Lethal Lewandowski is out to prove he’s Bayern’s Messi
First, Robert Lewandowski declared war on the record books. Then he decided to do the same to the dictionary.
The German public has suffered a severe shortage of superlatives to describe the Bayern Munich striker’s recent feats in front of goal. It began last week with Lewandowski’s extraordinary performance against Wolfsburg, when the Allianz Arena crowd could scarcely believe what they had witnessed.
“A one-man tornado,” wrote Suddeutsche Zeitung of the man who managed to net five goals in nine minutes, the sort of achievement that reverberates around the world. “Unearthly,” exclaimed Kicker. “I cannot explain it,” coach Pep Guardiola offered meekly, but the expression on his face as the Pole rounded off his spree confirmed he had enjoyed it.
On Saturday it was Mainz’s turn to look silly as Lewandowski scored his 100th and 101st Bundesliga goals at the Coface Arena. And on Tuesday in the Champions League, Anna Stachurska joked on Instagram that her husband’s continued brilliance was becoming boring after he netted a hat-trick to help slay Dinamo Zagreb.
Anna Stachurska joked on Instagram that her husband’s continued brilliance was becoming boring after he netted a hat-trick to help slay Dinamo Zagreb
Lewandowski is becoming increasingly decisive with every passing match. Small partnerships across the pitch make great teams and, together with Thomas Muller, the 27-year-old functions as the conduit through which Bayern’s attacks flow.
“Lewandowski arrived in the category of Messi,” splashed Die Welt. If comparisons can so often be lazy and clichéd then this one at least is not totally inaccurate. Different in role and style Lewy and Lionel may be, but they are certainly similar in terms of importance to their respective clubs.
The feeling at the Allianz Arena is that they are witnessing a player who is no longer confined to the periphery of play. Lewandowski has instead taken centre stage, putting in some outstanding individual performances where he has seemed virtually unplayable. Despite all of his hitherto achievements this term, there is still talk of the Pole becoming even better.
Second season surge
But is that realistic? How does Lewandowski better five goals in nine minutes? Or 10 goals in three matches? Or equalling Gerd Muller’s strike record in opening games of the Bundesliga season?
100 - R.Lewandowski has scored his 100th BL goal & is the fastest non-German to reach this landmark (168 games). Century. (via @OptaFranz).
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 26, 2015
Similar records may be unattainable, but there is a sense, as Bayern’s style of play shifts towards him rather than away from him, that Bayern have still yet to enjoy the best of the 27-year-old.
“You always want more from your players,” Guardiola said. “I want him not just to focus on goals. I also want him to play his role in the way we play football. I want him to chase down long balls, play passes, focus on crosses from the wings and be alert with any chances we get.”
On current evidence, you can certainly see Lewandowski doing so in the mould of Messi: playing in and around the box, instigating moves and finishing them off.
“In my experience, it's always better in the second season when you know the club and what's expected of you a bit better,” Lewandowski admitted. He netted 17 league goals last time out – 25 in all competitions – yet there was still a sense that he had been playing with the proverbial handbrake on.
Championed by Pep
The initial explanation was that Lewandowski was simply beginning with baby steps in Bavaria. Crueller voices, however, suggested that Guardiola, with his perceived suspicion of traditional centre-forwards, did not appreciate his particular set of talents.
“I don't know what happened between him and the strikers in the past at other clubs, and I'm not interested either. I never got the sense that the manager doesn't like central strikers,” retorted Lewandowski. “We get on very well because we both want to have success with the team.”
Putting in performances of such magnitude this season have convinced fans of Lewandowski’s true worth, though. While the formation he plays in is the same, the way it functions is not: no longer having to jostle for status with the injured Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who always look to drift infield and find space in central areas, Lewandowski is benefiting from the presence of two wingers who are happy to hug the touchline and play providers rather than scorers.
Play gravitates towards him in the centre of the pitch now, his moments of significance becoming necessary rather than desirable
“With Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman on the wings, there are lots of crosses and therefore lots of chances in the box. It also helps that Muller is playing very close to me, like a second striker,” Lewandowski explained. Play gravitates towards him in the centre of the pitch now, his moments of significance becoming necessary rather than desirable. When space disappears and opportunities vanish in the opposition’s penalty box, Lewandowski has enabled Bayern to look less ponderous and more purposeful with a more direct approach. Anything Guardiola’s men lack in showmanship this season, they can make up for in punch.
These tweaks could be vital for Guardiola as he seeks to end his Spanish hoodoo in the semi-finals of the Champions League with Bayern. Much sooner, the Bundesliga leaders have the chance to showcase their credentials for silverware, with the weekend’s clash with Borussia Dortmund looming.
Lewandowski’s former club have begun the season well under Thomas Tuchel, and the encounter has all the makings of an early title showdown. Dortmund captain Mats Hummels has been full of praise for his former team-mate in the build-up, calling him an “exceptional striker” and a “complete machine”.
Are they good enough superlatives for Lewandowski? We shall see on Sunday.