It was the Polish striker’s last home match before departing for Bayern Munich in the summer.
Lewandowski was treated with celebratory flowers and a collage full of career highlights of his time with the club. Although he failed to score in his last home game, Lewandowski received a reception worthy of one of the club’s greatest players ever.
In his four seasons with Dortmund, Lewandowski became the club’s top European scorer, netted over 100 goals and led the club to multiple trophies.
Thanks to Lewandowski, Dortmund became a European powerhouse again and domestically he helped break Bayern’s league dominance.
Lewandowski became the symbol of Jurgen Klopp’s high-energy, high-pressing and counter-attacking side. He became one of the fiercest strikers in Europe and in recent Bundesliga history. Dortmund’s best performances became almost synonymous with what Lewandowski did on the field.
So, the big question heading into the summer for Klopp and the club is, how do you replace such an invaluable and seemingly irreplaceable player?
The immediate answer to the above question is simply that they can’t. A like-for-like replacement for Lewandowski is an unrealistic scenario for Klopp, so the alternative is searching for suitable adjustments.
Dortmund have already signed Hertha Berlin striker Adrian Ramos, who many believe has been brought in to replace Lewandowski. The Colombian striker has had a breakthrough season this year and has scored 16 goals for his club in the league.
However, the reality is that Ramos will most likely supplement the strike force rather than come in and be its primary subject.
One of Lewandowski’s most impressive attributes is his ability to stay fit and avoid injuries. With Dortmund experiencing so many spells of injuries to key players over the years, always having Lewandowski helped the team tremendously.
When others were out injured or experienced a dip in form, Lewandowski was always there to pick up the slack. Regardless of the circumstances, Lewandowski was consistently reliable for the team over the years.
That is not a quality easily replaced. The likeliest solution will mean a rotation of the personnel already available or experimenting tactically.
Part of that experimentation could include using Marco Reus up front. Reus has played primarily out left or behind Lewandowski this season, but often interchanges with the Polish striker and sometimes even plays ahead of him.
In Dortmund’s 3-0 win against Bayern earlier this month, Reus very much played this auxiliary forward role. Even though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started up front on paper in that game, it was through Reus that most Dortmund attacks were built—this is similar to how Lewandowski has always been used by Klopp.
It is also important to note that Lewandowski was used behind the striker quite a bit as well when he first arrived at the club. In fact, in his first season, Lewandowski was used almost exclusively as a supporting striker behind Lucas Barrios.
It was only in his second season, and when Barrios was sold, that Lewandowski became the team’s first-choice forward.
Reus’ development at the club might follow a similar trajectory.
Aubameyang was thought to come in and be Lewandowski’s backup, and he has filled in up top from time to time, but Klopp has preferred to use him predominantly out wide due to his impressive breakaway speed.
With Jakub Blaszczykowski potentially facing more time off after his cruciate ligament rupture this season, the Saint-Etienne player could remain out wide permanently.
One player that will most definitely not replace Lewandowski is Julian Schieber. The former Stuttgart and Nurnberg player has struggled to truly reach his potential since making the move to Dortmund and has recently expressed his disappointment to Bild at the way things have gone for him at the club.
Then there is also South Korean striker Dong-Won Ji, who will join Dortmund in the summer on a free transfer. The former Sunderland man has been on loan at Augsburg since January and can play anywhere in the attack. The 22-year-old is quick, technical and fits the Klopp mold.
With that said, Ramos and Ji’s signings have not stopped the rumors for more reinforcements.
With Lewandowski gone, it could also mean more playing time for Marvin Ducksch. The 20-year-old is one of German football’s highest-rated prospects. Should Klopp choose not to send him on loan, it will definitely mean he is planning to play him more.
But with Reus, Aubameyang, Ramos, Ji and potentially Schieber, it is difficult to imagine room for another striker on the squad.
In all likelihood, next season could be a rotation between Ramos, Reus and Aubameyang up top.
Whether any of the above will truly replace Lewandowski remains to be seen, but Dortmund’s progress and development will very much depend on how they handle this important transition.