Lionel Messi has edged out Robert Lewandowski to the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, a seventh of his magnificent career.

World football's most prestigious individual accolade was back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony taking place in Paris on Monday, where Messi was announced as the winner with Lewandowski second.

The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was pipped by Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year in the running for the 2021 iteration.

Lewandowski did get the consolation prize of the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Was it the right choice, though? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses why the Argentinian may have been awarded this year's prize.

Last season: Barca swansong v Muller's record

Few anticipated that the first half of 2021 would also be the final half-season of Messi's time at Barcelona.

His sensational free transfer to PSG at the end of the campaign was forced by financial issues at the Catalan club, and he bid a tearful goodbye to the Camp Nou, but not before signing off with a few more goals.

Messi's last LaLiga campaign before heading off to France saw him bag 30 goals in 35 games, with a further five in six Champions League games.

However, team awards were scarce, with just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Barca finished a meek third in LaLiga, and were eliminated – somewhat ironically – by PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Something that may have counted against Lewandowski was his own lack of silverware compared to the previous year, where he and Bayern hoovered up a remarkable treble, including the Champions League. They did though still retain the Bundesliga title with relative ease, as well as clinching the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

They were eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, also by a pre-Messi PSG, though this can hardly be blamed on the Polish striker, who missed both legs of the tie through injury.

Lewandowski himself remained in outstanding form, and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 for Die Roten in just 29 league games, with a deadly shot conversion percentage across the season of 29.93.

It may have been Messi's superior creativity that helped sway the judges, creating 77 chances in his 35 league games, 22 of which were big chances, compared to 32 and nine from Lewandowski in his 29 league appearances in Germany.

The former Barca man did only manage two more assists than Lewandowski (nine to seven) but completed 159 dribbles and 1,068 successful passes ending in the final third, compared to the Pole's 22 and 237. Of course, it should be noted that Messi's role is typically a deeper one than Lewandowski's, so those latter statistics are not too surprising.

This season: New adventures v same old story

Messi's start to a new life in a new league has not exactly matched the inevitable expectations that accompanied his arrival in Paris.

The 34-year-old has just one goal in seven appearances in Ligue 1 with a shot conversion percentage of just 4.17, though he does have three in four Champions League games for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Lewandowski has continued to plunder goals against all-comers, with 25 goals in 20 games in all competitions for Bayern, including an incredible nine in five Champions League games, and his shot conversion rate is currently even better than last season at 30.86 per cent.

In all competitions, the former Borussia Dortmund striker has played almost twice as many games as Messi (20 to 11) so it is tricky to compare them too accurately in terms of output, but Lewandowski has created 26 chances to Messi's 18, with six big chances created to five, while Messi has the edge on assists (three to two), dribbles completed (22 to 20) and successful passes ending in the final third (222 to 146).

So far you would have to say it is the Pole who is impressing most in the current campaign, having also had a more productive season last time out, so where exactly did Messi win this award?

 

Internationals: Argentina v Poland

Despite being an individual award, there is no doubt that team accolades often play a big part in swaying the judges, and an eventful pre-season for Messi at club level was arguably the only thing that could possibly have overshadowed what happened at international level as he finally lifted his first trophy in an Argentina shirt.

Messi scored four goals and gave five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, being involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament.

Their star striker still managed to score three goals in three games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

 

Very little creates debate in football quite like the Ballon d'Or, and on the face of it this year's trophy could have gone either way, with honourable mentions for the likes of Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema.

It is Messi's Ballon d'Or in 2021 though, and it seems that Copa America success is what tipped it in his favour. PSG fans will be hoping that a domestic trophy haul over the next 12 months can see him installed as favourite to secure his eighth award next year, ahead of potentially his last attempt at World Cup success with Argentina.

Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Robert Lewandowski can consider himself hard done by. The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, world football's most prestigious individual accolade is back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony set to take place on Monday.

Lewandowski, who scooped The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 and has had another sensational year for Bayern, is among the favourites on a 30-man shortlist.

Will it finally be his time, or will old voting habits die hard to put Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in pole position? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses the credentials of the Ballon d'Or favourites.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Has anybody outperformed Bayern star Lewandowski in 2021?  While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of the 2019-20 campaign, he has been in astounding form and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign.

With 25 to his name already across all competitions this term, Lewandowski leads the way for goals from players in Europe's top five leagues, nine clear of anyone else. When taking the whole year so far into account, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 41 games, putting him 16 clear of nearest challengers Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Unsurprisingly, his scoring rate – a goal every 65 minutes – is comfortably the best of any player to net 10 or more in 2021.

 

Lionel Messi (PSG, Argentina)

It has been a momentous year for Messi. He finally achieved success on the international stage, leading Argentina to a Copa America triumph. Following that, he was expected to sign a fresh deal at Barcelona, but we all know how that turned out. Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old marked his final season in Spain with one last trophy, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. 

Across 39 appearances in 2021 for Barca and PSG combined, Messi has 32 goals, nine assists and 81   chances created. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina that really puts him in the running for a seventh Ballon d'Or.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)

Like Messi, Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – made a big move of his own in 2021, returning to Manchester United after three seasons at Juventus. The 36-year-old has already scored 10 goals in his second spell at Old Trafford. While the team's struggles are well known – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after last week's dismal defeat at Watford – Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal on Tuesday took him to 799 career goals for club and country, a remarkable feat.

While it has not been the finest year at club level for Ronaldo, with Juve missing out on the Serie A title, albeit winning the Coppa Italia, he did become the record goalscorer in men's international football, scoring his 110th and 111th goals in a double against the Republic of Ireland in September to overtake Ali Daei (109); the forward now has 115. His agent, Jorge Mendes, told France Football: "All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time."

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)

Since Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in 2018, Benzema has stepped up to become Los Blancos' talisman. Although a LaLiga title evaded Madrid last season, it has been another fantastic year for Benzema. He earned a recall to the France squad for Euro 2020 and, despite the team's disappointing campaign, his stellar performances caught the eye, before he excelled again in World Cup qualifying and the Nations League Finals.

Indeed, Benzema's goal against Finland last week made him the first France player to score in four successive matches since he did so himself in five games between November 2013 and June 2014. There is no doubting he is a serious contender for this year's award.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)

Liverpool star Salah cannot be ignored. Jurgen Klopp has labelled the Egypt forward as the world's best player and, based on the season so far, it would be hard to argue too much with that suggestion, with Lewandowski the only player across Europe's top five leagues to be directly involved in more goals (27) than Salah (24) to this point.

Only four players have topped Salah's goals tally of 32   in 2021, although Liverpool's failure to retain their Premier League crown last season probably counts against the 29-year-old when it comes to this prize.

 

Kylian Mbappe (PSG, France)

While players in their thirties dominate the bookmakers' list of favourites, could this be the year that Mbappe steals the crown? The 22-year-old could well have left PSG in August, but the Ligue 1 giants held firm despite three bids from Madrid, who seem likely to get their man on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

In the meantime, Mbappe is forming a formidable front three with Messi and Neymar, whose own Ballon d'Or hopes seem extremely slim. Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France slipped out of Euro 2020, but his 37 goals from 47 appearances for PSG across all competitions in 2021 tell their own story, while his shot conversion rate of 24.3 per cent betters that of Salah, Benzema, Messi and Ronaldo.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

An outsider for the award, perhaps, but nevertheless a player who has been widely tipped, Chelsea midfielder Jorginho played a pivotal role the Blues' Champions League triumph and then Italy's Euro 2020 success, although he did miss a penalty in the final shoot-out against England. In fact, he has now missed his past three spot-kicks for Italy, after having scored each of his first six taken for the Azzurri.

Jorginho has already scooped the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, and it is not too long ago that another deep-lying playmaker in Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or, even if the competition this time around seems a little too stacked.

 

N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Might Jorginho's Chelsea midfield partner have a shout? Kante is still dominating midfields with his boundless energy five years on from his title triumph with Leicester City. He was already an elite performer before Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he seems to have gone up another level since the German coach came in.

Across all competitions in 2021, Kante boasts a tackle success rate of 63.2 per cent and has made 193 recoveries. Freed by a box-to-box role in Tuchel's system, Kante has won 151 of 277 duels and registered an impressive 42 interceptions.

Robert Lewandowski extended his latest Champions League scoring streak in stunning style as Bayern Munich clinched top spot in Group E with a 2-1 win at Dynamo Kiev.

Lewandowski netted for the ninth game running in Europe's elite club competition – becoming the only player to achieve such a streak twice – with a sensational overhead kick in the Olympic Stadium snow.

Bayern, needing only a point to secure first place, were far from comfortable, but Kingsley Coman doubled their lead before half-time to ensure Denys Harmash's belated response counted for little.

Difficult conditions under foot hindered the quality of the contest with one obvious exception. Lewandowski had plenty to do after the ball looped up off Illia Zabarnyi in the area, but his acrobatic finish was emphatic.

That goal was almost cancelled out in farcical fashion, however, as Leon Goretzka prodded towards Manuel Neuer and was grateful to see the post come to his rescue when the goalkeeper failed to make any contact at all with an attempted clearance.

Instead, shortly after Lucas Hernandez survived a tangle with Vitaliy Buyalskiy inside his own area, Thomas Muller dummied Corentin Tolisso's pass and Coman fired in Bayern's second.

Again Dynamo might have responded as Neuer scrambled to save Mykola Shaparenko's deflected effort early in the second half, but the same man could not turn in the rebound.

The home side finally found a way to goal for the first time in this campaign as substitute Harmash nutmegged Neuer, although they lacked the class to then add an equaliser that was perhaps merited, even if Viktor Tsygankov's speculative late strike clipped the post.

What does it mean? Bayern back at it

This win was not of the standard of Bayern's previous Champions League triumphs this season, their narrowest victory of the group stage so far seeing them pass up the opportunity to become the first team to net four in four consecutive matches in the competition since the European Cup was formed.

But with only a draw required, Julian Nagelsmann would have been delighted to avoid a repeat of Friday's slip-up at the hands of Augsburg in the Bundesliga.

Lewandowski adds to his legend

The last time Lewandowski scored in nine straight Champions League matches, his goals took Bayern to the 2019-20 final. That first sequence made him only the third player to net in at least nine in a row even once (also Ruud van Nistelrooy, nine, and Cristiano Ronaldo, 11).

Lewandowski now has a competition-leading nine goals this season, a tally only he has ever topped through matchday five (10, again in 2019-20).

Neuer still not quite convincing

This was Neuer's 124th Champions League appearance, moving level with Gianluigi Buffon behind only Iker Casillas (177) among goalkeepers. But that experience was never really on show, instead continuing his shaky Bundesliga form.

Only one of Neuer's four saves was truly convincing, while he was extremely fortunate to escape after his wild swipe at Goretzka's lunging pass, and Harmash eventually forced the ball beneath him.

What's next?

With European business taken care of, Bayern can return their focus to the Bundesliga, where they will hope to get back on track against Arminia Bielefeld. That fixture is on Saturday, when Dynamo are also in action at Mynai.

Bayern Munich suffered a shock 2-1 defeat away to Augsburg in the Bundesliga on Friday, giving Borussia Dortmund the chance to close the gap at the top.

Heading into the weekend, Bayern were the team with the highest expected goals tally in the league this season (34.1), while Augsburg had the lowest (10.4), but the champions' finishing left a lot to be desired as they aimed just four shots on target.

Bayern had it all to do after falling 2-0 down to goals from Mads Pedersen and Andre Hahn, although Robert Lewandowski at least ensured they did not go into the break chasing a two-goal deficit.

The visitors enjoyed 80.7 per cent of the possession after half-time, but they struggled to convert that into meaningful opportunities that worked Rafal Gikiewicz in the Augsburg goal, with Julian Nagelsmann's side slipping to their second league defeat of the season.

Despite Bayern's domination, Augsburg went in front in the 23rd minute as Lucas Hernandez only partially intercepted Iago's cross and Pedersen reacted quickest to blast into the bottom-right corner.

Another Iago cross caused havoc soon after, with Hahn rising above Hernandez to nod in despite Manuel Neuer getting a hand to it.

Bayern's response was better this time, however, quickly pulling one back through Lewandowski's well-taken volley after Thomas Muller – making his 600th club appearance – flicked on Benjamin Pavard's cross.

But Lewandowski was not so ruthless just after the break, snatching at a close-range chance that he sliced inexplicably over the crossbar.

Lewandowski wasted another glorious opportunity inside the final 10 minutes, shooting straight at Gikiewicz from around eight yards in what proved to be Bayern's final opportunity. 

 

The Best FIFA Football Awards 2021 will be held as a virtual event from Zurich on January 17 next year.

FIFA's alternative to the Ballon d'Or has been held consecutively every year since 2017, with Cristiano Ronaldo scooping the first award as Best Men's Player.

Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski took that accolade for the 2020 awards and will be hoping his record-breaking efforts in the Bundesliga last season will be enough to defend that title.

Competition is likely to come from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, who came third in 2018 and has enjoyed a remarkable start to 2021-22, while France duo Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema seem set to be in the running too. Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, of course, cannot be discounted.

The Best Men's Goalkeeper and Best Men's Coach are also up for grabs, as are the equivalent of all three awards for the women's game. 

The FIFPRO Men's and Women's XIs will also be named.

With coronavirus cases around Europe still rising, FIFA has chosen to host the event virtually, rather than have attendees present.

A FIFA statement read: "The Best incorporates the views of the four pillars of the footballing world.

"The recipients of the trophies for the top players and coaches in both women's and men's football will be determined through a combined voting process involving the captains and head coaches of all national teams around the world, an online ballot of fans and submissions from a select group of more than 300 media representatives."

Voting will commence on November 22 and close on December 10.

Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann backed Robert Lewandowski to continue to be the world's best forward as he highlighted the milestone man's longevity following his Champions League hat-trick.

Lewandowski marked his 100th Champions League appearance with a hat-trick as Bayern eased past Benfica 5-2 to seal their last-16 progress in Group E action on Tuesday.

The Ballon d'Or contender became the sixth player to score on his 100th appearance in the Champions League, after Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo and Toni Kroos, while the Poland captain is the first player to score more than once in the milestone game.

Lewandowski also celebrated his fourth Champions League hat-trick – the third-most in Europe's premier club tournament after Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (eight each). At 33 years and 73 days, he is the fourth-oldest hat-trick scorer after Olivier Giroud (34 years 63 days), Ronaldo and Claudio Pizarro (34 years 35 days).

Nagelsmann showered Lewandowski in praise post-match, telling reporters: "Ninety-eight times involved, 81 goals in 100 Champions League games. Something new?

"Today most of the people talk about his three goals. Or many people write about his three goals. But you have to see his joy to play in the last 30 minutes. He played every offensive position, wanted to have every ball. He started good attacks."

When asked to compare Lewandowski to superstar pair Ronaldo and Messi, Nagelsmann added: "I think it's very difficult to compare because they are different types of players. I don't know the character of the other two, I also only know them out of the TV, as do you, I guess. I think all three were very impressive players in the last years.

"[Lewandowski] I also know as a person. He is a very nice guy which whom it's very nice to work with. I heard that also about the other two guys when I talked about them with their former coaches. I believe that Lewy can achieve a lot, also at a high age, because of his physique and his lifestyle and the way he lives as a footballer.

"He will continue to be the best forward in the world because he does everything to keep it that way."

Robert Lewandowski "can catch" Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi following his latest Champions League hat-trick, according to former Bayern Munich forward Mario Gomez.

Lewandowski dazzled in his 100th Champions League appearance, capping the European milestone with three goals in Tuesday's 5-2 rout of visitors Benfica as Bayern sealed their last-16 berth.

The Ballon d'Or contender became the sixth player to score on his 100th appearance in the Champions League, after Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo and Toni Kroos, while the Poland captain is the first player to score more than once in the milestone game.

Bayern talisman Lewandowski also celebrated his fourth Champions League hat-trick – the third-most in the competition after Manchester United's Ronaldo and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi (eight each). At 33 years and 73 days, he is the fourth-oldest hat-trick scorer after Olivier Giroud (34 years 63 days), Ronaldo and Claudio Pizarro (34 years 35 days).

As Lewandowski continues to flourish in Munich, shattering records, Gomez hailed the red-hot striker as Ronaldo and Messi – who have 11 Ballon d'Or honours between them – continue to dominate.

"He is playing a different sport; he's in a different league," Gomez told Amazon Prime Video post-match. "He still has a few years left, he can catch them up [Messi and Ronaldo]."

Lewandowski opened the scoring in the 26th minute at Allianz Arena, where Serge Gnabry doubled Bayern's lead six minutes later.

After Morato reduced the deficit, Lewandowski then failed to convert a penalty in first-half stoppage time, though Leroy Sane did make it 3-1 early in the second half.

After his unsuccessful spot-kick, Lewandowski scored a delightful second goal just past the hour mark as he dinked the ball over Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos.

Lewandowski completed his hat-trick six minutes from the end after Benfica substitute Darwin Nunez had bagged the team's second 10 minutes earlier.

"In the first 20 minutes, I barely touched the ball," Lewandowski told Amazon Prime Video. "It's not easy as a striker to stay patient.

"After the first goal, things were a bit easier. My favourite goal today was the second. I'm annoyed by the two goals we conceded.

"That motivates us. It's especially important for [Manuel] Neuer."

Lewandowski added: "I didn't connect well with the penalty, that was a mistake from me. I saw exactly where the goalkeeper was jumping and still shot towards the wrong corner.

"Fortunately, we still scored a few more goals and picked up three more points. Another clear victory."

Robert Lewandowski scored a double as Bayern Munich defeated Union Berlin 5-2 to keep the reigning champions top of the Bundesliga.

Julian Nagelsmann's side were thrashed 5-0 by Borussia Monchengladbach in Wednesday's DFB Pokal clash but Lewandowski's first-half brace settled any early nerves on Saturday.

Leroy Sane put Bayern three ahead away from home, although Niko Giesselmann hit back for Union – as did Julian Ryerson after Kingsley Coman had made it four.

Thomas Muller sealed the victory with just over 10 minutes remaining, netting Bayern's 38th goal after just 10 matches of the league season in a new Bundesliga record.

The scoring started from the penalty spot after Paul Jaeckel was adjudged to have handled the ball and Lewandowksi slotted into the bottom-left corner.

The Poland forward soon added a second as he rifled into the top-right corner following a short free-kick routine.

Sane was denied from close range by Andreas Luthe shortly after, but the Bayern winger made amends, tapping in Muller's cross, before Giesselmann pulled one back for Union, who also saw Taiwo Awoniyi's strike ruled out for offside.

Manuel Neuer was twice required to parry away from Sheraldo Becker after the interval, and those saves provided a platform for Coman to extend the visitors' lead again as he blasted into the top-right corner.

Ryerson turned in from Kevin Behren's cutback after 65 minutes, but Union's 21-match unbeaten run at home in the Bundesliga would not be prolonged as Muller finished high into the net.

Robert Lewandowski scored a stunning goal and Serge Gnabry also got on the scoresheet against his former club as Bayern Munich beat Hoffenheim 4-0 on Sunday.

Julian Nagelsmann's side were threatening from the off and Gnabry lashed in from an acute angle after making a good run into space in the box, but free-scoring striker Lewandowski stole the show, bending a powerful effort high into the net from long range to leave Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann with no chance.

Substitutes Eric Choupo-Moting and Kingsley Coman made the scoreline comfortable late on as the visitors succumbed to Bayern's relentless pressure.

The result keeps Bayern top of the Bundesliga, one point ahead of title rivals Borussia Dortmund with nine games played.

Lewandowski and Gnabry both came close to opening the scoring inside the first eight minutes, with the former dinking just wide from seven yards and the latter finding the net but seeing it disallowed following a VAR check due to a foul from Jamal Musiala in the build-up.

Not to be denied, Gnabry rifled a low shot into the bottom-left corner from a tight angle on the right in the 16th minute after being found by Musiala and Lewandowski unleashed a ferocious strike into the top-right corner from outside the box on the half-hour mark after good work from Thomas Muller. 

Bayern had several more good chances at 2-0 up, but did not find the net again until Andrej Kramaric's poor clearance ricocheted off the back of Dayot Upamecano and into the path of substitute Choupo-Moting, who slotted home in the 82nd minute.

Fellow Bayern substitute Coman added further gloss to the scoreline five minutes later, racing onto a long ball in behind and lashing emphatically past Baumann to make it 4-0.

Dino Toppmoller hailed the way Bayern Munich's players overcame the absence of Julian Nagelsmann to clinch a 4-0 win over Benfica.

Bayern head coach Nagelsmann pulled out of the Champions League Group E game three hours beforehand with flu-like symptoms and handed the reins to assistant Toppmoller.

Two goals from Leroy Sane, one from Robert Lewandowski and an own goal from Benfica's Everton wrapped up a comfortable victory in Lisbon on Wednesday for the six-time winners.

It ensured Bayern have earned nine points from their first three games and are sitting pretty at the top of Group E, five points clear of second-placed Benfica with Barcelona further point behind.

Bayern have scored 12 goals and conceded none to give them their best start to a Champions League season and the joint-best overall in the competition.

"The boys were sensational, especially in the second half," Toppmoller told DAZN.

"Huge compliments to the team. It's not easy for the boys when the head coach pulls out at the last moment."

Benfica have never beaten Bayern in any of their 11 European meetings (drawn three, lost eight). 

But despite the scoreline, Bayern did not have it all their own way and were indebted to two fine saves from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer when it was 0-0.

The Germany international managed a clean sheet on his 100th appearance in the Champions League as he became only the fourth player to reach a century of appearances for the club in the competition, and only the second goalkeeper after Oliver Kahn (103).

"It's gigantic, I never would have believed it," Neuer said of the milestone.

"If someone had said that to me at the start of my career, I never would have thought it was possible. It's a great time and we had a great crowd today.

"I think the second half was incredible. We gave very little away and had the control, but we couldn't really break through. When the first goal went in, things became easier for us. It was a great evening for us."

Bayern Munich’s nine unbeaten matches against Benfica in the European Cup/Champions League (won six, drawn three) is the most by a team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955.

Sane opened the scoring with a 70th-minute free-kick then rounded it off six minutes from time and acknowledged Bayern could have won by an even greater margin.

"I think we played a really, really good game," Sane said.

"Even in the first half. In attack, we could have finished off our chances a little better. But I am really happy with the performance. We had just had to play our game and be patient; in the end it worked out."

Bayern Munich tightened their grip on Champions League Group E with a 4-0 win over Benfica thanks to two goals from Leroy Sane 

Julian Nagelsmann's side dominated the game at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday but had to wait until the 70th minute to open the scoring when Sane curled in a free-kick. 

Benfica's Everton increased their lead with an own goal before Robert Lewandowski tapped in and Sane put the gloss on the win with a side-footed finish from inside the box. 

Bayern are top of Group E on nine points and have a five-point cushion on second-placed Benfica, while Barcelona are a further point behind in third. 

Bayern began with a swagger and almost took an early lead when Thomas Muller's ball over the top picked out Sane but he shot wide. 

Odisseas Vlachodimos kept out a close-range Lewandowski header moments later as Benfica's defence were put on the back foot by an intense spell of Bayern pressure. 

Benfica's best chance of the first half came when Darwin Nunez brought a fine diving save out of Manuel Neuer, making his 100th appearance in the competition, with a curling effort. 

Lewandowski had the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when he got on the end of Kingsley Coman's cross, only for VAR to deny Bayern with the Polish striker deemed to have bundled it in with his arm. 

A crisp half-volley from Benjamin Pavard was deflected onto the post by Vlachodimos just after the interval, while Muller's tap in was chalked off by VAR for offside. 

Neuer's reflexes were tested again by a curling Diogo Goncalves effort that the Germany goalkeeper somehow kept out of the top corner. 

Lewandowski headed over and Roman Yaremchuk shot wide in an end-to-end contest before Bayern finally seized the lead from a free-kick. 

Sane was able to get his left-footed effort up and over the wall, although Vlachodimos was slow to react and almost appeared to dive over the ball. 

Bayern had a second goal when Everton turned a Serge Gnabry cross into his own net before Lewandowski finished from a matter of inches out after good play from Sane. 

Sane notched his second of the game with six minutes left, stroking the ball beyond Vlachodimos after a fine passing move from the Bundesliga leaders. 

Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano said Robert Lewandowski and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema are both worthy of this year's Ballon d'Or.

Lewandowski and Benzema are among the nominees for football's most prestigious individual award – the 30-man shortlist will be whittled down to just three players.

Upamecano is team-mates with Lewandowski at Bundesliga champions Bayern, while he also plays alongside Benzema for World Cup and Nations League holders France.

Asked about Lewandowski and Benzema ahead of Bayern's Champions League fixture with Benfica on Wednesday, Upamecano replied: "Very good question!

"Lewandowski or Benzema, both of them deserve it [Ballon d'Or]. They are the two best strikers in the world. They prove it year after year.

"If Lewandowski wins, I would be very happy for him because he is my team-mate at Bayern. If Benzema wins, I also would be very happy for him."

Prior to Madrid's 5-0 rout of Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, Benzema had been involved in more shot-ending sequences of play (76) than any other player in the Champions League.

In this same period, Lionel Messi (12) was the only player who had recorded more multi-shot involvements than Benzema (10), which captures all instances of sequences where a player is both involved in the build-up and takes the shot.

Meanwhile, Lewandowski has scored five goals in six Champions League appearances against Portuguese opponents, including three against Benfica – no player has ever scored more times against sides from Portugal in the competition.

Bayern are on a record unbeaten run of 19 matches away from home in Champions League (W15 D4), netting 54 goals during this streak since losing 3-0 at Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017. Over a third of their goals in this unbeaten run have been scored by their Lewandowski (19 – 35 per cent).

German giants Bayern's eight unbeaten matches against Benfica in the European Cup/Champions League (W5 D3) is the joint-most by a team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955 – Bayern versus Spartak Moscow (W5 D3) and Barcelona versus Lyon (W5 D3) have also faced eight times without ever losing.

Since the start of last season, Bayern have averaged more goals (3.2) and have a higher expected goals tally (2.6) per game than any other team in the Champions League. Among teams involved in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 tournaments, they also have the highest shot conversion rate in this period (18.3 per cent).

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne believes Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is the best player in the world.

Of the players to have scored eight or more goals across all competitions in Europe's top five leagues this season, Lewandowski ranks top for goals (15), minutes per goal (59.87), shots on target (27), expected goals (13.39) and expected goals on target (13.45).

The Poland captain's fine form is a continuation of his remarkable achievements in recent years, including a treble with Bayern in 2019-20 and breaking Gerd Muller's record for Bundesliga goals in a season last term.

With the Ballon d'Or set to be awarded next month after being cancelled last year, De Bruyne feels Lewandowski's performances over the last two years are deserving of the award. 

"I would have to look at a two year period and I would choose Robert Lewandowski," De Bruyne said. "For what he has done goalscoring-wise and what he has won with Bayern Munich."

De Bruyne also addressed the comments of his City team-mate Raheem Sterling, who voiced his openness to a move abroad due to concerns about his playing time.

"Sometimes it is tough to play one game and then miss then next, but obviously it is the manager who has to make those choices," De Bruyne continued.

"We have a group of 22 or 23 internationals who are unbelievable so when the team plays good, there's not a lot you can say as a player. It can be frustrating, but we are all supportive of each other."

The Belgium midfielder also insisted that, while the team are keen to compete for a Champions League title, they are satisfied with their numerous domestic achievements in recent seasons.

"We always try to maintain a high level at his club and compete for titles," De Bruyne added. "That is what we did last year. Winning two semis and a [Carabao Cup] final. Sometimes you can lose these games [the 1-0 defeat in the Champions League final against Chelsea] and you have to move on.

"We've not won [the Champions League] but we are trying. Hopefully in my period here we can get one. It doesn't define your legacy, maybe for people outside. I'm happy with what we've done as a club for the last six years."

Julian Nagelsmann was pleased with Bayern Munich's display in their 5-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen but felt his side should have added even more goals to their tally.

The reigning champions responded to their first defeat of Nagelsmann's tenure two weeks ago against Eintracht Frankfurt with a superb attacking display at BayArena on Sunday.

Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry each scored a first-half double and Thomas Muller was also on target in between those braces, all in the space of 37 minutes.

It marked the first time Bayern have scored five goals away from home in the first half of a Bundesliga match as they reclaimed top spot from Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern also hit the post through Leroy Sane, whose eight shots was the most of any player in a game this campaign in the German top flight.

And with Patrik Schick getting a consolation for Leverkusen in the second half, Nagelsmann does not believe the scoreline was a true reflection come full-time.

"We had an incredible number of closing situations and an outstanding structure," he told DAZN. 

"It sounds strange at 5-0, but we also had a chance of scoring sixth, seventh and eighth goals in the first half. We could have scored more.

"The second half was more calm and that's completely normal from both teams' point of view. 

"A lot of things we didn't do well against Frankfurt worked out today. In the end we are very happy to win the game."

 

Only twice before in Bundesliga history has an away side scored five goals in a quicker time from kick-off – Dortmund against Schalke (23 minutes) and Karlsruhe versus Frankfurt (30 minutes), both in 1964.

There have been 10 occasions when teams have scored five or more goals in the first half of a Bundesliga game this century, with Bayern responsible for six of those 45-minute thrashings, including when they put five past Dortmund before the break in March 2018 on the way to a 6-0 win.

Leverkusen are no strangers to one-sided first halves, meanwhile, as they are the only team to have scored six goals in the opening 45 minutes of a match in the division since the turn of the millennium, doing so in their 6-1 win over Frankfurt in 2018-19.

"It was a terrible beginning," Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky added. "We have to ask ourselves whether we gave it our all. There was something missing from everyone today."

Lewandowski's two goals came from three shots as the Poland international brought an end to his mini drought.

His run of scoring in 15 successive league games was ended prior to the international break when failing to net against Greuther Furth and then Frankfurt, before also going scoreless in Poland's double-header of October fixtures.

The 33-year-old has now scored two or more goals in 73 different Bundesliga games – a tally bettered only by late Bayern great Gerd Muller (87) – and was happy to joke about his short-lived scoreless run after getting back on the scoresheet.

"Four games without a goal... which four games? Do you mean training? I scored in the Champions League game before the Frankfurt match," Lewandowski pointed out.

"Personally, I'm happy when people ask when I'll score my next goal. That shows what expectations they have of me.

"Sometimes there are phases when the ball doesn't fall to you, you have to be patient. Today it worked out twice.

"We scored five goals in 45 minutes. At the break it was clear we would take all three points with us to Munich. We can be satisfied with the performance."

The 29 goals scored by Bayern in their opening eight Bundesliga matches equals their previous highest tally at this stage in a campaign from the 1976-77 season.

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