In the build-up to Poland’s Euro 2016 Qualifier against Scotland, the Poland manager; Adam Nawalka, made the bold claim that his star man was the best striker in the world. Nawalka said; “For me, he is the number one,” adding, “He’s the best striker in the world.” Of course, a manager talking up his player in the days appraoching a crucial game is nothing new. However, once the 90 minutes were up and the Bayern Munich striker had added another brace to round off an incredible couple of weeks, it was difficult to disagree with Nawalka. Lewandowski’s last-minute equaliser against Scotland made it 14 goals in 5 games for the prolific Polish striker, an incredible run which began with 5 goals in 9 minutes against last season’s Bundesliga runners-up Wolfsburg – the fastest any player has achieved such a feat in a major European league.
As such, now seems like as good a time as any to asses just how good he is. In terms of the stats, since the beginning of the 2011/12 season, only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have scored more than Lewandowski’s 95 goals in Europe’s top five divisions. Clearly then, Lewandowski belongs among an elite band of players. Having said that, few would mention the Bayern Munich man in the same breath as Messi or Ronaldo, and probably rightly so. Yet before his incredible goalscoring haul, most would rank the likes of Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard, Neymar and Gareth Bale ahead of Lewandowski. Off the back of a season in which he scored 17 Bundesliga goals in 31 matches, many would be wary in even naming him Bayern Munich’s greatest attacking threat, especially given Arjen Robben matched the Pole’s Bundesliga goal scoring haul in 10 games fewer.
Seven league games into this season though, Lewandowski already has 12 league goals and 16 in all competitions. As would be expected with these statistics, he is leading the goal scoring charts in Euro 2016 Qualifying with 12 goals, 4 more than the next highest scorer. Lewandowski is currently on course for his best season yet, with his previous best being the 2012/13 campaign in which he scored 36 goals in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund and a further 3 for Poland. Should he continue in this current vein of form, Lewansowski is likely to finish third in the Ballon d’Or, topping the ‘Best of the Rest’ category that has been created by the Messi/Ronaldo stranglehold on the accolade over the last 8 years.
Lewandowski then, is a curious player. He is not as quick as Aguero, not as industrious as Suarez and not as powerful as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet aged 27; and in what appears to be his prime, Lewandowski may have become the most well-rounded of the lot. The reason he is flourishing this campaign is not purely down to his own deadly form; although that is of course a major factor, but also the way in which Bayern are set up. With Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery seemingly being made out of glass since turning 30, Pep Guardiola recruited two new wide men last summer in the form of Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman. The pair have slotted seamlessly into the Bayern team in place of the ‘Robbery’ partnership which had long been seen as one of Bayern’s most lethal weapons.
Costa and Coman though, are very different players to the aforementioned pair. Both are wingers in the more traditional sense. Whilst the ‘Robbery’ partnership; and Robben in particular, love to drive forward, cut inside and look to test the goalkeeper themselves, Costa and Coman are much happier to be providers. Both like to reach the by-line, get their head up and look for the main man in the middle. It is this switch that has allowed Lewandowski to go from consistent goal-getter to Europe’s most deadly striker this season. Arjen Robben; although undoubtedly a wonderful player, has often been criticised for his apparent greediness, yet this is a criticism one will rarely see made against Bayern’s new 25 and 19 year old wingers.
One might think that a world class player succeeding in a world class team under the watchful eye of a world class coach is rather predictable, but there were actually a number of doubters when the former Dortmund man joined Bayern Munich. Guardiola; despite his undoubted success, does not have a good track record with traditional number 9’s, of which Lewandowski certainly is. During his time at Barcelona, Guardiola had both Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his disposal at different stages, yet despite the pair being regarded as two of the greatest strikers in the world at the time, Guardiola never felt at ease with them in his possession based style of play. It was a disappointing end when the pair quickly fell out of favour and left the club.
There was a suspicion among some that Lewandowski may follow suit, but it is perhaps all the more impressive that he has thrived where other greats failed. Not only has Lewandowski succeeded in Guardiola’s style of play; helped by Bayern’s recruitment last summer, it could even be suggested that he has convinced the Spaniard to build a team round him. If this is indeed true, he is certainly reaping the rewards. Where would you rank Robert Lewandowski then? Is he the greatest traditional number 9 in the world right now and if not, who is?
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Ralf Reinecke
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