England boss Gareth Southgate expects Poland to be highly motivated for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier at Wembley in the absence of captain and leading goalscorer Robert Lewandowski.

The Bayern Munich striker sustained a knee injury in Sunday's 3-0 win over Andorra - a game in which he scored twice - and it was confirmed by his club on Tuesday that he will miss the next month.

Lewandowski has scored 66 goals in 118 appearances for Poland, including nine goals in his last nine starts in all competitions.

But Southgate rejected the notion that England will be boosted by the prolific striker's absence for the clash between Group I's top two seeds.

"From our perspective, you're going to have players who are hungry to fill that opportunity," Southgate said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"They're a good side with some good players. They will all fight for the cause and they're a good football team. They've got high motivation. 

"We've got to keep improving. We've shown a good level and we've got to keep stepping up.

"I understand the question, but I think Poland have excellent players. We would be naive to think they are less of a threat. 

"If we think of taking our foot off the gas, we'll get hurt. Of course, the public want to see the star names, but a team isn't about one player."

England will be looking to make it three wins from three in their March fixtures after following up a 5-0 win over San Marino with a 2-0 victory in Albania on Sunday.

Mason Mount was among the scorers in Tirana and has enjoyed an impressive campaign at club level with Chelsea.

He has played the most minutes of any Chelsea player (2,231) this term, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

The 168 passes Mount has played into the opposition box is also by far the most among Chelsea players, form that he has carried over onto the international stage.

There had been doubts over the midfielder's fitness after he sat out part of training on Tuesday, but Southgate expects to have one of his key men available for the visit of Poland.

"He didn't warm up with the team but he did the rest of the session with his team-mates," Southgate said. "He should be fine. They are all available as far as we are aware.

"We've managed the team through the matches and the training sessions. We've been very cautious. We've got to balance that freshness. 

"We were very happy with the performance the other day. Around Europe, most countries have taken a similar slant."

Poland may be without their leading marksman for the game, but England have a fit and firing Harry Kane to lead their line.

The Tottenham striker's club future has been the subject of much speculation during the international break, but Southgate reiterated his captain will not be distracted by the rumours.

"He's so focused. I had a chat with him and he's very positive about the club," Southgate said. 

"He was talking about being a few points off the Champions League, into the EFL Cup final. I've got no worries about Harry Kane. He's a fantastic professional.

"Harry is highly motivated. All players want to win. He's got an opportunity with his club to do that."

Kane has scored on six days of the week for England but has never managed to do so on a Wednesday, failing in three different games on that day so far. 

Only Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney have scored on all seven of the days of the week for the Three Lions.

Robert Lewandowski will miss both Champions League quarter-final clashes with Paris Saint-Germain after Bayern Munich confirmed he is to be sidelined for a month with a knee injury.

Lewandowski sustained damage to his right knee during Poland's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra on Sunday, a game in which he scored twice.

Poland subsequently confirmed he was to play no part in the upcoming clash with England and that he was due to return to Bayern for treatment.

It was initially thought the 32-year-old would only be absent for up to 10 days, however, Bayern confirmed on Tuesday that the issue is slightly more serious than first suspected.

A statement revealed Lewandowski is now expected to be out for most of April.

It read: "Robert Lewandowski has strained a ligament in his right knee. The FC Bayern striker will be out for around four weeks.

"After Poland's 3-0 win over Andorra, Lewandowski returned early to Munich, where a diagnosis was made by the German record champions' medical team."

While losing Lewandowski for so long would be a major blow regardless of the opponents Bayern have lined up, his forced absence comes at a particularly critical moment in the season.

The reigning Bundesliga champions face title rivals RB Leipzig this weekend, before meetings with PSG in the Champions League either side of Union Berlin's visit.

Those contests with PSG will be repeats of last season's Champions League final, which Bayern emerged from as 1-0 victors last August.

Losing Lewandowski will cause Bayern significant concern in attack, with their squad not possessing another senior central striker, meaning either Thomas Muller will be moved in to deputise or Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will take on a more important role for the time being.

On a personal level, losing a month of the season could derail Lewandowski's hopes of breaking Gerd Muller's record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga campaign.

The former West Germany star achieved the feat in 1971-72 with Bayern and Lewandowski is just five adrift, having netted 35 in 25 games this term.

Assuming Lewandowski is out for exactly four weeks, he will have three matches to score five or more goals – those games coming against Borussia Monchengladbach, Freiburg and Augsburg.

Robert Lewandowski will miss both Champions League quarter-final clashes with Paris Saint-Germain after Bayern Munich confirmed he is to be sidelined for a month with a knee injury.

Lewandowski sustained damage to his right knee during Poland's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra on Sunday, a game in which he scored twice.

Poland subsequently confirmed he was to play no part in the upcoming clash with England and that he was due to return to Bayern for treatment.

It was initially thought the 32-year-old would only be absent for up to 10 days, however, Bayern confirmed on Tuesday that the issue is slightly more serious than first suspected.

England could be without Mason Mount for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley.

Mount was absent from Tuesday's training session, with the Chelsea midfielder undergoing work with the medical and performance team, though no injury details were revealed.

It would represent a blow to England, with Mount having scored in Sunday's 2-0 win over Albania.

That result made it back-to-back victories for the Three Lions in Group I, in which Poland likely pose their greatest threat.

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

Poland suffered a huge injury setback of their own when record goalscorer Robert Lewandowski was forced to return to Bayern Munich to receive treatment on a knee injury.

The striker sustained damage to the collateral ligament of his right knee during the 3-0 win over Andorra, in which he scored twice.

Poland issued a statement on Monday to confirm Lewandowski would miss Wednesday's match in order to avoid the risk of aggravating the injury.

The 32-year-old has instead returned to Germany for further treatment, which is expected to last from five to 10 days.

Poland have also lost Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kamil Piatkowski, who become the latest players to test positive for coronavirus.

Midfielder Mateusz Klich was the first squad member to return a positive COVID-19 test last week and it was revealed on Saturday that goalkeeper Łukasz Skorupski had also contracted the virus.

Robert Lewandowski has returned to Bayern Munich to receive treatment on a knee injury, Poland have confirmed.

The striker sustained damage to the collateral ligament of his right knee during the 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra, in which he scored twice.

Poland issued a statement on Monday to confirm Lewandowski will miss their match with England on Wednesday in order to avoid the risk of aggravating the injury.

The 32-year-old will instead return to Germany for further treatment, which is expected to last from five to 10 days.

The news will be of concern to Bayern coach Hansi Flick ahead of a tough run of fixtures for the Bundesliga leaders.

Bayern face RB Leipzig on April 3, four days before the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain.

The German champions then host Union Berlin on April 10 ahead of the return leg away to PSG on April 13.

Lewandowski has scored 42 goals and provided eight assists in 36 appearances in all competitions for Bayern this season.

The former Borussia Dortmund star has at least 10 more direct goal involvements in 2020-21 than any other Bundesliga player.

Alphonso Davies' early red card "woke up" Bayern Munich and set them on their way to claiming a 4-0 victory over Stuttgart despite their numerical disadvantage, Robert Lewandowski has declared.

The Bundesliga champions had been on the back foot even prior to losing their left-back in the 12th minute for a poor challenge on Wataru Endo.

But they responded brilliantly, taking the lead through hat-trick hero Lewandowski before Serge Gnabry also scored as they built a four-goal lead by half-time.

Speaking after the game, the Poland star shared his belief that, rather than hurt Bayern, the dismissal actually served to bring them to life.

He said: "We played really well after the red card. That woke us up. Before that, we didn't play so perfectly.

"After that, it was a challenge for us to create chances and score goals. We wanted to keep playing forward after the first goal and try to add another one."

Bayern coach Hansi Flick was understandably full of praise for the manner in which his players responded to that setback.

The German also had no complaints about the decision to dismiss his player.

"I have to give my team a huge compliment," he enthused.

"After the dismissal, which was justified, they worked well on the defensive, made the spaces very, very tight as a team and did very well in possession of the ball, especially in the first half.

"The way we created the chances was simply outstanding. We had to change the defence today and were very compact.

"We kept the clean sheet and got the three points – that was our goal and thus a successful game day for us."

As for Stuttgart boss Pellegrino Matarazzo, he felt the sending-off only ended up taking away the visitors' positive early momentum.

He said: "We got into the game well, you can even say that we were dominant.

"We played well and should have taken the lead shortly after the red card. Then something happened mentally: either that we had pressure to win or we thought we had less pressure now.

"We paid in the first half and I hope we can do better next time."

Robert Lewandowski scored a second consecutive home hat-trick in the Bundesliga as 10-man Bayern Munich thrashed Stuttgart 4-0 to extend their lead at the summit to four points.

The Pole, who found the back of the net threes time against Borussia Dortmund on his last league outing at the Allianz Arena, took just 39 minutes to repeat the feat here.

Serge Gnabry also got on the scoresheet in a rampant first half as Hansi Flick's side brushed off the early loss of Alphonso Davies to a red card to claim a thumping victory.

Davies received his marching orders after VAR intervened to upgrade a yellow for his studs-up challenge on Wataru Endo.

After surviving an early storm, Bayern went ahead through Lewandowski, who claimed second place in the Bundesliga's all-time top scorer charts outright by powering in Gnabry's low cross to bring up his 269th goal in the competition.

Provider then turned goalscorer as Gnabry benefited from a slick exchange between Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane to finish a wonderful team goal.

A minute later, Lewandowski's powerful header from Muller's right-wing cross had Bayern three ahead with barely a quarter of the game gone.

And the prolific Pole had a hat-trick just before the break, pinching the ball inside the box and arrowing a left-footed finish into the bottom right-hand corner to make it three goals from three shots.

Bayern's number nine should have made it four just past the hour mark but miscued in uncharacteristic fashion after being picked out by Benjamin Pavard's low cross.

But that miss mattered little in the end as the champions saw out their win with little discomfort.

What does it mean? History beckons for Lewandowski

Having already scored more Bundesliga hat-tricks than any other player in history, Lewandowski added a 13th here to extend his lead over Mario Gomez (10) to three.

The Pole is now on 35 league goals for the season and will surely have his sights set on breaking Gerd Muller's record of 40 in a single campaign in the German top-flight in the eight remaining games.

In fact, 'Der Bomber's' outright scoring record of 365 does not look out of reach for a player who is now on 271 and, at the age of 32, still looks to have plenty of years at the top level left in him.

Lewa stars for Bayern

Bayern had been up against it even prior to losing Davies, but the complexion game changed entirely when Lewandowski took his first goal in brilliant fashion.

That the Poland international grabbed his hat-trick from just three shots says everything about his quality in front of goal.

Davies errs again

But for the brilliance of Lewandowski, Davies' rash early challenge could have put his teammates in for a difficult afternoon.

The Canadian had already given the ball away four times in just 12 touches across an uncertain start, and will now miss the crucial showdown with RB Leipzig next time out due to suspension.

What's next?

Bayern Munich could take a big step toward to retaining the Bundesliga title when they face nearest challengers Leipzig in two weeks. A win would take Flick's men seven points clear with as many games remaining, while defeat would close the gap to just a single point.

As for Stuttgart, they will hope to get their push for European football back on track when they host Werder Bremen.

Robert Lewandowski revealed it would mean "a lot" to break Gerd Muller's long-standing record for most goals scored in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker has registered 32 goals from 25 matchdays in Germany's top flight this season, meaning he needs nine more to overhaul the benchmark of 40 set by fellow Bayern Munich legend Muller in the 1971-72 season.

Last season, Lewandowski netted in his opening 11 league matches but ultimately fell six shy of Muller's tally, even though his form propelled Bayern to a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble and helped him to win the best men's player at the Best FIFA Football Awards.

Asked by Sport Bild what it would mean to break the record, Lewandowski replied: "A lot.

"[But the target of] this unique club legend is far away, I don't want to worry too much.

"[If I get] one or two goals behind the 40 goals topic would be intense in my head.

"It would fill me with incredible pride. But Gerd Muller will always be Gerd Muller – [he is] unmatched.

"I might have a bit of mental stress: reaching this mark after almost 50 years would mean a lot to me."

Lewandowski's 32 league goals this season is far clear of the 19 scored by Erling Haaland and Andre Silva, who are next on the list.

The Poland striker also tops the rankings for shots on target (51) and 'big chances' scored (23), while his goal in Saturday's 3-1 win over Werder Bremen was his 268th in the Bundesliga moving him joint-second on the all-time list with Klaus Fischer. 

Nowadays, Lewandowski is the man young strikers are aspiring to be like, but the 32-year-old said Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Thierry Henry were among those he looked up to when trying to hone his talents.

"When I was six years old, there was only one idol for me: Roberto Baggio," he added.

"Alessandro Del Piero later became my role model in football, and I admired him. However, I was not yet able to judge exactly what characterises his style of play, I was just too young for that. 

"It later became Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. His movements, the runs in depth, the finishes – as a young footballer these were the qualities I wanted to have. I wanted to imitate everything Henry did."

Atletico Madrid's main focus this term is arguably maintaining their position at LaLiga's summit, but prolonging their Champions League campaign might provide a psychological boost and Luis Suarez will be eager to play the leading role.

The Uruguayan striker's struggles in the Champions League have been well-publicised, but if his move to Atletico from Barcelona has proven anything, it is that he is not one to be written off.

Suarez will hope to be decisive as Atletico go to Chelsea chasing a one-goal deficit, while in Wednesday's other tie, defending champions Bayern Munich are practically already through.

We used Opta numbers to preview the two clashes.

Chelsea v Atletico Madrid (1-0 on aggregate): Suarez's Champions League misery

Thomas Tuchel's men are in the driving seat thanks to a commendable 1-0 win at the Spanish top-flight leaders last time, though Atletico do have previous experience of downing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – they beat them 3-1 in London to secure a place in the 2013-14 Champions League final.

Nevertheless, the Blues will take confidence in the fact they have never been eliminated in a two-legged knockout European tie after winning the first leg away from home.

If any team can overcome the odds, however, it is Atletico, whose 50 per cent progression rate from European Cup/Champions League knockout ties after losing the first leg is bettered by only one team to have played a minimum of five knockout ties: Reims (60 per cent, three out of five).

Their chances will surely be boosted if Suarez can finally sort himself out at this level. He is still to net in five Champions League games for Atletico and has not scored in any of his previous 24 away appearances in the competition despite having 70 shots amounting to an expected goals (xG) value of 9.6 over the course of a run that stretches back to September 2015.

By contrast, Chelsea's Olivier Giroud is averaging a goal every 38 minutes in the Champions League this term, the best single-season record of any player to feature for at least 200 minutes since the 1979-80 European Cup campaign (Ton Blanker, Ajax, one goal every 34 minutes).

Bayern Munich v Lazio (4-1 on aggregate): Italians face challenge of historic proportions

While Hansi Flick surely will not fall into the trap of complacency, it's fair to say Bayern are looking pretty rosy heading into the second leg having handed out a comprehensive thrashing in Rome.

Even if you forget they are facing the reigning European champions, the task at hand for Lazio is monumental – no side in the history of the Champions League or its predecessor has ever progressed from a knockout tie after losing the first leg by three goals or more at home.

Additionally, Lazio have not scored four times – the figure they are chasing in Munich – in an away Champions League game since 1999 when they beat Maribor 4-0.

Bayern's record at home in the competition under Flick has been almost flawless as well, winning each of their six matches by an aggregate score of 18-3.

Each of Lazio's previous 13 games in the Champions League has seen both teams score, the longest run the history of Europe's top competition, so they will at least fancy their chances of netting.

But keeping Robert Lewandowski at bay is improbable – after all, he boasts 14 goals and five assists in 12 appearances for Flick in this tournament and has won all of those games.

Robert Lewandowski moved joint-second in the Bundesliga's all-time top scorers list as Bayern Munich claimed a 3-1 win over Werder Bremen on Saturday.

The Pole matched Klaus Fischer's tally of 268 goals as he joined Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry on the scoresheet in a comfortable win that extended the champions' lead at the summit to five points.

Lewandowski now needs another 97 goals to match Bayern legend Gerd Muller's incredible tally of 365.

Werder were given hope that they might put the champions under pressure when Ludwig Augustinsson produced the first shot on target of the match, cutting in before releasing a weak right-footed effort.

But it was all Bayern from there, with Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich signalling the visitors' intent as they each fired just over the bar in quick succession.

Bayern Munich have rarely been shy about coaxing players to cross the divide and make the move from Der Klassiker rivals Borussia Dortmund.

Their willingness to do so ensured Dortmund's last spell at the top of German football, when a vibrant young side gegenpressed their way to a Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double in 2011-12 and a Champions League final a year later, was an ephemeral one, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze each making the move to Bayern in 2013 and experiencing varying degrees of success.

And the build-up to the most famous fixture in Germany was partially defined by Bayern seemingly beginning a charm offensive to attract one of Dortmund's most prized assets, Erling Haaland, to eschew potential moves elsewhere in favour of following Lewandowski's path.

"Haaland is what a centre-forward has to be," Bayern coach Hansi Flick said in his pre-match media conference. "He has an enormous hunger for goals. The future could belong to him because he has everything he needs for it."

The Norway forward's agent, Mino Raiola, has claimed only 10 clubs in the world would be able to afford to sign Haaland, who has a release clause that does not become active until 2022.

But Bayern president Herbert Hainer told Sport1 this week: "We will go even more down our successful path of signing young players with outstanding skills. We are an economically very strong and healthy club.

"Although we're also suffering massively from the pandemic, we can always bring in players when we're convinced about them."

Bayern clearly have no doubts about their financial capability to sign Haaland, and they may be convinced to make a concerted push to do so after his first-half salvo in Saturday's Klassiker, which forced Flick's men to produce a stirring comeback.

Haaland had two games without a goal prior to Dortmund's trip to the Allianz Arena.

He ended that 'drought' in the space of a minute and 14 seconds, taking a few touches to steady himself on the edge of the Bayern box and power an effort that deflected off Jerome Boateng beyond Manuel Neuer and into the bottom-right corner.

Fewer than eight minutes later, he made it 2-0, his goalscorer's instinct again shining through with a much more simple finish as he popped up in the box to turn home Thorgan Hazard's pull-back from point-blank range at the end of a wonderful Dortmund move.

His double took his tally against Bayern for the season to four goals, but he would ultimately be denied the chance to become the first player since Cristiano Ronaldo (5) in 2016-17 to score more than four in a season versus Die Roten.

A second-half ankle injury forced Haaland off, the looming second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Sevilla likely playing a role in his withdrawal on the hour.

That blow followed a first-half fightback from Bayern, which was fuelled by a predictable source in Lewandowski, who diverted a shot-turned-cross from Leroy Sane into the net before rolling home a penalty after Mahmoud Dahoud's foul on the ever influential Kingsley Coman, taking his tally of Bundesliga goals against Dortmund to a league-record 19.

Dortmund's rearguard action in a one-sided second half looked set to frustrate Bayern and keep RB Leipzig top of the Bundesliga.

But their resilience wilted late on, Schalke product Leon Goretzka hitting home on the volley in the 88th minute and Lewandowski making it 20 against his former club by completing his hat-trick with an unerring finish from the edge of the area.

It was the kind of rapid collapse from Dortmund that illustrated why Haaland, having hastily adapted to life in the Bundesliga following his move from Salzburg last year, could be keen to make a swift departure to a team better prepared to compete at the sharp end of European football, even with the highly touted Marco Rose set to take over as coach next season.

Dortmund are four points behind Eintracht Frankfurt in the race for the top four, and have a fight on their hands if they are to secure Champions League qualification for next season.

Haaland appeared set to steal the show 10 minutes into this storied fixture, but his 20-touch contribution was ultimately overshadowed by the man who reigns supreme as the Bundesliga's most potent goalscoring threat.

With Lewandowski maintaining this kind of form, Bayern have no rush to find the successor for a player under contract until 2023.

But after Haaland produced two goals from a game where had four touches in the box, his supporting role in the latest thrilling episode of this classic rivalry could compel Bayern to open the chequebook and add to what is arguably European football's most extensive embarrassment of riches.

Robert Lewandowski outscored Erling Haaland with a Klassiker hat-trick as Bayern Munich recovered from two goals down to again beat Borussia Dortmund in a 4-2 victory.

Bayern reclaimed top spot in the Bundesliga hours after being knocked off the summit by RB Leipzig, despite an awful start to another epic encounter on Saturday.

The champions were two behind inside nine minutes following Haaland's brace, but Lewandowski had them level by half-time and Dortmund, already missing Jadon Sancho, saw their two-goal talisman hobble off with half an hour to play.

BVB still looked set to hold on and end a run of four league defeats to Bayern, only for Leon Goretzka to break their resolve before Lewandowski's treble-clincher capped another outstanding outing.

Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick made no secret of his admiration for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland ahead of Der Klassiker, backing the Norway international to dominate the future of the sport.

Haaland has enjoyed a rapid rise since establishing himself as first choice at Salzburg for the start of the 2019-20 season, his remarkable haul of 28 goals in just 20 matches for the Austrians propelling him to top of many big clubs' transfer shortlists.

But, while the likes of Manchester United were keen on Haaland, Dortmund persuaded him to make the move to Signal Iduna Park, where he has been an overwhelming success.

In 45 matches across all competitions, Haaland has 43 goals, while he outperformed his xG (expected goals) by 4.2 in the second half of 2019-20 after joining Dortmund, meaning not only is he scoring frequently but he is also finishing more difficult opportunities – by comparison, Robert Lewandowski has not boasted such a strong xG differential since 2016-17 (7.8).

In three previous games against Bayern – two in the Bundesliga and one in the DFL-Supercup – Haaland has two goals, but he is yet to end up on the winning side against them with BVB.

Nevertheless, Flick is well aware of the threat posed by the Molde youth product, with Bayern facing the prospect of potentially being replaced at the Bundesliga summit by RB Leipzig if Dortmund leave the Allianz Arena with all three points on Saturday.

"Haaland is what a centre-forward has to be," Flick said.

"He has an enormous hunger for goals. The future could belong to him because he has everything he needs for it.

"He's fast, has a strong finish and the right mentality. When you see the intensity with which he puts on a sprint over 80 metres – it's great. He's someone you always have to watch out for.

"It's very important to close the spaces for him. We have to cut off those passes to him."

 

Flick was also asked about the situation of backup goalkeeper Alexander Nubel, who arrived on a free transfer from Schalke last year having established himself as one of the world's most-promising young goalkeepers.

It was always seen as a potentially risky move for Nubel given the presence of Manuel Neuer, who has gone on to put his injury nightmares behind him and once again cement himself as Bayern's number one.

Nubel's agent recently underlined his client's frustration with the situation and suggested he would look to secure a loan move away from Bayern if things did not change, and Flick showed little sympathy in his response.

"Those are things that we talk about internally – we will have an exchange," Flick said. "But we have no business talking about that here.

"His point of view is his right. Alex knew what he was getting into when he came to Bayern Munich. My job as coach is to pick the players who are currently the best team. He played two games and now he's injured.

"The clear number one is Manuel Neuer."

When Borussia Dortmund parted with a reported €20million to sign Erling Haaland from Salzburg a little over a year ago, they'll have been acutely aware of the coup they'd just struck – but whether they expected him to be quite this good is another matter entirely.

Those explosive first few months of the 2019-20 season at Salzburg left most of Europe's biggest clubs clamouring for the Norwegian, but Bayern were seemingly not among them. At least, not in the final straight.

While you can't necessarily have too many great players, few at the time or since have decried Bayern's lack of interest in the striking sensation, and that purely comes down to the presence of Robert Lewandowski.

Eleven months on from Haaland's Dortmund debut, Lewandowski won the FIFA Best Men's Player award having scored 60 goals across the qualifying period and led Bayern to a treble.

But the fact Haaland - named the Golden Boy soon after - was seen as unfortunate not to be nominated for the major gong ultimately won by Lewandowski is testament to the former Molde youngster's frightening potential.

Saturday's Der Klassiker is unlikely to have much bearing on Dortmund's Bundesliga title hopes given they'll still be 10 points behind Bayern even if they win, but the game does provide the opportunity to see the two sharp-shooters pitted against each other, like gunslingers in an old Western movie.

Haaland, along with Kylian Mbappe, is being outlined as the world's next great number nine, but is he already ahead of even Lewandowski?

LEWY'S LONG ROAD

It's easy to forget Lewandowski's backstory and route to the top, simply because he has been one of Europe's most-feared strikers for so long.

But Lewandowski's tale is one of rejection, perseverance and mastery – to say he always looked destined to reach the level he has would be revisionist. After all, the early years of his career in Poland were impacted by the death of his father, being cast aside by Legia Warsaw, a serious injury and failed transfers.

Sporting Gijon turned him down and the 2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull resulted in the collapse of a move from Lech Poznan to Blackburn Rovers.

 

He joined Dortmund in June of that year, a couple of months before his 22nd birthday – by comparison, Haaland was still six months from turning 20 when he signed for BVB.

On top of that, Haaland's early impact on the Bundesliga has been far superior to that of Lewandowski, whose first season yielded only nine goals in 42 games across all competitions. The Norwegian managed 24 in 27 matches.

Looking at that alone, it's easy to make the assumption that Haaland is destined for even greater things than Lewandowski, but it's worth pointing out the Pole was played out of position a lot in his first campaign.

"I was annoyed having to play as a number 10 instead of playing up front as the number nine," Lewandowski told the Daily Mail in 2016. "I played the whole season as number 10. The following season I thought about why I was in that position, then I realised my game had improved. I learned a lot and, when I played up top again, I realised playing as a number 10 had made me a better player."

The data backs him up as well. Not only did his overall productivity in front of goal improve from nine goals to 30, he was proving more consistent generally in those decisive moments, his conversion rate increasing from 8.5 per cent to 19.5.

DIFFERENT BEASTS

When looking at – or comparing – any player in relation to Lewandowski, you have to consider the two different versions of him; pre-26 and post-26.

It was around this age that Lewandowski began to harness the fitness and nutrition expertise of his wife Anna, and it's quite easy to spot when that appeared to start paying dividends, as his goals haul rocketed from 25 to 42 in 2015-16.

He has not gone below 40 in any full season since then and already has 34 to his name in 2020-21 (32 appearances) – he is also just four behind Klaus Fischer (268), the second most-prolific player in Bundesliga history.

Haaland's long-term future isn't at Dortmund and, by extension, doesn't appear to be in the Bundesliga, so matching Lewandowski's record in Germany's top-flight looks unlikely.

But what's clear is he has found this 'world-class' level much earlier than Lewandowski – Haaland has more goals (55) across all competitions than any other current under-21 player in Europe's top five leagues despite playing just 57 games. Jadon Sancho is his closest rival with 46 in 130 appearances.

 

Haaland's first Bundesliga season with Dortmund saw him score 13 times, outperforming his expected goals (xG) by 4.2 – that's a greater differential than Lewandowski has recorded since 2016-17 (7.8), though the youngster's figure here has dropped to 2.5 in 2020-21.

While that is 0.7 less than Lewandowski's 3.2 xG differential, either way he's scoring a lot of goals and more than he would ordinarily be expected to over a long period of time, which speaks for his clinical nature.

Further to that, Haaland – who earlier this term became the youngest player to net four in one Bundesliga game (20 years, 123 days) – boasts a stunning conversion rate at Dortmund. Last season's 41.4 per cent (all competitions) is better than Lewandowski has ever managed, though it was of course limited to half a season.

In 2020-21 he hasn't quite found the same standard, yet his 29.7 conversion rate in all competitions is still better than any other Bundesliga player with 10 goals or more. By comparison, Lewandowski's 28.3 per cent will be a career-high for a single season if he maintains it.

BRILLIANCE IN LONGEVITY

At the very least, Haaland is already a contemporary of Lewandowski's – his effectiveness in front of goal is utterly devastating and, as demonstrated, seemingly a level above that of the Bayern talisman during his early Bundesliga days.

But the challenge for Haaland is to maintain that level and keep kicking on, as Lewandowski clearly did around the age of 26 when analysing what he could do better, taking himself from an excellent number nine to arguably the best of his generation.

Haaland is building from a higher platform than Lewandowski ever was, therefore one has to suspect he has the potential to surpass his exploits.

Maybe he could be this generation's standard-bearer. If he has half the amount of perseverance as Lewandowski, that'd be a good start.

As for whether he's already better than Lewandowski – well, part of the Bayern man's brilliance is his longevity and consistency, how he seems to be getting better with age. But for Haaland to be rivalling the world's best before he's even 21 is an achievement in itself.

Jadon Sancho can be compared to Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi with his performances for Borussia Dortmund, according to former Germany international goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

After a slow start to the campaign amid talk of a move to Manchester United falling through, Sancho's form has picked up of late and he is on course to hit double figures for goals and assists for the third Bundesliga season running.

The England international last week registered his 50th assist in the German top flight, becoming the youngest ever player to do so in what was his 99th appearance in the competition.

Sancho has now been directly involved in 12 Bundesliga goals in 2021 - six goals and six assists - which is behind only Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski (11 goals and two assists).

In Europe's top five leagues, Barcelona forward Messi (15) is the only other player to have been directly involved in more goals this calendar year than Sancho, who is level with Atalanta's Luis Muriel.

Lehmann has been impressed by the 20-year-old's form and has backed the youngster, as well as compatriot and BVB team-mate Jude Bellingham, to remain in the Bundesliga, despite ongoing talk of a possible move to the Premier League.

"He's done very well," Lehmann told the Daily Star. "Right now his stats can be compared to Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, and I think the third best in the whole of Europe. It's fantastic for English football."

Asked about the future of Sancho and Bellingham, Lehmann said: "Right now, I think they're staying. Most of the big clubs have full squads anyway.

"You'd have to be really, really outstanding if a bigger club tries to get you. But if you can imagine a club like Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City, there is already 30 or 35 players plus the players on loan.

"It's not that easy to make a decision for guys like Bellingham and Sancho at this early stage in their careers. Would they add something? We're not sure, but first of all they need to decrease their own squad size."

Sancho, who scored the winning goal for Dortmund in their DFB-Pokal win at Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday, is a major doubt for this weekend's Der Klassiker showdown with Bayern due to a leg injury.

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