Despite fielding an understrength side against Freiburg on Saturday, Bayern Munich produced a dominant display to further underline the ethos and philosophy which has gleaned near-innumerable pieces of silverware.
The club secured their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title earlier in the week with victory against Werder Bremen. While mainstays such as Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer have been present for all eight campaigns, the landscape of the 2020 team is of course very different to the one that was crowned champions in 2013.
Bayern is an ever-evolving club with one eye constantly looking to the future, and Saturday’s victory was testament to that. The club afforded game time to some of their brightest prospects, and in Joshua Zirkzee they proved to have a future star within their ranks.
While Robert Lewandowski shows no signs of waning in the near future - with his incredible 33-goal haul spearheading the Bavarians’ charge to the 2020 title - at 31 the Bayern hierarchy know a contingency plan is needed.
Zirkzee’s performance against a solid Freiburg outfit proved he’s capable of filling the immense void the Poland international will one day leave.
Playing on the right of a three behind Lewandowski, the 19-year-old displayed a maturity not befitting of someone so young, continually stretching the Freiburg back four and offering incisive and clever movement.
Arguably the most impressive facet of the youngster’s game was his ability to display awareness of those around him and link up play with the midfield – something which will be imperative to his development at Bayern if he is to fill Lewandowski’s boots.
The Dutchman was a constant thorn in the side of the Freiburg defence, pressing with intensity and refusing to give them any time to settle.
While causing a nuisance of himself is all well and good, the former Feyenoord man will be all too aware that isn’t enough to claim the central-striker role at one of Europe’s grandest clubs; goals are what he will ultimately be judged on.
Despite spending most of his afternoon offering width on the Bayern right, on the odd occasion he did stray into a central position, he displayed a deft touch and a cuteness to create himself a pocket of space, sending an instinctive effort just inches wide of Alexander Schwolow’s right-hand post.
The Netherlands Under-19 international has enjoyed a solid breakthrough season at Bayern, notching four goals in nine appearances -many of which have been cameo roles from the bench. With just 11 minutes of first team action under his belt, the youngster made his full debut against Hoffenheim earlier in the campaign and was instrumental in a 6-0 thumping.
Already with an assist to his name, the forward seamlessly gathered Serge Gnabry’s cross before showing the brute strength to hold off his marker, then rolling his man and displaying the composure to steady himself to slot the ball past Oliver Baumann.
The strike was the best indication yet that Bayern had uncovered a gem, but more so that they had found an exciting prospect in the same mould as Lewandowski, something they will need it they are to continue with their current setup after the Pole has departed.
Looking to the more immediate future, Zirkzee could well have a major role to play in the Bavarians’ quest for Champions League success.
With the Bundesliga the first of Europe’s major leagues to return following the coronavirus outbreak, the league will conclude before the end of June. Because of this, Bayern will have gone nearly two months without competitive action when Europe’s premier competition resumes in August. This could see the Bayern players susceptible to injury more than other clubs whose season hasn’t long ended.
While it would be naive to suggest an injury to Lewandowski wouldn't hamper the club's charge to be crowned champions of Europe, Zirkzee’s display against Freiburg and throughout the season has proved that he is ready to perform if called upon.