Robert Lewandowski: So special he even made Pep disbelieve
Pep Guardiola is a very deliberate man; the kind who it’s hard to surprise, let alone impress.
He has his plan, then his back-up plan, then the approach for the rare occasions that second one is nullified. In fact, the use of a plural there is a little presumptuous – maybe it happened once.
You might have seen him scratch his head once or twice, but never for long. It’s mostly a case of him trying to figure out why the plan hasn’t worked yet, rather than considering it might not work at all.
So, when we saw Guardiola like this in September 2015, it was obvious something pretty special had happened.
Strangely, though, the man responsible isn’t the type you’d think of first when trying to identify the archetype of a Pep player.
Robert Lewandowski was the man responsible for that reaction, and all it took was the sort of display which rolls around once for most footballers not named Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern and Guardiola thought they had enough to beat Wolfsburg without the services of their number nine. They had won their first five games in the Bundesliga, and were prepared to rotate a little with a Champions League meeting with Dinamo Zagreb on the horizon, so Lewy stayed on the bench until half-time, when the hosts trailed 1-0 to a Daniel Caliguri goal.
It was time for Guardiola’s plan B.
If Lewandowski had earned his team a point, it would have been appreciated. Two goals to turn the game on its head would have been even better.
If you’d told a Bayern fan at half time their striker was going to score a second-half hat-trick to win you the game, they’d have bitten your hand off.
If you’d said the same 24 hours later, though, they’d have laughed in your face. Only a hat-trick? Taking a full 45 minutes? You don’t know our Lewy.
It took him six minutes to get his first goal. By the time he had been on the pitch for a quarter of an hour, he had five. And they weren’t bad goals either.
The first four showed plenty of the components which have made Lewandowski an in-demand striker for most of the last decade.
We were treated to some phenomenal reaction speed, not least with the readjustment of his feet for the equaliser and the speed with which he was able to put away the volley to complete his hat-trick.
There was also the strike in between those two, a low, drilled finish which told the Wolfsburg keeper he was welcome to try to stop it even though there was really no point.
However, the fifth goal will always stand out, for the simple reason it is the sort of goal which would have stood out in any circumstances, whether it was the winner in a final or the opener in a nothing game.
It’s the kind of goal you score when everything is going right for you; when you’ve earned a free hit but know you don’t really need to consider the prospect of missing the target..
The player who scores those first four goals shouldn’t need to bother turning acrobat for the fifth – he shouldn’t even be able to – yet Lewandowski’s perfect connection makes you wonder why you doubted him.
And do you know what, there’s an argument that the five-goal haul against Wolfsburg isn’t even his best achievement in a single football match.
Sure, it’s the sort of thing most players will never achieve in their career, but it was in a league match, for a team expected to win.
Doing it on the big stage
Back in April 2013, Lewandowski was still a Borussia Dortmund player when they faced Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Dortmund had only scraped through, thanks to a contentious late Felipe Santana goal against Málaga as part of the sort of comeback which would have seemed sensational had it not come just months after Edin Džeko and Sergio Agüero performed similar late heroics in Manchester.
Dortmund then won the semi-final 4-3 on aggregate. Sorry, Robert Lewandowski won the semi-final 4-3 on aggregate.
Imagine Diego Costa’s goal against Portugal at the 2018 World Cup, spread out into an entire 90-minute performance. The sort of display which makes opponents wonder whether a career as a centre-back was really the best idea.
For someone known predominantly for his finishing and direct approach, it’s strange for the grace of his hat-trick goal not to be given more column inches.
It’s the movement of a man playing a different game to everyone else on the pitch, imparting balance and poise in a way that leaves fans scratching their heads as to whether he’s been instinctive or whether he knew what he’d need to do in that situation before the situation even existed.
He might have never played outside Poland or Germany, but Lewandowski remains one of those players who looks like he’s found a cheat-code so potent it even works on a subbuteo table.
By Tom Victor