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?
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 that amount in 2019/20 for Bayern. Yet Müller’s record continued to elude the gifted Polish striker - just as it had to many strikers in the Bundesliga before him. That was until the 2020/21 campaign, where it became clear early on 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 campaign 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 required 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. 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 [five] 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."
"I don't think anyone will break the record, perhaps with the exception of Lewandowski," former Bayern coach and player Jürgen Klinsmann told bundesliga.com at a media round-table in January. "He has the chance to beat his own best mark of 41 goals. He's one of those guys that could keep playing until they're 40."
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 began 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 the same stage last season. Twelve more efforts in 2022 - including a second Bundesliga hat-trick of the season that took him to 300 goals in Germany's top-flight in Matchday 19's 4-0 win over Cologne - have now taken Lewandowski lto 31 for the season.
Knowing Lewandowski, he can be expected to continue to improve his output in, with Bayern creating more gilt-edged opportunities this term than ever before. Of the 27 games he has played, he has scored in 20 of them and the 33-year-old hasn't missed a matchday this term. Having sat out Matchdays 6, 27, 28, 29 and 30 in 2020/21, Lewandowski essentially has a five-game leg-up this time around as he hunts down his own record and his brace against Union Berlin on Matchday 27 proves the Bayern goal-getter is already making up ground.
That double means Lewandowski has already surpassed last year's number of braces (four in 2020/21, seven in 2021/22) and hat-tricks (one in 2020/21, two in 2021/22) at the same point last season. Off the pitch, meanwhile, Lewandowski finished second in the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, behind Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain, and then beat his Argentine rival to the FIFA Best Men's Player of the Year award for a second year running.
After almost half a century of it being Müller's single-season record, Lewandowski now has the chance to beat his own inside just 12 months of it standing. And with his 300th Bundesliga goal in the bank, somehow the league record of 365 set by Müller seems less distant than it was.
If anyone can do it, it's surely LewanGOALski...
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