MSR Awards season 20/21: Player of the season

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29 appearances, 2463 minutes played, a record 41 goals, and now finally a Bundesliga legend as well. At 32 years this is the best version of Robert Lewandowski that has ever been. But what is the secret behind the amazing performances that he has been showing for the last two years?

The short answer: There is not the one single reason. Instead, several important factors play a role. First of all there is his professional attitude. Lewandowski is a machine on and off the pitch. He works incredibly hard on himself and constantly tries to improve his way of life in terms of nutrition and training methods. He does everything he can to bring his body into the perfect shape for every challenge. You only have to follow his wife Anna Lewandowska, a Polish national Karate champion and fitness nut in her own right, on Instagram to see some of the hard work that the two invest into their health.

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The physical fitness is the foundation of Lewandowski’s success. But there is so much more that makes him a special striker. In the last years, Lewandowski’s status as one of the best strikers in the world has never been in any doubt. For Bayern he had already scored 30 or more goals in one Bundesliga season four times – and one time he stopped just short at 29. He is almost never injured and his performances have consistently been at a very high level. But the best striker in the world? Few people would have subscribed to this idea until last season. He had been a member of an elite group of goalscorers that came just behind the leading pair of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but not yet on a par with them.

Since 2019 however things have changed. Lewandowski was there when Bayern needed him the most. At a time when the team under Niko Kovač was struggling to keep up with Europe’s elite clubs, Lewandowski was getting better and better. But why? Especially with strikers it is, after all, often the case that they cannot deliver properly if their team is struggling to create chances. But he did. Why?

One big reason is that Lewandowski stepped up in the team’s pecking order. With Arjen Robben an Franck Ribéry leaving the club, he became an even more focal player than before. It seems that his personal character changed with this new role. Before he was never really seen as a leader at Bayern, but with the beginning of the 2019/2020 season he suddenly became a great team player, someone who pushed his teammates when they made a mistake instead of turning away and getting angry with them.

So maybe he just reached a new level because he learned to control his feelings and understand his own game on the pitch better. He learned when to make a run and when to drop off into midfield. By now he is able to read every situation in the attacking third before everyone else can – except perhaps Thomas Müller. Oh, and while we are on the subject of Müller: He is also a key factor in Lewandowski’s success. A big one.

Müller’s runs and his exceptional ability to read the whole game like an open book are very beneficial to Lewandowski’s performances. You cannot analyze the Polish striker without analyzing Müller. I think that both, if they play at their best level, have been and still are the best offensive duo in Europe in recent years. They know each other very well and Müller in particular knows how he can make his partner look even better than he is. Lewandowski was also very good unter Kovač when Müller did not perform well, but now, with Müller being at the best form of his life, Lewandowski is even better.

This season he was certainly the best striker in the world. By a distance. Not only did he break the legendary record of Gerd Müller’s 41 Bundesliga goals in a single season, but he was involved in his team’s overall attacking game like rarely before. He found the perfect blend of being more than a striker without sacrificing anything in regards to the classic tasks of a centre forward. I am sure: If he had not been injured in April, we would now talk about an even more impressive Bundesliga record with 45 goals or more and Bayern reaching at least the semi-finals in the Champions League. With his 41 goals in just 2463 Bundesliga minutes he averaged a goal every 60 minutes. This is Messi territory, although it should be mentioned that Messi did that several times. Even without his eight penalty goals (which he had to convert, mind you, penalties are not gimme goals!) he is averaging a goal every 74 minutes. Gerd Müller scored a goal every 76.5 minutes back then in 1971 and 1972. He missed three penalties. Case closed, is it not?

Sometimes things are not going the way you want them to go. But Lewandowski showed that he can beat even long odds. After missing four Bundesliga matches in April, many people thought that he would not be able to score the five missing goals in the last four matches. But he did just that and even scored one more to crown his own exceptional performance. That is what big players are made of.

Lewandowski is fully deserving of the title of the best striker in the world right now. Because he is a tactical genius on the pitch who finds spaces and ways to score even if all defenders focus on him. Because he is almost frighteningly good when he gets the Ball with his back to the goal. Because he has learned to be patient and to wait for his opportunities and be even more focused when they arise. And also because he has learned to involve himself in his team’s game more instead of seeing himself as the target man who does little besides waiting for services and score. Lewandowski has always been a well-rounded striker. But now he has become the most complete version of himself in all of his career. And a true Bayern and Bundesliga legend.

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