Bayern Munich goal machine Robert Lewandowski says he has to "stay calm" and focus on "doing his job" as he draws inexorably closer to the record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season (40), held by fellow Bayern great Gerd Müller since 1971/72.
Lewandowski put in another outrageous display on Matchday 26 to keep Bayern on course for a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title, scoring a first-half hat-trick in a 4-0 win over VfB Stuttgart to take his 2020/21 tally to 35 goals with eight games remaining.
What made it outrageous, of course, is that Bayern were a man down for 78 minutes, after Alphonso Davies saw red for a rash challenge on Wataru Endo. Ordinarily, when a team has a man sent off that early, it's a question of battening down the hatches and trying to keep the scoreline respectable. When you have Lewandowski in your line-up, it becomes little more than a footnote.
Watch: Lewandowski's hat-trick against Stuttgart
"After the red card, we played really well," the 32-year-old told Bayern's official website. "It woke us up, because we didn't start well. It was a challenge for us to continue creating chances and scoring goals, but we wanted to keep going forward. When you're on the pitch, you always have to try to give everything for the team."
There were only six minutes between Davies's dismissal and Lewandowski's opener, with the Bayern No.9 stealing ahead of two Stuttgart defenders to stab home Serge Gnabry's low cross with his right foot. Gnabry got on the scoresheet himself shortly afterwards, and Lewandowski continued the rampage by heading home Thomas Müller's inch-perfect cross. He then pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the VfB area and fired home with his left, rounding out a perfect first-half performance by completing a perfect hat-trick.
It wasn't only the Stuttgart defence kept busy by Lewandowski on Saturday afternoon, but the Bundesliga's statisticians as well. For the first time in his career, the Pole netted a first-half hat-trick in the German top flight. He also set a new personal best of 35 goals in a season, going one better than his 34-goal haul last year. And he moved into outright second place on the Bundesliga's all-time scoring charts with 271 goals, now three clear of Klaus Fischer. Gerd Müller is still some way up that particular road with 365, but his 40-goal scoring record – which has stood for 49 years – is very much in Lewandowski's crosshairs.
"For sure I wanted to score the goals, but I'm not thinking about this [Müller's record], because I don't want to put myself under a lot of pressure," the Bayern marksman admitted to bundesliga.com. "I just want to do my job."
And what a splendid job he is doing. If he were to continue at his current scoring rate of 1.35 goals per game for the rest of the campaign, Lewandowski would not only beat Müller's record but comfortably better it, finishing on 45 goals. A late-season flourish could even see him approach Lionel Messi's phenomenal return of 50 La Liga goals in 2011/12 – the all-time record in Europe's top leagues – although the Argentine featured in 37 games that season, while Lewandowski can only play a maximum of 33.
As ever, Bayern's star striker is keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground as the business end of the campaign looms. Ultimately, he hasn't lost sight of the fact that his goals are a means to an end: helping Bayern to conquer more silverware at home and abroad. A few days after facing second-placed RB Leipzig in a Bundesliga thriller at the start of April, the European champions will come up against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals – in a repeat of last year's showpiece – and Lewandowski will no doubt be their main weapon against the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Watch: Lewandowski: "I don't want to put pressure on myself"
"I have to stay calm," he said. "We have a few games, we have also the Champions League. It's playing every three days, it's not easy and you have to stay on top form."
Staying on top form is something Lewandowski certainly knows a thing or two about, having averaged over 40 goals in all competitions for the past six years. The reigning FIFA and UEFA Player of the Year is living up to the promise he made in 2020 that "his best is still to come" – and Müller's 40-goal mark may just be the first of many more records to be sent tumbling by one of football's genuine greats.