the transfer window, and may also carry serious financial consequences.
Dortmund’s finance director told local paper the Ruhr Nachrichten that the club lost 43.5 million euros ($51 million) in revenue in 2020.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the result could even be “significantly worse again” in 2021.
Elsewhere, third-placed Wolfsburg host relegation-threatened Cologne, while Union Berlin look to boost their European hopes in the capital-city derby against struggling rivals Hertha Berlin on Sunday.
One to watch: Erling Braut Haaland
Haaland has scored 21 goals in as many league games this season, but is showing signs of frustration with his Dortmund team-mates.
He stormed off, clearly angry with another poor team performance, after his second goal rescued a 2-2 draw at Cologne 10 days ago.
According to media reports, the 20-year-old’s father Alf-Inge Haaland and agent Mino Raiola met with Barcelona representatives on Thursday.
Man City and Real Madrid are also said to be interested in Haaland, who is under contract at Dortmund until 2024.
3 – Three consecutive starts, all for Norway, without a goal for Haaland — the longest such run of his career.
6 – Games unbeaten for Bayern against Leipzig, albeit with four draws.
61 – Years since Champions League-chasing Frankfurt last played in Europe’s premier competition.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)
Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen v Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg v Cologne, Mainz 05 v Arminia Bielefeld, Augsburg v Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig v Bayern Munich (1630) Borussia Moenchengladbach v Freiburg (1830)
VfB Stuttgart v Werder Bremen, Union Berlin v Hertha Berlin (1600)