Lewandowski injury compromises Bayern at home and in Europe
Of all the situations it could have happened in, it was this one. That Robert Lewandowski was injured on international duty with Poland will be tough for Bayern Munich to swallow, and that it happened in a World Cup qualifying match with the minnows of Andorra (the centre-forward had already scored twice before going down) will stick even further in the craw.
The damage to Bayern’s hopes of building another perfect season is real. Lewandowski is expected to miss four weeks of action, which rules him out of the crucial trip to RB Leipzig on Saturday night in the Bundesliga (Julian Nagelsmann’s team could close the gap on the champions to one point with a win) as well as both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain. Despite turning 33 in the coming summer, Lewandowski is incredibly durable and rarely misses games. Playing without him will be a huge adjustment.
Hansi Flick’s side will still be formidable opponents, and Leipzig’s success this season post-Timo Werner is proof that a top-level team can flourish minus a prolific main goalscorer. The fact remains, however, that Lewandowski has scored a whopping 45% of Bayern’s Bundesliga goals and provides a lot more besides in terms of physical effort and occupying defenders. The Champions League blueprint of collective brilliance – Lewandowski’s proportion of the team’s goals drops to 21% in Europe – could be their way to negotiate the next month.
PSG and Lille’s title crunch
Perhaps the last match Paris Saint-Germain would have chosen to preface the potentially titanic rerun of the Champions League with Bayern would have been this, an absolutely capital Ligue 1 meeting with the side that most observers would tell you have been the nation’s best to date this season. PSG go into Saturday’s game top of the pile on goal difference, after they beat Lyon and erstwhile leaders Lille suffered a shock defeat to lowly Nîmes in a dramatic last weekend before the pause.
If the champions could play as they did so scintillatingly at Lyon – one of the other title chasers, of course – every week, we wouldn’t even be discussing the destination of the title. The fact, however, is that PSG have so rarely brought their optimum form to bear against the other big boys in Ligue 1 this term. Until the win at Lyon, they had managed just one point from direct confrontations with Lille, Lyon and Monaco (to which you can add an early-season home defeat to historic rivals Marseille). PSG fans will hope the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino has changed that.
Lille have had their issues of late, not least their habit of avoidably dropping points to less storied visitors to Stade Pierre Mauroy, like Brest, Strasbourg and the aforementioned Nîmes. In that sense they will be pleased to be on the road, and they have the best defensive record away of any team in Ligue 1, with just 9 conceded in 14 games. Burak Yilmaz proved on international duty with Turkey that he has fully recovered from the injury that stymied his start to 2021, too.
Atlético facing big test to resume
Diego Simeone’s players just got what it felt like they needed the most; a break from a tough start to 2021 and a chance to reassess and reset. The definition of ‘break’ might be a little arbitrary – the coach was still waiting for the safe return of key men Kieran Trippier and Thomas Lemar from international duty on Wednesday night, of course – but given how their lead in La Liga has been cut in recent weeks, the opportunity from Atlético Madrid to take stock is a welcome one.
Having a big lead chipped away at is a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you have free-flowing chasers like Barcelona, whose upturn in form in this calendar year is extraordinary. Yet Atleti would still have given their eye teeth at the start of the season to be in this position now. We’ll know more after their tough trip to Sevilla on Sunday, where they must do without the banned Yannick Carrasco and possibly João Félix, who picked up a knock while on Portugal duty.
Julen Lopetegui‘s men have taken just a single point from their four La Liga meetings with the top three so far this season, largely playing with meekness – and that’s without even bringing their Copa del Rey semi-final second leg capitulation at Barcelona into play. The coach has gilded his reputation considerably at the Sánchez-Pizjuan but could do with a gala performance (and result) against one of the nation’s giants to further endorse that. With Atleti defensively sound but not as impregnable as they once were, they have a chance if they can be daring.