Haaland and Lewandowski rivalry is the new Messi-Ronaldo show

Bundesliga's top goal scorers are pushing each other to greater heights

Seven minutes remained of what had been turning into an uncomfortably close contest at the Westfalen stadium on Sunday. Borussia Dortmund were leading 3-0 in the 55th minute, but all of a sudden they were being stalked by Union Berlin. At 3-2, the points looked far from secure.

Cue the irrepressible Erling Braut Haaland, who not only keeps scoring goals but finds novel ways of doing so.

A long pass, launched by Mats Hummels, bounced behind him, and kicked up off the turf to his left.

Out stretched a long Haaland leg and, with his body entirely in the air, he wrapped his boot around the ball with a firm but light enough touch to arch it, at an angle, over Union goalkeeper Andreas Luthe. The ball dropped just over the goal line, just inside the far post.

That was Haaland’s seventh goal of a Bundesliga season that is five matchdays old. It gave him his third brace of goals in a game so far this term. It was Haaland’s 68th goal for Dortmund, in his 67th match since joining them in January 2020.

Beneath those bare facts are various records for precociousness - Haaland turned 21 two months ago - and prolific finishing. But in German football they are only one voice in a compelling dialogue, a duel of individual catch-up being played out alongside the race for the league title that, sadly for Dortmund, usually ends the same way.

Bayern Munich, the defending champions chasing a 10th successive Bundesliga Shield, have already edged a point clear at the top of the table, and their own, tried-and-trusted goal machine is taking no days off.

Another record had come to Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski 24 hours before Haaland’s double against Union. He tapped in the fifth of Bayern’s seven unanswered goals against Bochum, following up his two poached goals against Barcelona four days earlier in the Champions League.

In effect, he continued what he began on a Monday evening in mid-February, when he scored the goal that launched a comeback from 2-0 down Arminia Bielefeld in a Bundesliga fixture that Bayern drew 3-3.

In every club game Lewandowski has played since, he has scored. He missed a period with ligament problems in the spring, but his sequence of scoring appearances now runs to 19 games. Other records are being generated alongside that breathless run. Against Bochum, he beat an existing landmark for being on the scoresheet in successive home Bundesliga matches: He is on 13 of those.

At 33, Lewandowski is still raising his own high standards. He has finished as leading scorer in the Bundesliga six times in the last eight seasons.

Back in 2018-19, 22 goals from the 34-match league schedule were enough to put him top. But since the teenaged Haaland arrived in Germany in the middle of the following season, and set down a marker with a 20-minute hat-trick on his Dortmund debut, Lewandowski has known a significant stalker is at large.

The Pole’s goals-per-minute ratio has duly shifted upwards. The Bayern man registered 34 league goals in 2019-20.

Last season, he upped the ante further, his 41 Bundesliga strikes passing a record that had endured since the early 1970s, when the late Gerd Muller scored 40 times for Bayern in a single campaign. The momentum from that historic achievement is still with him.

Hard not to believe that Haaland, the great blond prodigy and Lewandowski, the peerless Pole, are not spurring each other on. Their joust becomes more and more reminiscent of the to-and-fro that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo conducted over the best part of eight seasons in Spain’s La Liga.

Weekends there would often turn into something like a personal auction: Messi would achieve the astonishing for Barcelona; hours later Ronaldo would match the feat for Real Madrid.

Four times in five seasons, Messi and Ronaldo scored hat-tricks on the same weekend. In every calendar year between 2011 and 2017, one or other of them scored over 50 club goals. Three times they both surpassed that figure in the same year. “Messi motivates me to be better,” Ronaldo acknowledged at the peak of their hyper-inflationary scoring rivalry.

Haaland versus Lewandowski has some of the same character. The day after Lewandowski registered Bayern’s opener for this season, Haaland scored twice. The giant Norwegian answered Lewandowski’s hat-trick on matchday three with two goals in each of the next two Dortmund fixtures. This race will run and run.

Updated: September 21st 2021, 2:57 AM