Striker duos – an almost mystical concept. Although the football of the past decade clearly favored single striker systems, in particular the preferred 4-2-3-1, the idea of a perfectly balanced and complementary striker duo remains a sanctuary.
From the traditional English pairing of two completely different types of players to the (in most cases) inefficient cooperation of two similar players, there is a duo for every playing idea. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the FC Bayern has experienced a moderate revolution back to tradition under Guardiola: The return of the two-headed monster attack.
Return of the striker duo
Whether the Bayern coach has planned this tactical “Back to the Future” or rather improvised remains uncertain. Guardiola’s problems to find a position for the unconventional Thomas Müller are well documented. Neither the desperate attempts to make him a midfielder nor the irregular trials as striker were successful. This caused nearly two years of headaches for the coach. Because “Müller always plays”, but exactly where long remained open.
Salvation came in the form of a torment. An intense squad crisis in the spring of 2015 forced Pep Guardiola to temporarily abandon the established wing play of the record champions. These problems culminated in the Westfalenstadion, here it was decided in the game against Dortmund to play a surprisingly defensive and destructive way with five at the back and three defensive-minded central midfielders. Responsible for the offensive actions were only two players: Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller.
In the following weeks, this pairing established itself so much that it has become the almost mandatory option in the current season. Müller found his position as a free flowing attacker who positions himself a bit deeper than Lewandowski and thus opens up central areas for the Pole with his support. Even though the Bayern game has long since returned to the wing focus – the striker duo remained, though tactically often not located on a line. Lewandowski benefited from Müller’s creative runs to which he can respond with his own movements. Scenes from Lewandowski’s first season have become rarer, when the pole was often looking for gaps almost desperately on his own. In the current season alone, Müller alone has assisted six goals of his congenial partner.
Currently Bayern have scored exactly 50 goals this season Bundesliga. 33 of these 50 goals were scored by the German-Polish duo – thus these two players currently generate 66% of the goals of the FCB. By comparison, last season they reached a value of 38%.
These 66% are a historically remarkable value. To put them into perspective, we analyzed the values of the Bavarian scoring duos of the last 20 years and also looked at the strongest striker duos in Bundesliga history that were named in this week’s cover story of the “kicker”.
Of the Bayern duos, none have put up these values. In the 1971-72 season, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß achieved 53 goals together but this represented only 52% in this offensively potent team. Even when adding the assists, the percentages of G.Müller / Hoeneß (81%) are still below the 84% of T.Müller / Lewandowski.
Other Bayern striker duos who delivered more than half the goals together were Rummenigge / Breitner (52%, 1980-81), Elber / Pizarro (51%, 2002/03) and Toni / Ribery (51%, 2007/08).
Even when taking into account other historical duos, the current performance of Müller and Lewandowski remains remarkable. They are one of four striker duos who lead the list with a big gap. Uwe Seeler and Charly Dörfel scored 65% of the goals (45/69) for HSV in 1963/64, which is why they are still currently slightly behind the Bayern pair.
We could only find two combinations that had a value greater than 66%, and even then only very slightly. Klaus Allofs and Pierre Littbarski were responsible for 67% of the goals for 1. FC Köln in 1984/85. The first place went to the striker partnership that we all still remember. Bayern were among the victims of the pairing of Edin Dzeko and Grafite. They shot VfL Wolfsburg to the championship in 2009 with 54 goals – this represents 68% of the team’s goals. The Bayern pairing is 2% behind.
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Dependence or set roles?
What can we conclude from this? First, it is clear that Lewandowski and Müller should never be separated again, if possible. No one is planning to do this, even if some overreact to one of them being benched as part of the rotation.
But there is a second thought which should definitely pay attention to. Is such a high dependence on two players in such a strong squad at all healthy? Isn’t it somewhat alarming that this team is not scoring goals as a collective? In 2013 (the triple season) for example, Mandzukic and Müller scored only 29% of the goals, the clear bottom pairing of our list.
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Can the two attackers keep their current average? And if not, can other players fill in? The following weeks and months will show whether the congenial partnership has also created a certain dependency in the attacking third.