Why LaLiga goal-leader Lewandowski has suddenly stopped scoring for Barcelona

If Barcelona clinch their first LaLiga title since 2019 at Espanyol this weekend, a large part of their success can legitimately be credited to Robert Lewandowski. The Poland striker is the league’s top scorer with 19 goals, which represents 32% of Barca’s scoring in the top flight this season. His winning goals against Mallorca and Valencia in 1-0 victories were crucial as Barca kept Real Madrid at bay earlier in the campaign, while he has scored twice or more in a game on five different occasions.

Lewandowski’s arrival at Barca last July had raised some early doubts. No one questioned his excellent track record over a decade in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, but the transfer fee of €45 million for a player who was about to turn 34 did raise eyebrows, especially considering Barca’s financial limitations. They had to sell club assets to fund last summer’s splurge in the transfer market, including Lewandowski’s contract.

Nine goals in his first seven league games blew those doubts away, though, as Lewandowski hit the ground running in Spain.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: What next for Messi? Analysing his options

Champions League disappointment followed but, aside from a couple of painful misses against his former side Bayern in Munich, Lewandowski did everything he could to keep Barca at Europe’s top table. He netted five times in five games in the competition, including a brace against Inter which almost kept the Catalans alive at the expense of the Italians, who are now on the verge of a first final since 2010.

Yet as the league title draws closer — if Barca don’t win it this weekend, their 13-point lead at the top with just five games to go dictates it is just a matter of time — there are arguably some fresh questions about Lewandowski’s importance to the team. Scratch beneath the numbers — 29 goals in 42 appearances in all competitions — and there’s a clear difference in his form before and after the World Cup.

So, what has happened? And should Barca be worried that one of their biggest earners, who turns 35 in August and is locked into a contract until 2026, has struggled to stay hot in 2023?

Barcelona had been among the teams interested in signing Erling Haaland last summer. Once it became apparent he was joining Manchester City, they moved all-in on Lewandowski. Paving the way for the deal with Bayern Munich were Barca president Joan Laporta’s relationship with Lewandowski’s, Pini Zahavi, and coach Xavi Hernandez’s desire — bordering on desperation — to add him to his squad.

In Lewandowski, Barca were seeking a range of things: Primarily they wanted his goals, of course, but they also felt his leadership and experience would help the youngsters at the club. While veterans like Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were still in the first-team squad, sources tell ESPN that the lack of experience in attack was viewed as a problem.

Lewandowski’s arrival was seen as something that could aid the development of players like Pedri and Gavi, while also reducing the pressure on winger Ousmane Dembele to be the main architect in attack.

The star signing quickly ticked all those boxes as goals goals flowed and Barca players gushed about Lewandowski’s influence in matches and on the training ground. After 10 games in all competitions, he had scored 12 goals, including a Champions League hat trick. It became a common scene early in the season to see Lewandowski, post-goal celebration, explaining to Pedri, Gavi or Ansu Fati something he felt they could adjust.

“It is easy to link with a player like Lewandowski,” Pedri said in September. “It is a luxury to play with him.”

Off the pitch, he quickly settled into his new life in Gava, a small town down the coast from Barcelona. Along with his wife and children, Lewandowski is regularly seen on the local beach, where he often carries out individual training sessions, and has integrated well. He does not keep himself hidden: It’s not uncommon to spot him doing his food shopping in local supermarkets and taking his kids to ballet classes. The family sometimes take the train into Barcelona for a spot of tourism, too, while his wife, Anna, has put on boot camps that have proven popular with the Polish ex-pat community in Catalonia.

However, just before the World Cup at the end of last year, Lewandowski was sent off in a league game against Osasuna. By that point, he had scored 18 goals in 19 appearances for Barca. Then he headed for Qatar, where he reached the last-16 with Poland, but nothing has quite been the same at Spotify Camp Nou since he returned.

Sources inside the dressing room at Barca say it’s impossible to overstate how much of an effect a midseason World Cup had on the players. There is an acknowledgement that has been especially true for Lewandowski, who put so much into the tournament — and in the build-up to it as his country’s flagship player — and has struggled to scale those same heights since.

Prior to Qatar, per 90 minutes, he was averaging 1.07 goals from 4.47 shots and an xG of 0.84. Since the World Cup, those numbers have halved. He has netted 11 times in 22 appearances, averaging 0.50 goals per 90 minutes from 3.75 shots with an xG of 0.56. Not only is he scoring fewer goals, but his accuracy in front of goal has also dropped.

Barca have also suffered post-World Cup blues even as they remained on track for LaLiga success after winning the first trophy of the Xavi era, the Spanish Super Cup. Lewandowski was on target in the cup final in January, an impressive 3-1 win against Real Madrid. In LaLiga, though, Barca have gone from 2.36 goals per 90 pre-World Cup to 1.42 since. Chances created per 90 minutes have also dropped, from 13.21 to 11.00.

That may not just be down to the World Cup. Sources at Barca point to the fact that Dembele and Pedri have missed chunks of the league season since January. Dembele has just returned after missing 13 LaLiga games with injury, while Pedri sat out eight games across February, March and April.

Without them, Lewandowski has struggled given that the pair rank among the best creators in the league. Of players to have played more than 500 minutes, only Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio (2.78 chances created per 90) has created more than Dembele (2.71). Although Pedri (1.85) ranks 32nd, it is difficult to quantify exactly how much Barca — and Lewandowski — miss him when he’s out given his importance in earlier phases of play. The answer, though, is a lot.

Another of Barca’s chief creators, Alba (2.43), ranks eighth in LaLiga, but has been in and out of the Barca side, with youngster Alejandro Balde preferred at left-back.

Sources close to Lewandowski also highlight the disruptions he faced immediately after the World Cup. Uncertainty surrounding a three-game suspension due to Barca’s appeal against his red card at Osasuna meant he was thrown into the starting XI against Espanyol, firing a blank, when preparations all week had been conducted without him. The three-game ban was eventually upheld and he later sat those games out, further denting his match rhythm.

There have also been nagging injuries that Lewandowski has played through — a hamstring and a back problem are factors in his dip — but there’s also the inescapable feeling that he is not as sharp as he was at the start of the season. In April alone, he missed chances he very likely would’ve have scored in September. Osasuna’s Aitor Fernandez and Rayo Vallecano‘s Stole Dimitrievski both denied him when you would have backed him to convert. Against Atletico Madrid, with goalkeeper Jan Oblak in no-man’s land, his decision-making let him down. Rather than passing for a Raphinha tap-in, he shot wide from 25 yards with the net at his mercy.

“If you don’t score, you’re sad, that is the life of a forward,” Xavi said after Ferran Torres‘ goal gave Barca a 1-0 win over Atletico. “But Robert is still the top scorer in the league, so imagine how everyone else is feeling.”

On the training pitch, sources insist nothing has changed. Lewandowski is still seen as the leader Barca wanted for their attack, and he’s routinely praised for his hard work and the way he takes on responsibility. With captain Busquets leaving at the end of the season when his contract expires, sources say Lewandowski could then become one of the club’s four captains: Sergi Roberto, Alba and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are currently the other three.



Lewandowski on Camp Nou ‘magic’ & facing Real Madrid

Robert Lewandowski speaks about playing Real Madrid and how he brought his winning mentality to Barcelona.

Don’t expect Barcelona to panic regarding their center-forward this summer, though. Any suggestion within the club that there could be concerns about Lewandowski’s form are quickly knocked back. There is a firm belief that due to his professionalism and goal-scoring pedigree, the first half of the season is a better barometer of what to expect after a summer off than the second half of the campaign.

After all, players in their mid-30s no longer have to be written off. Edin Dzeko showed that for Inter in the Champions League on Wednesday. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi have all demonstrated the same.

“Besides,” one source tells ESPN, “it’s not like this season has been a bad one. Robert’s scored 29 goals in 42 games. Maybe the bar is so high now because of what Messi and Ronaldo did — and now Haaland — but those are still good statistics traditionally.”

One thing is for sure, though. Lewandowski will certainly be more demanding than that. “I tell Gavi and Pedri: ‘We score one goal, OK? Don’t think that it’s enough. Think that we can score another one. If we score two goals, why we cannot score three goals?'” he said in an interview with ESPN in March.

“I scored five goals in nine minutes [for Bayern against Wolfsburg in 2015]. So why can we not score five goals in 90 minutes? Everything is possible. But you have to want to score these goals. I know I am 34 years old now, but it’s only a number because I know I can still play at a high level for a few years.”

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles