Ruthless Robert Lewandowski proves against Chelsea he is more than just a goal machine
Bayern Munich No 9 created two goals for Serge Gnabry and grabbed the third for himself as the Germans put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals
Arguably football’s finest No 9 proved there’s more to his game than goals.
Bayern Munich’s great guarantor moonlighted as their chief creator, too.
Robert Lewandowski conjured two assists on Tuesday night, helping put the Germans 2-0 up at Stamford Bridge and clearing their path to the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals.
A third goal, scored by Lewandowski, ensured Bayern departed West London with a 3-0 first-leg lead. Given the deficit, and the deadly form of the Polish international and his support cast, Chelsea’s latest European adventure appears run.
Serge Gnabry got the opening two, both laid on by Lewandowski, both further evidence that Arsenal were too quick to judge a fleet-footed forward, that Tony Pulis didn’t realise he had a diamond among the deep rough at West Bromich Albion. Of course, Gnabry played his part in his English struggles.
Still, two trips to the country’s capital have provided capital gains: four goals against Tottenham Hotspur in a group-stage thumping, two more at Chelsea.
Yet the first on Tuesday owed much to Lewandowski's intuition. Peeling into an area beyond the Chelsea back-line, the striker collected Gnabry’s pass and, when a shot was anticipated, pulled back the ball for his teammate to place home. Lewandowski had not looked up, his appreciation of what was developing around him astute.
For the second, he was clever enough to nudge off Andreas Christensen, then capable of sliding a perfect pass to Gnabry. Set free, his grateful colleague applied the finish.
Bayern's third goal capped an exceptional night for the club and the individual. Central to their success, Lewandowski outshone the increasingly impressive Alphonso Davies - a lightning and luminary left wingback - the ever-dangerous Gnabry, and Thomas Muller, a ghosting attacker who, like Bayern, has cast aside his early season troubles. With Lewandowski ahead, offering a focal point and demanding defenders’ focus, they thrive.
As always, Lewandowski's numbers are outstanding: 43 goals in 39 matches for club and country this season; 25 in 23 Bundesliga games; 11 in seven in the Champions League.
His knack for finding the net has catapulted Bayern back to the top of the German title race, extricated them from their dismal domestic start. It makes the Bavarians a more-than-credible candidate to add a first European Cup in seven years. It remains a significant club trophy absent from Lewandowski's CV.
This edition, he sits at the summit of the scoring charts, nudging ahead of the prodigious Erling Haaland, way out in front of Harry Kane and Luis Suarez, both injured at present. All three are viewed as contenders for the mantle of the game’s supreme frontman - for Haaland, that might seem too early - but for the moment Lewandowski stands tall.
“Robert is playing in the form of his life, he's top-fit and full of confidence,” warned Hans-Dieter Flick, the Bayern manager, on the eve of the clash with Chelsea.
At 31, he appears just that.
But, then, he is more than that, as well. He is a leader on the pitch, a constant threat, a master of his craft who can change a game with a goal or carve open an opposition. The comparisons to Kane are obvious: each has the vision to go with the finishing.
For now, though, the Pole is at his peak. He most probably perches at the pinnacle in his position.
This season, he became the quickest in history to four goals in a single Champions League match, in the 6-0 rout of Red Star Belgrade. It was his second quartet in the competition. Only Lionel Messi can lay claim to that.
On Tuesday, the goal against Chelsea carried Lewandowski to nine in away matches in this campaign’s Champions League. He is the second to achieve that feat, after Cristiano Ronaldo, six seasons ago.
This is the company he currently keeps. Admittedly, Bayern are not without fault. As they showed at times against Chelsea, they can be got at. But, with Lewandowski leading the charge, their continental ambitions continue to solidify.
Updated: February 26, 2020 06:12 PM