Football Features

Bayern’s brilliant back-up Zirkzee gouges Gladbach as Bavarians creep closer to eight titles in a row

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:49, 13 June 2020 | Updated: 10:02, 30 March 2021

In a tough evening of football, Bayern Munich beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller both missed the match through suspension, meaning that Bayern needed someone to step up. Leon Goretzka and Joshua Zirkzee happily obliged, scoring in lieu of Bayern’s best to put the Bavarians on the verge of another Bundesliga title – with Zirkzee in particular really stating his case.

How do you function as a back-up for one of the greatest strikers in the world? A man who has scored 236 goals in 281 games for Bayern Munich. A man who so obsessively chases scoring records that he wants to play every minute of every game?

Robert Lewandowski is unquestionably the main man for Bayern Munich. And in the modern paradigm of superstar forwards who are always playing, back-up minutes are even harder to come by. So this has often been Bayern’s problem, because while he plays a lot he doesn’t play every game – so what do you do when he’s out?

Realistically you can’t sign someone to act as his back-up because either they’ll be so good that they’ll never see the pitch enough to justify their big wages, or they’ll be happy on the bench but well short of the standard required by your club. So the best you can do if you want to sensibly plan your squad is you hope for a young player to solve your problem for you.

As Joshua Zirkzee showed against Borussia Monchengladbach, and as he has shown all season, he could be the man to solve that problem for Bayern Munich. The 19-year-old Dutch striker joined Bayern in 2017 and even scored a hat-trick on his debut for reserve side Bayern II.

But this season he has been tasked with providing first-team relief to Bayern’s starters, or at least coming on as a last-ditch Hail Mary. And despite the immense pressures that teenagers at big clubs often feel, Zirkzee has shown himself to be a competent and quality back-up.

True, coming into today he had only scored 3 goals, but then he had only played 280 minutes. Moreover if you look at those three goals, they’ve all counted and two of them have been genuinely important.

His first goal for the club was the stoppage time go-ahead goal away to Freiburg on his debut to deliver a win when Bayern so needed one to kick-start their season. The very next game he did it again, scoring an 85th minute opening goal against Wolfsburg to pick up another win.

Those two goals came off the bench, but he found the net in his first start away to Hoffenheim as well. And then we come back to today, Bayern playing away to the last side to beat them without their top scorer and their top assister. If any game was ripe for a slip-up, it was this one, and yet Zirkzee opened the scoring in the most Bayern of ways: punishing an opponent’s mistake.

Yann Sommer’s goalkeeping error may draw the attention, but it wasn’t like Zirkzee was six yards out when he got the ball. He was a fair distance from goal and there was a defender in the way. Yet Zirkzee took his goal with devastating serenity, guiding it into the back of the net to give Bayern a huge lead. Yes they needed Leon Goretzka to win it for them, but Zirkzee put them 1-0 up with his only shot of the game. He’s currently scoring a goal every 70 minutes on average in the Bundesliga. That’s damn good no matter who you are.

As Bayern move forward they will obviously continue with Robert Lewandowski as their stud striker, but as the Pole ages (he turns 32 this summer) the Bavarians will be looking to rest and rotate him more. Today Joshua Zirkzee proved that he can be relied upon to be Bayern’s brilliant back-up striker, scoring key goals to deliver titles.