Robert Lewandowski: The inner workings of a goalscoring machine

By Sports Desk August 07, 2020

With the announcement that the 2020 Ballon d'Or will not be awarded this year due to the coronavirus-enforced break in play, Robert Lewandowski will feel pretty hard done by.

By the end of June, Lewandowski's goals had propelled Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double. His goals in the league (34 in total) made him the highest single-season foreign goalscorer in history. With another six goals in the Pokal – including two in the final to seal the deal in a 4-2 win against Bayer Leverkusen – and 11 more in the Champions League, Lewandowski has scored more goals in all competitions than any other player across Europe's top five leagues this season. 

For Lewandowski, it has been undoubtedly the best season of his career. Remarkably, the 31-year-old is averaging a goal every 74 minutes and he has already scored 11 more than last year and eight more than in his previous personal best (43 goals in 2016-17).

The consistency of Lewandowski's production is phenomenal. Since 2015-16, he has scored 40 or more goals in every season. The only player who has kept pace with the Pole is a certain Lionel Messi, but the Barcelona star will need to score an unlikely 10 more times to hit the 40-goal milestone in 2019-20.

 

In his 285 competitive games for Bayern, Lewandowski has hit a total of 242 goals, averaging a goal every 99 minutes. This is a goalscoring machine at its best.

Lewandowski has taken his game to another level this season. After being the top scorer in the Bundesliga (34) and in the Pokal (6), the Bayern marksman is also the leading scorer in the Champions League (11). He could become the first player since Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 to take home a hat-trick of golden boots in league, cup and European action. Neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi have ever achieved this.

So, what's his secret?

 

ELITE IN THE BOX

Since joining Bayern back in 2014, Lewandowski has increased his expected goals (xG) total each season. This campaign, he is averaging a staggering 1.1 xG every 90 minutes. Put simply, the chances Lewandowski attempts are worth over one goal every game. This figure is nearly double as many as in his first season at Bayern (0.6). His consistently high xG values show that his impressive goal tally is not just a product of overperforming, but rather the result of generating good goalscoring opportunities.

 

Year after year, Lewandowski gets himself in better goalscoring positions. He has perfected the art of creating space and chances for himself in crucial areas of the pitch. The below graphic illustrates this perfectly: look at the cluster of shots he has taken in this season's Champions League.

 

In the current Champions League campaign, no player has scored as many non-penalty goals (10) or taken shots from higher quality chances (8.6 xG) as Lewandowski. As the size of the dots shows, Lewandowski is mainly taking shots from good-quality locations with a high xG value and avoids shooting from further afield.

THE COMPLETE FORWARD

Lewandowski is the target man in Bayern's attack, but he is far more than a poacher – he is a crucial cog in their build-up play.

In the 2019-20 Bundesliga campaign, Lewandowski was involved in a league-high 43 open-play sequences that ended with a goal. If we remove those sequences in which Lewandowski himself scored (27), he was involved in 16 open-play sequences that ended in a goal scored by one of his team-mates, the highest value among all strikers in the competition.

 

Indeed, while Lewandowski has registered only four assists in the latest Bundesliga season, we can use expected assists (xA) to analyse how many assists Lewandowski should have had based on the quality of his passes. According to this metric, Lewandowski's open-play passes in the recent league season were worth seven assists, so he was unfortunate not to have three more assists to add to his total of four.

 

His total of 7.1 xA this campaign is his highest tally.  The 31-year-old has massively improved his creative abilities over the past two years, nearly increasing his xA value threefold (he registered 2.8 xA in 2017-18).

A complete forward, Lewandowski works for the team, creates chances for his team-mates and is heavily involved in build-up play. Bayern's last Champions League game in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie with Chelsea can be used as an ideal example of Lewandowski's all-around qualities. He was everywhere.

 

Lewandowski's touches at Stamford Bridge on February 25 (from left to right)

In that game, Lewandowski recorded two assists in a single Champions League match for the first time in his career, assisting the first two Bayern goals for Serge Gnabry before scoring the last himself to seal a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. 

Perhaps 2020 would have been Lewandowski's best chance to become just the second player other than Messi and Ronaldo to win the Ballon d'Or since 2008, but the way his game is improving every season – coupled with the inevitable decline of Messi and Ronaldo – means the Poland goalscoring machine will likely have another crack at the accolade in 2021 and beyond.

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