Scoring goals in torrent

Football : Bayern's Lewandowski has emerged as one of the top strikers in Europe now

Scoring goals in torrent

The night after Robert Lewandowski scored five goals in nine minutes for Bayern Munich, the club’s website asked what you could do in a kitchen in the same time.
“You could cook a pasta al dente or bake a pizza” it suggested.

Leave it to Lewandowski to be the most remarkable chef in Bayern’s fully stocked kitchen. He started the game against Wolfsburg (September 22) on the bench, came on at halftime when Bayern was trailing and took precisely 8 minutes and 58 seconds to stun everybody, not least his coach, Pep Guardiola, by scoring five times.

On September 22, given a full game against Mainz, Lewandowski scored only twice, and his team-mates joked that there would be a quiet inquest in the locker room to discover why. Behind the banter, there lies a serious question for the coach.

Guardiola is blessed with the most prolific striker in the Bundesliga. But when everyone is healthy with Bayern, Guardiola might have a confusion of riches. Guardiola is the man who practically invented the “false No 9” when he was in charge at Barcelona, where his teams often lined up with no central striker, instead relying on team movement and the on-the-ground genius of Lionel Messi and company.

Munich, however, presented him last season with the 6-foot-tall Lewandowski after the club signed the Pole from Borussia Dortmund. It was a deal meant, as much as anything, to weaken what was then Munich’s main rival.

Guardiola arrived in 2013, taking over a team that had won the treble — the German league and cup and the Champions League — the season before as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery cut inside from the wings to score or create goals, Robben with his left foot and Ribery with his right.

Those wingers are injured now, but Bayern signed reinforcements over the summer, the Brazilian Douglas Costa from Shakhtar Donetsk and the 19-year-old Frenchman Kingsley Coman, on loan from Juventus.

Lewandowski credits the play of those wingers, plus the movement close to him of Thomas Muller, for the change of style that is creating the time and space for him to score his goals.

The five-goal outburst by Lewandowski against Wolfsburg took half the time that it took Germany to score five goals when it beat Brazil, 7-1, in a 2014 World Cup semifinal in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Muller was the instigator of that, scoring first in the 11th minute before another native Pole, Miroslav Klose, scored to make it 2-0 and in the process pass Ronaldo as the top scorer in World Cup history. (Klose moved to Germany as a youth.)

Klose, who left Bayern Munich in 2011 for his current club, Lazio, has the stealth to steal goals while defenders lurk. Lewandowski, instead, often scores in crowded penalty areas or from far out. He can do it with either foot or just as easily with his head, as he did against Mainz in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

He cannot explain the fusion of gift and timing and opportunity that allows him to score any more than Gerd Muller could when he was scoring goal after goal for Bayern in the ‘70s.

“Something inside your head says, ‘Gerd, go this way, or Gerd go that way,’ and I go,” is how Muller described it at the time.

Lewandowski does not have the words to explain his gifts, aside from telling reporters that his secret is concentration and staying mentally switched on, even when it appears he is disengaged and not involved in the buildup to the scoring. He did suggest last week to reporters that he feels a change in tactics, enforced by the absence of Robben and Ribery, suits his game. Lewandowski, now in his prime at 27, has struck 101 goals in the Bundesliga -- 74 in 131 games for Dortmund and 27 in 37 games for Bayern -- and scores no matter what the line-up is around him.

To go along with “Robbery” (the Robben-Ribery duo) he now has “Coco” (Costa and Coman). Guardiola, who admitted that he thought it almost impossible to score five times within nine minutes, has even more forwards whom he has to try to give game time too, including another expensive acquisition from Dortmund, Mario Goetze.

With so many alternatives, Munich fans can presume at their Oktoberfest celebrations that their team can go all the way this season in the Champions League. The Bundesliga title is considered a foregone conclusion, especially since Wolfsburg, the runner-up last year, has seen its strength -- defence -- dissolved by those five goals by Lewandowski.

Lewandowski, whose father was a judo champion and mother a top volleyball player, was born in Warsaw, though it was never likely that Legia or any other of the top Polish clubs could afford to keep a player destined to become one of the world’s greats. Now, with Costa in particular creating goals for him from the right flank, the question in Germany is whether Lewandowski will go on to surpass the 40 goals that “Der Bomber” -- Gerd Muller -- scored in the 1971-72 season.

Lewandowski has responded by saying that he is not even thinking about the question. How could he? He has a coach whose ideal offence is without a fixed point of reference, the same coach who left him on the bench until halftime against Wolfsburg. Lewandowski is humble enough to wait for his chance while holding both his tongue and his desire in check.

But show him the whites of the goal posts and get the ball to him, and something inside him says, “Robert go this way, Robert go that way.” The goal area is his kitchen.

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