Munich - When emerged from the FC Bayern München changing room after his side’s 4-0 thrashing of Hannover 96 on Saturday afternoon, he did so with an unashamedly wide grin spread across his face.
No mere target man
His delight was understandable given the remarkably swift impact he has had in Munich since joining from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, taking over from Mario Mandzukic as the club’s attacking focal point.
The 26-year-old’s tally of four Bundesliga goals - including a brace to help beat Hannover - and two assists is a more than satisfactory return even by Bayern’s exacting standards, meaning he has been directly involved in 40 per cent of the side’s league goals so far this season. Yet Lewandowski’s ability to find the target is only one of the reasons he has settled and earned the respect of his team-mates so swiftly in the Bavarian capital.
“Robert is a fantastic player,” said Arjen Robben after the victory over Hannover. “He’s not the kind of striker who just stays up front and puts the ball in the net.” Indeed, the Polish attacker was constantly mobile, at times weaving between defenders to look for space, at others pressuring the last defender or even dropping deep to collect a pass. It is telling that only three team-mates, David Alaba, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller, have covered more ground than the forward in the Bundesliga in 2014/15.
Neuer: ‘He’s one of the best in the world’
However, as excellent as Lewandowski's off-the-ball movement is, it was his breathtaking skill that caught the eye at the Allianz Arena on Saturday: his velcro-like control of passes from Rafinha and Xherdan Shaqiri respectively were as good as the subsequent goals themselves. “He’s a very good footballer and it’s great fun to play alongside him,” Robben enthused.
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been equally taken with the club’s new No9, highlighting the qualities that have helped the Pole become an instant first-team regular: “He’s been playing really well in training and in our other games but when you go up against a five-man defence it's not easy. But he often draws two markers to him and that helps create space for other players, like Mario Götze for example. That's why sometimes he's not always in the game but today he was. Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in the world.”
Neuer and Lewandowski will be on opposing sides next Saturday however, when Poland host Germany in a UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifier. “The game is going to be strange because I train with these guys every day and now I'll be playing against them,” Lewandowski said. “It won't be easy because Germany are favourites for the group, but I'm looking forward to it. I know how they play and they know me.”
Such is Lewandowski’s threat that Neuer even joked that he and his fellow Germany internationals might resort to underhand tactics to earn an advantage in that fixture. “It was good that Lewandowski played the full 90 minutes,” said the custodian, smiling. “Maybe that’ll mean he’s not at full strength next week. We might also try and get inside his head a bit at the Wiesn on Sunday!” In the light of Lewandowski’s current form though, it’ll take a lot more than that to keep him at bay in Warsaw next weekend.
Jonathan Stockitt reporting from Munich