Seven games to go, 13 goals needed. The equation presented to Robert Lewandowski as he chases down a 48-year-old record for individual goalscoring looks starker perhaps than it did in early March. But then you remember this is Lewandowski, spearhead of a Bayern Munich for whom the pause in the season has applied no brakes, and a man who can conjure up hat-tricks in the time it takes to grill a steak.
Lewandowski will on Tuesday return to the arena where he first made his world-class reputation, Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalen stadium, entrusted with stymying his former club’s latest attempt to deprive league-leaders Bayern, four points above Dortmund, of the Bundesliga title.
It is the purpose for which Bayern hired the prolific Pole in 2014; Dortmund had become potent enough with Lewandowski as their centre-forward to win consecutive leagues, in 2011 and 2012. Since Lewandowski moved south, every single Bundesliga has been his and Bayern’s.
Plainly, there is no No 9 of the past 10 years in elite European football who so guarantees a league title, and, plainly, at 31, Lewandowski is still gaining in potency. His 41 goals this season, across competitions, are a staggering yield, though it is the 27 from the 25 Bundesliga fixtures he has played that may yet usher him to immortality. Reach 40 for the league season, and he will match the “record that could never be broken,” Gerd Muller’s 40 for Bayern in 1971/72.
Seven games to go, 13 needed. A tall order. But for a footballer who once scored five in a second half – against Wolfsburg – and rattled in four within 15 minutes at Red Star Belgrade, it is a stimulating, not an overbearing target. All the more while Lewandowski hears it being murmured that his pre-eminence as the finest finisher in the Bundesliga is under lively challenge from a sensational newcomer.
Dortmund’s Erling Braut Haaland is, in many respects, exactly where Lewandowski was a decade ago. In the summer of 2010, Dortmund signed the then 21-year-old Lewandowski from Lech Poznan. He was already an international, a rapid riser in his domestic league, but it was still a capture of great foresight, like many Dortmund would make in the decade to follow.
In the first month of 2020, Haaland, 19, became the latest, a centre-forward of enormous potential, a striker recruited young from abroad – as Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho were – and encouraged by the club’s willingness to give opportunity to ambitious tyros.
The Norwegian Haaland, who joined from RB Salzburg in Austria, half expects that, like Aubameyang (now of Arsenal), Dembele (Barcelona) and Pulisic (Chelsea), he will move on from Dortmund with much of his career still ahead of him. Dortmund can confidently anticipate, even in the likely recession following the coronavirus crisis, they will sell him having done very well on the investment.
Haaland, 19, cost around €20 million (Dh80m) in January. He joined the Bundesliga mid-season, a tricky time for a freshman to come in, and he made his Dortmund debut as a substitute 11 minutes into a hazardous trip to Augsburg, where at 3-1 down, the visitors’ title aspirations were being derailed. Enter the blond blitz: Haaland had his first goal, set up by Sancho, within three minutes. He had completed his hat-trick 20 minutes later.
That’s the sort of trick only a Lewandowski, or a Messi or a Ronaldo, tends to pull off more than once. Except Haaland, tall, immensely powerful and apparently fearless, kept on. In the Bundesliga he already has 10 goals from as many appearances. In the Champions League, where he scored eight times in the group stage for Salzburg, he scored both Dortmund’s goals in the 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in February. His Dortmund strike-rate is a goal every 70 minutes. That’s the sort of trick that put Muller into the record books 48 years ago.
Lewandowski and Haaland share certain characteristics. There’s the genes. Both come from sporting families, Haaland the son of the former Norway midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, who had a long career in the English Premier League. Lewandowski is the son of an international judoka and a top-level volleyball player. A drive for self-improvement seems second-nature to both. While the opposition penalty area is their most productive domain, neither would gladly be classified as solely a target man, or merely a finisher.
On these two figures, the greatest goalscorer in German football of the 2010s, and perhaps the dominant centre-forward of the 2020s, may the outcome of the Bundesliga title hang. Win on Tuesday, and Haaland will sense his Dortmund have seized the momentum.