As the celebrations of Bayern Munich’s eighth consecutive Bundesliga title start to die down there will be many who will be reflecting on the key men and the key moments that secured the title. Many will think of the prolific rate of Robert Lewandoski’s scoring, or Thomas Muller breaking the Bundesliga assists record, Alphonso Davies moving seamlessly to become arguably the best left-back in the league, Neuer rediscovering his from in goal. However, one player’s impact on the title returning to Munich once more that should not underestimated is 19 year-old Joshua Zirkzee.
The 6’4 Dutch striker was relatively unknown before the start of this season, but he burst onto the scene on the 18th December 2019 by scoring the winner against SC Freiburg in the 92nd minute. All the more remarkable as he had come on in the 90th minute and this was his first touch for the club. This was at a stage in the season when Bayern were really struggling in the league, just over a month after Niko Kovac had lost his job and sitting in fifth in the table.
Zirkzee followed up his heroics at Freiburg just three days later. At home to Wolfsburg, Bayern were struggling to clinch a winner and the game was stuck at 0-0. Joshua Zirkzee was introduced in the 83rd minute, he scored in the 85th. Once again it had taken Zirkzee just two minutes to find the net. As he had done three days earlier, Gnabry then secured the win minutes later but it was Zirkzee who had saved Bayern. Just 18 at the time, Zirkzee was deciding games for the biggest club in Germany before he had even scored for the reserve side.
Oddly, Zirkzee then found minutes hard to come by; an unused substitute for the following five league fixtures despite Bayern having strong leads in a number of the games. Following Lewandowski’s injury in the Champions League win away at Chelsea, Zirkzee was given a starting role against Hoffenheim in which he netted again and he was to score one more Bundesliga goal before the season drew to a close, breaking the deadlock at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach with Robert Lewandowski suspended. This would leave his record for the season as four goals in nine Bundesliga appearances.
Had it not been for the impact of Covid-19 and the break in football around the world Zirkzee may well have seen himself presented with an opportunity to lead the line in the Champions League following Lewandowski’s injury. However, this wasn’t to be as the Champions League was stopped prior to the second leg against Chelsea and now that Lewandowski is fit and firing again it’s hard to envisage Zirkzee getting an opportunity in the revised World Cup style format of the competition to be played out in August. As it is Zirkzee has made one Champions League appearance, coming on late at home to Tottenham in the group stage.
The impact of Hans Flick after replacing Niko Kovac was huge. He brought confidence back and put trust in key players such as Thomas Muller who repaid his faith by becoming Bayern’s serial provider with his assists. Following their post-lockdown form many have tipped Bayern to win the Champions League, although their domestic season ending a month before the Champions League mini-tournament begins could be costly. Zirkee’s impact on the turn in their fortunes cannot be understated however, despite from an outsiders point of view it could appear his influence was limited. The winning goals over Freiburg and Wolfsburg really kick-started Bayern’s push for the league title under Flick, with the Bavarian club winning all but one game between then and the end of the season, a 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig.
Bayern Munich will be hoping that Zirkzee can continue his development and be the man who one day is tasked with the seemingly impossible role of replacing the goals of Robert Lewandowski. With the Pole 32 in August and showing no signs of slowing having broken his own Bundesliga goals in a season by a non-German record, 34 goals in 31 games, Zirkzee has time on his side to continue his development and will be sure to learn invaluable lessons from Lewandowski. This will also be very good news for Ronald Koeman and the Netherlands who have never found a suitable replacement since the retirement of Robin Van Persie, with a drought of top quality Dutch strikers. The next few seasons will be crucial in Joshua Zirkzee’s development and he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Dutchman Arjen Robben to become a Bayern legend.