BERLIN: Bayern Munich head into the start of a crucial series of games this weekend without key striker Robert Lewandowski, who has contributed 25 league goals this season.
The 31-year-old Pole picked up a knee injury during Bayern's 3-0 demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday when they looked every inch a club with the pedigree of five Champions League titles to their name.
Bayern have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals but Lewandowski will miss the second leg at the Allianz Arena on March 18 and at least three Bundesliga matches, starting with Saturday's trip to Hoffenheim.
With a mere one-point lead at the top over Leipzig in an exciting Bundesliga title race, reigning champions Bayern cannot afford to slip up at eighth-placed Hoffenheim.
Bayern's French forward Kingsley Coman will also be missing through injury on Saturday, most likely putting the attacking duties in the hands of Serge Gnabry who grabbed two goals against Chelsea before Lewandowski finished the job.
Thomas Mueller, who has enjoyed an impressive return to his old self under coach Hansi Flick, could also chip in with goals.
"Lewandowski is in the form of his life," Flick said. "He can't be replaced. He is very, very important to us."
"We didn't have a replacement for Gerd Mueller either," was Bayern chief Uli Hoeness's typically blunt reply when asked about how they will cope without Lewandowski, referring to the legendary Bayern striker.
Leipzig were off during the week after taking a 1-0 advantage over last season's finalists Tottenham in London in the Champions League last week. Their opponents Bayer Leverkusen, have won nine of their last ten in all competitions, but the last of them was away to Porto in the Europa League on Thursday night.
Serge Gnabry will want to show Bayern that he can take up Lewandowski's scoring duties, especially with 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee chomping at the bit behind him.
Former Arsenal player Gnabry is just 24 but younger talents have stolen the limelight in the Bundesliga this season.
His 19-year-old Bayern team-mate Alphonse Davis caught the eye at Chelsea.
Dortmund's pair of 19-year-olds Jadon Sancho and Erling Braut Haaland have been scoring for fun -- Haaland, a winter transfer window arrival from Austrian club RB Salzburg, hit his 40th goal of the season last weekend and Sancho is third in the Bundesliga's scoring with 13 goals.