Given his remarkably consistent ability to score nearly 30 league goals every season, it’s hard to be critical of Lewandowski. And yet 2018 will likely not rank high on the list of the Pole’s most memorable sporting years.
Another incredible Bundesliga season last time out – including two hat-tricks in March – led to him comfortably finishing as the league’s top scorer for the third time in five seasons. All in all, as he approaches 300 top-flight appearances in Germany, he is also closing in on 200 goals (currently 190 in 272 Bundesliga games). Lewandowski makes it look easy on the domestic front.
In Europe, though, gone are the days of four-goal hauls against Real Madrid. Lewandowski had a relatively quiet Champions League campaign last season, excelling only in perhaps the win over PSG. All of his other goals came against opposition Bayern were expected to beat – his usual type of prey.
Bayern beat Sevilla in the quarter-finals, but without Lewandowski contributing. The semi-final defeat to Real Madrid was painful for ample reasons, but none more for Lewandowski than the fact he missed chances to prove his deadliness in front of goal and win Bayern the tie.
The headlines were unforgiving, and left some wondering whether they could really rely on the striker. It was a brutal judgement given his scoring record, but the big games are what Bayern’s seasons are all about – scoring there is what really matters. Thankfully he’s started the current Champions League campaign in exceptional form, netting eight goals in the group stage (including braces in his last three games).
His poor performance against Madrid last term looked to have affected him, however. While Poland were never expected to thrive at the World Cup, they were seeded as a top team and yet still finished bottom of a very winnable group. Lewandowski looked forlorn; isolated and short of his usual ruthlessness in front of goal.
But whether it’s his ability to find the far corner, strength in the air (perhaps one of his most underrated abilities) or simply the knowledge of when to shoot, Lewandowski is clearly one of the best forwards in the game. Like all strikers, though, he needs the service and the confidence to be at his best. His start to this season suggest he is somewhere in between right now. In Europe he now has more Champions League goals than Thierry Henry, but in the Bundesliga he has looked less imposing – although a brace against Borussia Dortmund was exactly the kind of result Bayern needed from him in such a game (that, unfortunately for the Pole, they lost anyway).
Lewandowski turned 30 before this season. With many football teams turning to a new focus on pace, power and playmaking in attack – Bayern included – the striker must now show that his goalscoring qualities remain… and that when the time comes he can use them on the grandest stage of all.