FEATURE | European Player of the Season, 4th: Robert Lewandowski

This article is part of Get Football’s European Player and Coach of the Season series, as we countdown our top 12 in both categories each day before naming our winner ahead of the Champions League final on May 28. You can read all the profiles and view the ranking here.

Already one of, if not the best striker in the world, there is little Robert Lewandowski can do. Hours of training result in the satisfying thump one often hears when his boot hits the ball. The gentle rustle of the net is the next and once he’s scored, it’s the groan of frustrations mixed with the sight of the shaking heads of opposing fans who recognise his greatness even when he’s inflicting a loss on their team.

As expected, the 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign featured all these sounds and sights. While it was always going to be difficult to surpass his record-breaking tally of 41 goals last season, his 35 goals during this year meant he became only the second player ever to score 300 goals in the Bundesliga, behind German legend Gerd Müller.

In a season that saw Bayern Munich win their successive tenth league title, the Pole scored or assisted his teammates in all but seven league games. The 27 remaining fixtures includes the match-winning brace in a 3-2 win against Borussia Dortmund. A late ice-cool penalty in a 1-0 victory over Augsburg. And of course, hat-tricks against FC Köln and Hertha Berlin.

Against the latter, back in August, his first goal signalled just how hungry he remains at 33-years-old despite having achieved so much already. With his header crashing against the crossbar, the striker quickly sensed an opportunity and beat two Hertha defenders in the air to nod the ball past Alexander Schwolow.

It epitomises Lewandowki’s desire to score at every opportunity, something Bayern’s head coach Julian Nagelsmann touched on after the game. “He has achieved so much in recent years and still has such a hunger,” he said. “What makes him special is the variety of his finishing. When you see his power in the air – he’s desperate to score goals.”

This was also shown in Europe, as he plundered hat-tricks against both SL Benfica and RB Salzburg, who were unable to stop Die Roten’s number nine from dominating. 13 goals in ten UEFA Champions League appearances are an astonishing feat that he again made look easy on European football’s biggest stage.

Recently, Lewandowski credited his consistency to his disciplined fitness routine when asked if he expected to keep scoring a high volume of goals. “I think so,” he told media. “Every year things are going better for me than the year before. If I’m maybe at my peak at 33, then things can go on for a few more years.

“The change in diet and the exercise program that I started with my wife back then is now bearing fruit. Patience has paid off and we are now getting the reward. Hopefully for a while longer.”

Having missed just one game all season, the Pole’s remarkable on-pitch availability again underlines his determination to help his team at every moment.

Even with the huge number of minutes, his deadly accuracy in front of goal has never waned. According to FBRef, a remarkable 49% of his shots on goal were on target, which was 6% higher than the previous season.

Indeed, Nagelsmann’s commitment to attacking football resulted in the 33-year-old generating more shots than any of his previous five campaigns. With a creative force behind him that includes the revitalised Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and the roaming Thomas Müller, the striker often had an ample supply of chances to call upon.

And yet it’s his intelligence and ability to make the right decisions in the penalty box that continues to distinguish himself from others. After scoring a hat-trick against Köln, Bundesliga.com asked him about how he has improved the timing of his runs.

Lewandowski answered: “I wasn’t focussed only on the ball; I was also focussed on the line of the defender. And I knew that I was not in an offside position.

“For the striker in the box, you have to not only think fast, but you have to see quicker than your opponent as well. That’s why I knew – my eyes are fast enough to see the line of offside.”

Reading his opponents’ movement and using his instincts correctly continues to be a massive strength of his game. This is shown even when he’s not looking to shoot himself. This season, FBRef recorded that the Pole made ten more passes that set up shooting opportunities for his teammates. Whereas last season he had 74 shot-creating actions, this year he had 104.

By being able to turn creator as well as finisher, the 33-year-old is becoming increasingly more of a handful for defenders. Even if the assist count doesn’t reflect this, it suggests he continues to evolve into a more all-around threat than before.

With speculation growing that this could be his final year in Germany, it is hard to not recognise how he has cemented himself in the Bundesliga’s history. No modern-day forward in the league has made it look effortless to score in so many different ways as he has.

It’s easy to take his excellence for granted, but there will be few players who give opposing defenders the same level of fear over the course of a season that Lewandowski does. The 2021/22 campaign was no exception.

Josh Sim.

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