Jupp Heynckes has called Robert Lewandowski "one of the best three strikers in the world" as Bayern Munich prepare to face his former side Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal for a seventh consecutive season.
Lewandowski, who joined Bayern from BVB in 2014, has won the Bundesliga title in each of his three seasons at the club and looks set to add a fourth this campaign, and his manager holds him in the highest regard.
Speaking at a news conference, Heynckes said: "He's definitely one of the best strikers or centre forwards, whatever you want to call it in the world. There are not many around with his quality. I am reluctant to give you any other names -- but for me he is one of the best three strikers in the world.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks he has continually had problems with his patella. He told me on Friday that he was feeling better and you could see in the game at Stuttgart that he was much livelier and able to cover a much bigger operating range."
Heynckes, 72, a former striker for the Germany national team, also praised Lewandowski's work ethic.
"I know from my own experience if you have persistent physical problems you cannot perform at 100 percent," he said. "Nevertheless, he is always committed and even when not training is working in the gym on his fitness and body. I am very pleased with him.
"He will definitely be an extremely vital player for us during the second half of the season. He can score the goals our team needs -- this distinguishes him."
However, Heynckes said he would not risk Arjen Robben for Bayern's final match of the year against their bitter rivals.
Robben, who has scored 11 goals in 21 games against Dortmund, including a late winner in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley, has been battling to overcome a nagging sciatic nerve problem and has not played since the Champions League game at Anderlecht on Nov. 22.
Heynckes said: "You have to consider how I have handled injured players in recent weeks and I will treat Arjen exactly the same. He could aggravate his injury -- a player needs to train with the team for one or two weeks first after such a lengthy injury.
"Arjen trained with the team for the first time yesterday. He is feeling relatively good and is almost pain free. It would be incomprehensible to put him in the squad tomorrow. We resume after the winter break in nearly three weeks' time and he would not be able to start the game anyway -- why should we risk him for 20 minutes at the end?
"We have spoken about this and he has even admitted it would be too early."
Heynckes confirmed that apart from Robben, Thiago Alcantara and Manuel Neuer, he has a full strength squad at his disposal against a Dortmund side that have dumped the 18-time winners out of the competition at the semifinal stage in 2015 and 2017.