Robert Lewandowski is already one of the greatest strikers to have graced the Bundesliga. The Bayern Munich striker is widely regarded as one of the most complete attackers in the game, but he didn’t always take the perfect penalty…
Lewandowski has become one of the Bundesliga’s greatest ever strikers since joining the league with Borussia Dortmund in 2010. His 208 goals in 293 Bundesliga appearances have propelled him to be regarded as one of Europe’s best No.9’s. Natural talent has got him some of the way, but so has a rigorous development of his own game.
One key component of a centre-forward’s goalscoring ability is his penalty-taking aptitude. If a striker is confident from the spot, he can turn a 15-goal season into a 20-goal season. With four Bundesliga top scorer crowns to his name, and 24 penalties scored, Lewy has now added the perfect penalty to his goalscoring arsenal. But it wasn’t always so easy for the Poland captain.
The classic penalty
On Matchday 12 of the 2012/13 season, Jakub Blaszczykowski was brought down in the Greuther Fürth box in front of Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall. Lewandowski grabs the ball confidently with the score at 1-1, putting Dortmund back in front the only thing on his mind. He’d already scored, and doubled his tally with a classic penalty, his run-up uninterrupted before sending the ball past a sprawling Max Grün.
From that first penalty to the 23 since, Lewandowski has only missed three of his spot-kicks. But the manner with which he has scored them has changed. In the early days, the striker kept his eye on the ball, but if the goalkeeper guessed right he could make the save, as happened when Manuel Neuer guessed correctly in May 2013 of that same season.
With that in mind, Lewandowski made his first adjustment.
The staring contest
At the beginning of his Bayern career, Lewandowski changed his focus from the ball to the goalkeeper, keeping his eyes exclusively on the opposition no.1 before connecting with the ball. This allowed him to see which way the stopper would dive, allowing him to send the ball into the opposite side of the net.
That might sound full-proof, but a disadvantage lay from Bayern’s No.9 not looking at the ball. On rare occasions, that lack of a glance at the ball would lead to a miscue, sending the ball off target, as he did against VfB Stuttgart in January of this year.
The perfect procedure
Now, seven years after taking his first Bundesliga spot-kick, Bayern’s star has his penalty style bolted down to perfection. His first focus is on the goalkeeper as he begins his run-up; it then returns to the ball on approach, allowing him to ensure the perfect contact; but finally – and crucially – he then looks back towards the keeper. His stutter buys him time, he knows he can send the keeper AND make a solid contact, and hey presto, the perfect penalty is born.
With a penalty conversion of 87.5 per cent, Lewandowski has become incredibly dependable from 12 yards. This season, the 31-year-old already leads the league’s scoring charts with six goals in three games, two of which were penalties.
Watch: Lewandowski's hat-trick vs. Schalke (including a penalty and free-kick!)
With four Tojägerkanone trophies already on his mantelpiece, Lewandowski has his eyes set on a fifth in total, and third in a row. Always improving and never totally satisfied with his performances despite his incredible collection of records and titles, Lewandowski ability to evolve means he is set to remain one of football’s deadliest strikers for some time to come.