Robert Lewandowski set a new Bundesliga single-season goals record in 2020/21, scoring 41 goals in the campaign to surpass Gerd Müller's 49-year-old record of 40. Can he beat his own record?
Gerd Müller set the record of 40 goals in the 1971/72 Bundesliga season and there were many who argued it would never be beaten. Dieter Müller came the closest when he scored an impressive 34 goals in 1976/77 for Cologne, while Lewandowski equalled this amount in 2019/20 for Bayern. Yet Müller’s record continued to elude the gifted Polish striker - just like it had to many strikers in the Bundesliga before him. That was until the 2020/21 campaign, where from early on it became clear that a seemingly unreachable record that had survived almost half a century could finally be toppled.
The Bundesliga and European champions opened the 2020/21 Bundesliga season with an 8-0 thrashing of Schalke with Lewandowski opening his account for the season. The following week was less impressive for him and for Bayern: no goals and a disappointing 4-1 defeat to Hoffenheim. He had to wait until the third matchday to find his rhythm for the season – scoring all four of Bayern’s goals as they beat Hertha Berlin 4-3. The next week, a brace at Arminia Bielefeld preceded an incredible hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt. After five matches, Lewandowski already had ten goals to his name, and the chase of Müller’s goal record was on.
Watch: Lewandowski's 41 goals for Bayern Munich in 2020/21
This was confirmed in the wake of a sensational nine-game scoring run from the middle of December to the end of January, which included three braces in a row against Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz. From there, the goals continued to fall at his feet: three in a stunning 4-2 victory at home in Der Klassiker and three more two weeks later against VfB Stuttgart to put him onto 35 for the season – breaking his own personal best in the Bundesliga in the process.
With eight games to go, just five more were needed to equal the record. The maths and the odds were truly in Lewandowski’s favour as he linked up with his fellow countrymen for FIFA World Cup qualifying. The Poland captain unfortunately was taken off after straining the ligaments in his right knee in his country’s 3-0 win over Andorra. He would miss four vital Bundesliga games but returned to action in Bayern’s defeat at Mainz, where he managed to get himself on the scoresheet in the 94th minute. The following matchday, Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions for a ninth consecutive year with a crushing defeat of Gladbach, including three more goals for Lewandowski.
Two more were needed to beat the record, with two games to play.
It was a penalty in the 2-2 draw against Freiburg that saw Lewandowski equal Müller’s Bundesliga record with 40 goals to his name. On the final matchday, with 89 minutes on the clock, time was running out to win outright. The predator then pounced onto a parry from fellow countryman and close friend Rafal Gikiewicz, and tucked the ball away to make history. He had achieved the unachievable – 41 goals in a season.
Following this momentous milestone, the Pole was adamant he could have netted even more, saying: "I missed three games. Who knows what I could have achieved if I didn't?" He also, however, called it "impossible" to top Müller's efforts, such is the quality of opposition and workload of the modern game, but as former coach Hansi Flick summarised: "If anyone can do it, it's him."
Müller sadly passed away in August 2021 with Lewandowski and Bayern paying tribute to him before kick-off during the DFL Supercup triumph over Borussia Dortmund.
The newly-crowned record-breaker continued his dominance into the 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign where Bayern will begin the Rückrunde nine points clear at the top. In the Hinrunde, playing under new Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann, Lewandowski scored 19 goals – three shy of his subtotal from this stage of last season. However, his xG has been higher so far this term, meaning he is not scoring as many goals in addition to those he would be expected to tuck away - something that - knowing Lewandowski - he can be expected to improve on in the second half of the season, with Bayern creating more gilt-edged opportunities this term than ever before.
Of the 17 games he has played, he has scored in 13 of them. This was also the case last season at this moment, but he had played one fewer game. He has also equalled the same number of braces (four) and hat-tricks (one) at this point last season. His superbly volleyed equaliser on the opening day of the campaign against Gladbach made him the first player to score in seven consecutive Bundesliga opening games. More records continued to tumble including on Matchday 17 against Wolfsburg, where he set the record for most Bundesliga goals in a calendar year.
Off the pitch, Lewandowski finished second in the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, behind Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain, while also receiving the Striker of the Year award at the ceremony. He has also picked up both the UEFA and FIFA Player of the Year awards.
After almost half a century of it being Müller's single-season record, Lewandowski now has the chance to beat his own record. And with his 296th Bundesliga goal in the bank, somehow the league record of 365 set by Müller seems less distant than it was.
And if anyone can do it, it's surely LewanGOALski...