Robert Lewandowski was the world’s best player in 2020, but could he also be the fittest? The Bayern Munich striker always comes up trumps for his team and has to be watched by opposition defenders until the very end, as he has shown he has a very useful habit of scoring late – and crucial – goals.
bundesliga.com looks at how Lewandowski does it…
First of all, let’s see when The Best FIFA Men’s Player scores his goals. Of his 255 Bundesliga goals (in only 334 appearances), 146 of them (57 per cent) have come in the second half of games. In fact, he tends to get better as games progress, as seen when dividing matches up into 15-minute blocks: 31 goals between minutes 1-15; 35 in 16-30; 38 in 31-45; 49 in 46-60; 41 in 61-75; and 47 in 76-90. Including added time, he has five in first-half stoppage time and nine in the second.
If you remove the ludicrous, never-to-be-repeated five goals he scored in the space of nine minutes at the start of the second half against Wolfsburg in 2015, his most prolific period in matches is actually the final quarter of an hour.
You can make the argument that Bayern are perhaps often several goals to the good and defenders are weary by that stage, but a) a football match last 90 minutes and you need to play until the end – as the best teams do – and b) it would be foolish to imply that Lewandowski only scores when the going is good. For example, over a quarter of his total are counted as winning goals.
Watch: Lewandowski – Inside the mind of the perfect striker
Of course, fitness plays a key part in it all, with ‘The Body’ working meticulously over the years to refine his chiselled physique and make him one of the finest athletes on the planet. One case in point is that he has only missed 17 games through injury over 11 seasons for Bayern or Borussia Dortmund. He has also played the full 90 minutes in 240 of his 308 appearances for the record champions.
And even with that workload, he doesn’t really get tired, instead becoming even more of a threat as legs around him get heavy. However, it isn’t exactly a recent phenomenon that’s come as he has developed into the world’s best.
Even during his time at BVB, Lewandowski was popping up with late and also important goals. His first four Bundesliga goals for the club all came in the 75th minute or later, while his next three were all netted in the final two minutes of the first half – proving that even back then he remained sharp until the very end as minds likely started drifting into half-time.
Undoubtedly his greatest late goal in Black and Yellow, however, came on Matchday 30 of the 2011/12 season and against none other than Bayern. Three points separated Jürgen Klopp’s champions and Jupp Heynckes’ challengers before their meeting at the Signal Iduna Park. Win and Dortmund would essentially claim a second straight Meisterschale. And that’s what they did in a thrilling game, thanks to Lewandowski’s quick reactions, having ghosted between Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber in the box.
Watch: Lewandowski’s flick and Arjen Robben’s missed penalty that won Dortmund the title
He continued his habit of striking late in his final two seasons with Dortmund, scoring 13 of his 44 Bundesliga goals in 2012/13 and 2013/14 from the 76th minute onwards.
Those numbers dipped somewhat in his first two campaigns in Munich under Pep Guardiola but soon rebounded as his star began to rise even more astronomically. The 2016/17 season also saw the emergence of RB Leipzig and the unexpected threat they would pose to Bayern’s dominance. The gap between the two was only three points at the halfway stage, but it could’ve been even tighter if not for Lewandowski.
The first game of the new year saw Bayern travel to a freezing Freiburg knowing their hard work of having overtaken Leipzig in December could quickly be undone. And, indeed, it nearly was as Carlo Ancelotti’s side went a goal down inside four minutes. Lewy levelled proceedings in the first half but a high-intensity game seemed destined for a draw until injury time. Then, Lewandowski was picked out by a Franck Ribery cross in the 91st minute, which he chested, controlled and prodded home in one seamless movement for an outstanding winner.
Watch: Lewandowski’s sublime late finish saw Bayern past Freiburg in 2017
Only four games later and he was at it again in stoppage time. Vedad Ibisevic had put Hertha Berlin up in the first half and on course for a famous win. Bayern still had Leipzig breathing down their neck and knew they couldn’t afford to lose.
On comes Lewandowski with half an hour remaining. In the sixth minute of injury time, a free-kick on the left of the box was squared to Arjen Robben. His shot was parried, but the sharpest player in the six-yard box was, of course, the Poland international, turning home what was then the latest goal ever recorded in the Bundesliga. It was a signal to Leipzig and others that the champions were not going to be toppled.
Watch: Lewy’s late, late show in Berlin
As history showed, that was the case. Lewandowski’s goals have seen Bayern win the Bundesliga every season since he joined, as well as three DFB Cups and, of course, the previously elusive UEFA Champions League in 2020.
And even with all the accolades, he’s continued to show just why he’s the best and the difference he makes for Bayern late on.
On Matchday 3 of this season, Lewandowski scored all four as Bayern beat Hertha 4-3 at the Allianz Arena. As the scoreline suggests, it was not a straightforward game. After putting Hansi Flick’s side 2-0 up early in the second half, the Berliners struck back twice – not that it mattered with Lewy.
He restored the lead once again with five minutes remaining to complete his hat-trick. Surely no way back for the visitors now? Not quite, as Jessic Ngankam levelled yet again. Most players would be exasperated at this stage and running on empty, but Lewandowski isn’t most players. Deep into injury time, he was fouled in the box and converted the ensuing penalty himself for his fourth of the game as the clock ticked past 93 minutes.
Watch: Four-goal Lewandowski sees off Hertha
Having already lost the previous matchday, the importance of the three points couldn’t be underestimated in the early-season title race. And the big games just kept on coming.
With the start of the 2020/21 campaign delayed by a few weeks, Matchday 13 was the last of the calendar year and either Bayern or Bayer Leverkusen would claim the symbolic but psychologically important honour of being top at Christmas. Convenient, then, that the top two faced off at the BayArena, with the hosts actually in pole position.
Their stance improved when Patrik Schick gave them the lead inside the opening quarter of an hour. Leverkusen, though, failed to maintain their high intensity and committed the criminal act of gifting Lewandowski a goal on the stroke of half-time with a defensive error.
Then, with the game moving towards a draw that suited Die Werkself better, Bayern’s No.9 was presented with one final chance in the 93rd minute after another mistake, which he buried on his left with the conviction of someone who knows he’s the world’s best finisher.
Watch: Lewandowski sent Bayern top with a brace at Leverkusen
The champions had come from behind for a record seventh straight league game and were once again top of the table in a huge blow to the rest of the league – thanks to Lewandowski, the best and fittest player in football.