If Barcelona clinch a primary LaLiga title since 2019 at Espanyol this weekend, a big a part of their success can legitimately be credited to Robert Lewandowski. The Poland striker is the league’s prime scorer with 19 objectives, which represents 32% of Barca’s scoring within the prime flight this season. His game-winning objectives in opposition to Mallorca and Valencia in 1-0 victories have been essential as Barca stored Actual Madrid at bay earlier within the marketing campaign, whereas he has scored twice or extra in a sport on 5 completely different events.
Lewandowski’s arrival at Barca final July had raised some early doubts. Nobody questioned his glorious monitor document over a decade in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, however the switch payment of €45 million for a participant who was about to show 34 did elevate eyebrows, particularly contemplating Barca’s monetary limitations. They needed to promote membership property to fund final summer season’s splurge within the switch market, together with Lewandowski’s contract.
9 objectives in his first seven league video games blew these doubts away, although, as Lewandowski hit the bottom working in Spain.
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Champions League disappointment adopted however, apart from a few painful misses in opposition to his former aspect Bayern in Munich, Lewandowski had achieved all the pieces he might to maintain Barca at Europe’s prime desk. He netted 5 instances in 5 video games within the competitors, together with a brace in opposition to Inter which nearly stored the Catalans alive on the expense of the Italians, who at the moment are on the verge of a primary last since 2010.
But because the league title attracts nearer — if Barca do not win it this weekend, their 13-point lead on the prime with simply 5 video games to go dictates it’s only a matter of time — there are arguably some recent questions on Lewandowski’s significance to the group. Scratch beneath the numbers — 29 objectives in 42 appearances in all competitions — and there is a clear distinction in his kind earlier than and after the World Cup.
So, what has occurred? And will Barca be anxious that considered one of their greatest earners, who turns 35 in August and is locked right into a contract till 2026, has struggled to remain scorching in 2023?
Barcelona had been among the many groups all in favour of signing Erling Haaland final summer season. As soon as it grew to become obvious he was becoming a member of Manchester Metropolis, they moved all-in on Lewandowski. Paving the best way for the take care of Bayern Munich have been Barca president Joan Laporta’s relationship with the participant’s agent, Pini Zahavi, and coach Xavi Hernandez’s want — bordering on desperation — so as to add him to his squad.
In Lewandowski, Barca have been in search of a variety of issues: primarily they needed his objectives, in fact, however additionally they felt his management and expertise would assist the kids on the membership. Whereas veterans like Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets have been nonetheless within the first-team squad, sources inform ESPN that the shortage of expertise in assault was considered as an issue.
Lewandowski’s arrival was seen as one thing that would support the event of gamers like Pedri and Gavi, whereas additionally lowering the strain on winger Ousmane Dembele to be the primary architect in assault.
The star signing shortly ticked all these containers as objectives objectives flowed and Barca gamers gushed about Lewandowski’s affect in matches and on the coaching floor. After 10 video games in all competitions, he had scored 12 objectives, together with a Champions League hat-trick. It grew to become a typical scene early within the season to see Lewandowski, post-goal celebration, explaining to Pedri, Gavi or Ansu Fati one thing he felt they might alter.
“It’s simple to hyperlink with a participant like Lewandowski,” Pedri mentioned in September. “It’s a luxurious to play with him.”
Off the pitch, he shortly settled into his new life in Gava, a small city down the coast from Barcelona. Alongside together with his spouse and youngsters, Lewandowski is repeatedly seen on the native seashore, the place he typically carries out particular person coaching periods, and has built-in nicely. He doesn’t preserve himself hidden: it isn’t unusual to identify him doing his meals purchasing in native supermarkets and taking his youngsters to ballet lessons. The household typically take the practice into Barcelona for a spot of tourism, too, whereas his accomplice, Anna, has placed on boot camps which have confirmed proved well-liked with the Polish ex-pat group in Catalonia.
Nevertheless, simply earlier than the World Cup on the finish of final yr, Lewandowski was despatched off in a league sport in opposition to Osasuna. By that time, he had scored 18 objectives in 19 appearances for Barca. Then he headed for Qatar, the place he reached the last-16 with Poland, however nothing has fairly been the identical at Spotify Camp Nou since he returned.
Sources contained in the dressing room at Barca say it is unimaginable to overstate how a lot of an have an effect on a midseason World Cup had on the gamers. There’s an acknowledgement that has been very true for Lewandowski, who put a lot into the match — and within the build-up to it as his nation’s flagship participant — and has struggled to scale those self same heights since.
Previous to Qatar, per 90 minutes, he was averaging 1.07 objectives from 4.47 photographs and an xG of 0.84. Because the World Cup, these numbers have halved. He has netted 11 instances in 22 appearances, averaging 0.50 objectives per 90 minutes from 3.75 photographs with an xG of 0.56. Not solely is he scoring fewer objectives, however his accuracy in entrance of aim has additionally dropped.
Barca have additionally suffered post-World Cup blues whilst they remained on monitor for LaLiga success after profitable the primary trophy of the Xavi period, the Spanish Tremendous Cup. Lewandowski was on track within the cup last in January, a formidable 3-1 win in opposition to Actual Madrid. In LaLiga, although, Barca have gone from 2.36 objectives per 90 pre-World Cup to 1.42 since. Possibilities created per 90 minutes have additionally dropped, from 13.21 to 11.00.
That won’t simply be right down to the World Cup. Sources at Barca level to the truth that Dembele and Pedri have missed chunks of the league season since January. Dembele has simply returned after lacking 13 LaLiga video games with damage, whereas Pedri sat out eight video games throughout February, March and April.
With out them, Lewandowski as struggled provided that the pair rank among the many finest creators within the league. Of gamers to have performed greater than 500 minutes, solely Actual Madrid’s Marco Asensio (2.78 probabilities created per 90) has created greater than Dembele (2.71). Though Pedri (1.85) ranks thirty second, it’s tough to quantify precisely how a lot Barca — and Lewandowski — miss him when he is out given his significance in earlier phases of play. The reply, although, is loads.
One other of Barca’s chief creators, Jordi Alba (2.43), ranks eighth in LaLiga, however has been out and in of the Barca aspect, with teenager Alejandro Balde most popular at left-back.
Sources near Lewandowski additionally spotlight the disruptions he confronted instantly after the World Cup. Uncertainty surrounding a three-game suspension as a result of Barca’s enchantment in opposition to his crimson card at Osasuna meant he was thrown into the beginning XI in opposition to Espanyol, firing a clean, when preparations all week had been carried out with out him. The three-game ban was finally upheld and he later sat these video games out, additional denting his match rhythm.
There have additionally been nagging accidents that Lewandowski has performed by way of — a hamstring and a again downside are elements in his dip – however there’s additionally the inescapable feeling that he’s not as sharp as he was at first of the season. In April alone, he missed probabilities he very probably would’ve have scored in September. Osasuna’s Aitor Fernandez and Rayo Vallecano‘s Stole Dimitrievski each denied him whenever you would have backed him to transform. In opposition to Atletico Madrid, with goalkeeper Jan Oblak in no-man’s land, his decision-making let him down. Moderately than passing for a Raphinha tap-in, he shot vast from 25 yards with the online at his mercy.
“If you happen to do not rating, you are unhappy, that’s the lifetime of a ahead,” Xavi mentioned after Ferran Torres‘ aim gave Barca a 1-0 win over Atletico. “However Robert continues to be the highest scorer within the league, so think about how everybody else is feeling.”
On the coaching pitch, sources insist nothing has modified. Lewandowski continues to be seen because the chief Barca needed for his or her assault, and he is routinely praised for his onerous work and the best way he takes on accountability. With captain Sergio Busquets leaving on the finish of the season when his contract expires, sources say Lewandowski might then turn out to be one of many membership’s 4 captains: Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are at present the opposite three.
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Do not count on Barcelona to panic concerning their center-forward this summer season, although. Any suggestion throughout the membership that there may very well be issues about Lewandowski’s kind are shortly knocked again. There’s a agency perception that as a result of his professionalism and goal-scoring pedigree, the primary half of the season is a greater barometer of what to anticipate after a summer season off than the second half of the marketing campaign.
In spite of everything, gamers of their mid-30s now not need to be written off. Edin Dzeko confirmed that for Inter within the Champions League on Wednesday. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi have all demonstrated the identical.
“Apart from,” one supply tells ESPN, “it isn’t like this season has been a nasty one. Robert’s scored 29 objectives in 42 video games. Perhaps the bar is so excessive now due to what Messi and Ronaldo did — and now Haaland — however these are nonetheless good statistics historically.”
One factor is for certain, although. Lewandowski will definitely be extra demanding than that. “I inform Gavi and Pedri: ‘We rating one aim, OK? Do not assume that it is sufficient. Assume that we will rating one other one. If we rating two objectives, why we can’t rating three objectives?'” he mentioned in an interview with ESPN in March.
“I scored 5 objectives in 9 minutes [for Bayern against Wolfsburg in 2015]. So why can we not rating 5 objectives in 90 minutes? Every little thing is feasible. However it’s important to need to rating these objectives. I do know I’m 34 years previous now, nevertheless it’s solely a quantity as a result of I do know I can nonetheless play at a excessive stage for just a few years.”