It's often said that the role of the traditional centre-forward in football is dying, because a player whose predominant attribute is scoring, and very little else, can't contribute effectively in the build-up for a team operating a possession-based style.
Robert Lewandowski suggests you forget all of that. At the age of 31, the Pole's numbers in 2019/20 are better than they have ever been, even as his overall involvement in the match regresses. His exploits are overwhelming, his scoring otherworldly. Enjoy one of the hottest scoring runs you've ever seen while it lasts.
Team-mate Serge Gnabry said of him this week, “He is in the kind of form that no-one has seen before,” and the numbers are very much in his favour.
As of November 13, Lewandowski has a FC Rating of 99 (What is this?) and has scored in all 15 Bundesliga and Champions League matches so far this season. In total he has netted 23 goals in 1617 minutes, or a goal every 70 minutes played. Unlike some other prolific forwards, he doesn’t exist on penalties or purely on home comforts; only two have been from the spot, while 12 of those goals have been away from home.
Of those 23 goals, a whopping seven have been decisive (What is this?), meaning Lewy isn’t padding his stats with meaningless goals - his efforts are integral to victory. And what’s more, by any xG model he is massively overperforming; 23 goals on an xG of just 13.92. Lewandowski will almost certainly return to the mean eventually, so just enjoy this for what it is, a run of era-defining finishing.
Even the best forwards can’t escape the passage of xG, as James Tippett notes in his new book. But Lewandowski performs spectacularly against it, which is the mark of an all-time great. If a player’s xG total for a season is high, and the player matches or exceeds it, it’s something really special. And Lewy has done it for five years straight.
Since 2015/16, Lewandowski has scored 42, 43, 41, and 40 goals, with 15/16 in particular well ahead of the xG curve on 34.1 xG for the season. He is already better than halfway to that total this year.
After he netted *just* 22 Bundesliga goals in 18/19 and with RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, a natural fit in a number of ways, edging towards the end of his contract, it seemed as if it could be his end in Bavaria. But Werner signed a new deal at Red Bull and Lewy confirmed a new four-year contract in August, and it’s almost as if that as part of his signature he has decided that all team metrics must lead to him scoring more goals than he ever has in his career.
Lewandowski has never been one for assists. But this season his total sits on zero, with an Expected Assists total of 0.1 xA per game. When the ball leaves his possession, it’s because he anticipates it coming back in the best position he can score from. Just look at his movement into place for the first goal against Dortmund, or his one-two with Thomas Muller, who knew exactly where he was going, to identify his single-mindedness to be only in areas where his next touch can be a shot. That only two of his 23 strikes have been outside the box attests to that fact.
In 19/20 he has also upped his shots per game too, from 3.67 last season to 4.5 this, with 2.3 landing on target. Those shots are currently amassing an xG per game of 0.77. Hint - he’s shooting from (mostly) good spots on the pitch. His touches in the box are also up from 5.39 in 17/18 to 6.85 this season. He’s a man on a mission.
He is in the kind of form that no-one has seen before.Serge Gnabry
And, curiously, for a forward type seemingly heading the way of the DVD player, there’s a gathering of largely late-career strikers similarly focused on scoring as many as possible, but even they must bow to Lewandowski's dominance. Lazio's Ciro Immobile would be leading the Golden Shoe race in most other seasons, but he has four penalties in his total, and is also competing in the Europa League rather than the Champions League, while Leicester's Jamie Vardy is outperforming xG at an unsustainable rate - 11 goals from an xG of just 4.4 - but has no European football and is still well back of the Pole's total.
Contract sorted and playing alongside genuine creative talents such as Serge Gnabry, Philippe Coutinho and Kinglsey Coman, Lewandowski is, clearly, more single-minded than ever to enjoy a record-breaking season. Bayern supremo Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has challenged him to better Gerd Muller’s Bundesliga total of 40 and what’s probably most revealing is that this is in a Bayern team that, by and large, have been underachieving, with coach Niko Kovac being dismissed earlier in the month for apparently losing the dressing room.
A refreshed approach may push Lewandowski to even greater heights, but if the maths do as expected, his season will still have been an all-timer. Just enjoy watching an incessant striker doing what he does best.