When Barcelona paid €45 million, plus €5m in add-ons, to Bayern Munich for striker Robert Lewandowski in the summer, many football fans outside of the Catalan region scuffed at the price.
Lewandowski turned 34 just a month after being signed by Barcelona. It was a high transfer price to pay for the Polish forward. Lewandowski was brilliant for eight seasons with Bayern Munich. Yet, head coach Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t always glowing with his praise of Lewandowski. Nagelsmann believed the striker to be “too static” in Bayern’s offensive build-up.
Not only was the transfer fee incredibly high for a player in his mid-30s, but Barcelona used several financial levers to sign him. Barcelona’s need for money influenced selling multiple areas of the club. Spanish football fans and the media gave Barcelona the nickname “Levers FC” due to the club pulling off deals to bring in more cash. Barcelona pulled four financial levers before they played Rayo Vallecano to a nil-nil draw at Camp Nou on August 13 to begin the season.
What got lost in all of the talk of finances and transfer fees about Barcelona was Robert Lewandowski. He is still a fantastic striker and Barcelona signed a brilliant player.
Robert Lewandowski hits the ground running
Lewandowski hit the ground running with the Blaugrana despite the scoreless draw with Rayo. In Barcelona’s five subsequent matches, Lewandowski scored in each. Three of those five matches were multi-goal performances.
Lewandowski scored twice against Real Sociedad, twice versus Real Valladolid, and twice in a 3-0 blistering of Elche. There were also one-goal performances against Sevilla and Cadiz while bagging two assists in the fixture versus the Yellow Submarine. The striker has six goals in eight La Liga matches this season. He averages a goal every 56 minutes domestically.
The Blaugrana went into the September international break in second place in La Liga. A five-match winning streak followed the club’s opening day draw with Rayo. Barcelona will be two points behind archrival Real Madrid when the league resumes after the international break.
Goals aren’t restricted to La Liga. Lewandowski recorded a hat-trick against Viktoria Plzen on Champions League matchday No. 1. Barcelona won 5-1 with the Polish hitman stealing the show. Lewandowski’s performance in the Champions League raised expectations of a Barcelona rebirth around Europe.
How good is Robert Lewandowski at Barcelona?
Lewandowski is playing some of the best football of his career. He has eight goals in six La Liga matches. A Champions League hat-trick was scored against Viktoria Plzen to go along with the league goals.
Lewandowski leads La Liga in scoring with eight goals, two more than Real Betis’s Borja Iglesias. Forty-four percent of Barcelona’s scoring came from Lewandowski in the opening six matches in La Liga.
The striker averages 4.97 shots per 90 minutes and 1.99 key passes per 90 minutes. Lewandowski is on par with his 7.0 expected goals with eight real goals. His expected goals per 90 minutes stat is 1.39. The striker is expected to score nearly one and a half goals per match on the domestic front.
Understat.com states Lewandowski has not taken a shot outside of the penalty area. All eight La Liga goals were scored inside the 18-yard box. Three of those goals were scored inside the six-yard area.
Critics will immediately discount Lewandowski’s performances due to the poor defences in La Liga. The league averages 2.65 goals per match for a total of 159 goals after six matchdays.
La Liga has played fewer matches than the other top-five leagues across Europe. It is impossible to compare the leagues in terms of goals scored. Yet, fans will wonder if Lewandowski would have scored similarly at Bayern Munich or in the Premier League.
Critics will cite Barcelona’s 2-0 Champions League matchday No. 2 loss to Bayern Munich as proof of La Liga’s poor quality. Lewandowski missed three chances in the match as Barcelona sank to Champions League defeat in Munich.
The 2023-24 Balon d’Or winner
Lewandowski should have won the Balon d’Or in 2020. However, France Football cancelled the award due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewandowski’s incredible individual season was one of the many sporting achievements ruined by the pandemic.
He should have even won the award in the next campaign. Yet, Balon d’Or voters somehow found Lionel Messi to have had a stronger season. It is a crime Lewandowski didn’t win the Balon d’Or in either campaign. He won’t win it again this year. Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is set to win the award after lifting the Champions League trophy and La Liga title in 2021-22.
Lewandowski’s move to Barcelona wasn’t simply due to needing a change of scenery or disagreements with coaches. Real Madrid and Barcelona players are the seemingly only ones that win Balon d’Or trophies in men’s football. Voters are unwilling to vote in large numbers for players from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, or any other league.
The last 12 Balon d’Or winners played for either Real Madrid or Barcelona. Benzema will make it 13 straight Madrid or Barca winners this season. The inability of voters to recognise players outside of La Liga has made the Balon d’Or a farce.
Yet, Lewandowski’s desire to move to Barcelona will finally allow him to win the award. The 2023-24 Balon d’Or already has Lewandowski’s name on it. The trophy is his to lose. If the striker can continue scoring goals, win a trophy, and lead La Liga in goals, then the Balon d’Or should finally be Lewandowski’s.
Consistency will be critical for the striker. Barcelona are eight matches into the 2022-23 season. The financial levers worked, for now, but there are question marks around the club’s future. Lewandowski will be in his late-30s by the time his Barcelona contract expires. Barcelona have a do not, worry later mentality.
The Blaugrana may be able to get one or two strong years out of Lewandowski, but after 35, it may be more challenging to get goals. For now, the Polish striker is thriving as the centrepiece of Barcelona’s attack. The Blaugrana are back, for now, and a La Liga title fight is on, thanks to the striker.