FEATURE | Bundesliga Review – Week 19: Robert Lewandowski sparkles as Bayern Munich go 6 points clear

“I didn’t expect to score so many goals in the Bundesliga” said a jubilant Robert Lewandowski after Bayern Munich extended their lead to six points. “Now I’m here with 300 goals and it means a lot.” The 750 fans at Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion had just witnessed greatness as the 33-year-old became just the second player to hit the milestone after the legendary Gerd Müller, who holds the record of 365. With 23 league goals already this season, the Pole could also beat his record of 41 league goals in a single season.

Lewandowski’s masterclass in a somewhat subpar Bayern Munich performance, despite putting four past Cologne, moves the reigning champions six points clear of nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund, who themselves had put five against a hapless Freiburg. A frantic start, Lewandowski tucked away his first chance after nine minutes – VAR confirming that Bayern had indeed scored in a record 66th consecutive Bundesliga game. Frenchman Corentin Tolisso capped off a well-executed counter-attack, placing the ball beyond Marvin Schwäbe from the edge of the box, but it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Cologne came into the game occupying a European spot and Mark Uth had given the 750 spectators a glimpse of hope, only to see that he had strayed marginally offside. Ondrej Duda then had a sublime opportunity only to see his effort go just wide of Manuel Neuer’s post. Jonas Hector’s near post flick on in the second-half wasn’t met by a teammate and soon enough, Lewandowski would capitalise on Cologne’s missed opportunities. Returning to the squad after testing positive for Covid-19, Leroy Sané slipped in Lewandowski who netted his second before completing his hat-trick 15 minutes from time.

Nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Player, Lewandowski is a player deserving of such an accolade. After the 2020 Ballon d’Or was subsequently cancelled due to Covid-19, many had speculated whether Lewandowski would ever win such a prestigious individual honour. Nominated for the 2021 award, Lionel Messi pipped the Bayern hitman to claim his seventh trophy. The Argentine is admiration of Lewandowski: “Robert, you deserve your Ballon d’Or. Last year, everyone was in agreement to say that you were the big winner of this award.”

Scorer of 58 goals in 2021, Monday night’s FIFA Best Men’s Player award is an opportunity for Lewandowski to finish above Messi. “Whoever plays with him in a team simply knows what kind of performances he has shown and what influence he had. For us, he should win it,” Manuel Neuer told BILD. Turning 33, Lewandowski has never looked in better shape.

Lewandowski has scored in all but four Bundesliga games this season, scoring braces against Bayer Leverkusen, Union Berlin, Borussia Dortmund, Stuttgart and hat-tricks against Hertha Berlin and Cologne, the Pole has adapted his playing style yet manages to complete tasks effortlessly. Regardless of individual honours, Lewandowski has established himself as the greatest No. 9 of the current generation and is up there with the best.

“We’re happy and grateful that he plays for us,” added Neuer. “He’s a machine in the box, he holds the ball up superbly and the way he finishes is special.” Nagelsmann only has the highest praise for his talisman: “It’s one of his great qualities that he wants to, and can, initiate many attacks and then sprints into the box to wait for a cross or rebound.”

But perhaps a player within the current Bayern Munich setup that doesn’t get the recognition he so justifiably deserves is Thomas Müller. Per Transfermarkt, the 32-year-old has five goals and 18 assists in 19 Bundesliga games for Bayern this season and is just four short of his record assists (22) in a single season, that he achieved last year under Hansi Flick.

Müller may have only reached double figures for goals scored in the Bundesliga just once in the last six seasons, but he’s as every bit integral to Bayern Munich’s success as Lewandowski is. As per Opta, only Lionel Messi (180) has assisted more goals in Europe’s top five leagues than Müller (150) since the German made his Bundesliga debut in August 2008.

Both Lewandowski and Müller have just 18 months remaining on their current deals, and so Bayern Munich have a big decision to make. Bosses have the tendency to offer those over 30 one-year extensions but as Bayern’s star player, Lewandowski has every right to ask for a deal that reflects upon that, even as he approaches 35 when his contract expires.

 

1 | Borussia Dortmund kept up their chase of lead leaders, Bayern Munich, with a resounding 5:1 victory against Freiburg on Friday evening. The first two goals of the evening were carbon copies of one another. A Julian Brandt set-piece was met by the head of Thomas Meunier who converted on the 14th and 29th minute. In recent weeks, Dortmund have been blasted for their underwhelming defending. When Erling Haaland scored his first goal in two games on the stroke of halftime, even the Dortmund defence would have been fairly confident that they had this one in the bag. Though Freiburg pulled one back, Dortmund went on to comfortably win the tie with Haaland and Mahmoud Dahoud scoring the final two goals. It’s another vital win, especially against a Freiburg side who have impressed many this season. Dortmund still remain six points behind Bayern.

2 | For the first time in their Bundesliga history, Union Berlin defeated Hoffenheim at home. After a tense first half which ended at 1:1, it was Prömel who scored the decisive goal with just over 15 minutes to go. That’s now three goals in his last two games for the 27-year-old forward. Union continue to impress since their promotion a few years ago. The win puts them into fifth spot and just behind Hoffenheim in fourth on goal difference. Who would have imagined that Union Berlin would be separated from the Champions League places by a few goals when they first gain promotion three years ago? Next up for Union is a Pokal tie against city rivals, Hertha Berlin.

3 | Despite missing two penalties, Bayer Leverkusen finally held on to a lead to win a Bundesliga game! It was Leverkusen’s first Bundesliga win since the 7-1 demolition of Greuther Fürth on December 4. Bayer’s main issue over the past few months has been failing to get all three points from winning positions. Leverkusen finally got the better of Gladbach goalkeeper, Yann Sommer, who was once against one of his side’s best players. Despite saving the first penalty, Sommer was finally beaten by the following corner when Andrich was given the freedom of the six-yard box. Leverkusen continued to push and made it two thanks to Patrik Schick with just over 15 left on the clock. However, when Nico Elvedi pulled one back for Gladbach, I’m sure all Bayer fans feared the worse. Now playing on the counter, Leverkusen were awarded another penalty when Florian Wirtz was brought down inside the box. Sommer once again was up to the task. Having not saved a penalty in the Bundesliga for two years, Sommer had saved two inside 45 minutes. Bayer held on to secure all three points and head back to third in the table. A welcomed victory for Leverkusen but perhaps penalty practice is needed at training this week.

Daniel Pinder & Jamie Allen

 

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