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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Explained: How good is Lewandowski and why can he break Gerd Muller’s record?

An adept goal-poacher is often described as a ‘fox in the box’ but Lewandowski is equally proficient in scoring from long-range strikes from outside the penalty area.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 22, 2021 8:53:16 am
Lewandowski has been a prolific goal-scorer throughout his career – be it for Znicz Pruszkow and Lech Poznan in Poland, or Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Germany. (Reuters File)

In an era in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo routinely grab headlines, when it comes to goal-scoring consistency and predictability, Robert Lewandowski has arguably put them in the shade over the last couple of years.

The tall Pole has broken the duo’s stranglehold on the top individual awards at the European and world stage, and has even matched another Bayern Munich legend Gerd Muller’s mark of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season, a record that has stood for almost half a century.

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What is the record Lewandowski can overtake?

Muller, the West German hero of their 1974 World Cup triumph – he scored the winner in the final against Johan Cruyff’s fancied Dutch side – netted 40 times in the 1971-72 Bundesliga season. Now, Lewandowski has equalled the achievement with one match of the season left. If he finds the target for Bayern against Augsburg on Saturday, he would set a new mark in the Bundesliga.

What makes Lewandowski’s season all the more special?

He started the 2020-21 season in devastating fashion, and had scored a scarcely-believable 35 goals in 25 games before suffering a knee injury. On his return after missing five fixtures, he has added five goals in three matches to get level with Muller’s mark. Who knows where Lewandowski would have finished had he been fully fit for the whole season!

Is it a one-off season for the Pole?

No. Lewandowski has been a prolific goal-scorer throughout his career – be it for Znicz Pruszkow and Lech Poznan in Poland, or Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Germany. According to the official Bundesliga website, he had netted 34 times in the 2019-20 season. It said that Lewandowski actually outdid Muller when it came to goals in all competitions.

Der Bomber, as Muller was nicknamed, had managed 50 in 48 matches while Lewandowski scored 55 in 47 appearances. He has already been the top-scorer in the Bundesliga in five seasons, three of them in succession.

According to The New York Times, Lewandowski scored 103 goals in four seasons with Dortmund before shifting to Bayern. In September 2015, he entered the Guinness Book of World Records by scoring five goals in nine minutes against Vfl Wolfsburg.

What is the secret of his success?

A seemingly insatiable appetite for goals. When he finds the net once, it only motivates him to score more. It explains his propensity to get on the scoresheet multiple times in one match.

According to the Bundesliga website, the 32-year-old has scored multiple times in 10 games this season, including four against Hertha Berlin and hat-tricks against Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart.

It’s his ruthlessness and lack of frills in front of goal that stand out. His mind seems to work like a computer when he gets the ball in striking range of the target. Lewandowski is adept at finding space in the most crowded of penalty boxes and working out the angles in order to find the back of the net. He also seems to judge correctly how the defenders and goalkeeper will react in a given situation, that can only be described as a ‘sixth sense.’

An adept goal-poacher is often described as a ‘fox in the box’ but Lewandowski is equally proficient in scoring from long-range strikes from outside the penalty area.

Current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp terms Lewandowski the best player he has coached, quite a claim as the German has worked with a team that has won the Premier League title as well as the Champions League crown. “How he pushed himself to become the player he is today, that’s extraordinary. He took every step he needed to be that goal machine. Every one,” Klopp has been quoted as saying by Sport Bild.

Lewandowski is known for his single-minded pursuit to become a better striker, even at this stage of his career, and his propensity for hard work and tough training sessions. The Pole is also not afraid to do anything that gives him the slightest edge, be it in nutrition, diet or sports science. His fitness levels are also better than most other strikers.

Also, it helps that he plays for a team like Bayern, who have been German champions for nine seasons in a row now. Playing alongside top players ensures quality service for a striker to score more goals.

So, can Lewandowski be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo?

It depends. The Pole is definitely in their league if his goal-scoring record over the last few years is considered. But Messi and Ronaldo have been dominant for a decade and a half, and have much bigger hauls of silverware. Lewandowski has won the Bundesliga every season since joining Bayern in 2014, but has just one Champions League title to his name.

Messi has four of those while Ronaldo has five. Lewandowski has also not tasted much success with his national team at European or world level, but that is also a function of players he has around him.

At a subjective level, he doesn’t quite capture the imagination like the other two. The Pole’s biggest strengths are his efficiency, economy of movement and ability to assess any situation in front of goal – qualities that may not always resonate with the casual fan.

On the other hand, Messi’s close control, dribbling skills and eye for a killer pass set him apart. As for Ronaldo, his stepovers, dead-ball prowess, heading ability and general aura make him a nightmare to play against. Both of them have the ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck and drag their team forward with them, even if the other players are struggling.

In other words, Messi and Ronaldo have been much more complete players in their prime than goal-scorer extraordinaire Lewandowski, who can nevertheless claim to be one of the best No.9s the game has seen in recent times.

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What next for Lewandowski?

Sky Sports Germany have said that Chelsea have made contact with Bayern for Lewandowski while a Marca report mentions that Paris Saint-Germain could come calling for the Pole if Kylian Mbappe leaves the French capital.

Barcelona are also said to be vying for the star striker’s signature. These clubs are among the few capable of making the financial investment for such a deal. But nothing has been finalised yet.

It remains to be seen whether Lewandowski remains in Bavaria for the foreseeable future, continuing to torment Bundesliga defences or moves elsewhere in search of more domestic and European silverware.

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