Robert Lewandowski's gone cold! Why striker's loss of form could be a big problem for Barcelona

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Lewandowski Barcelona Girona LaLiga 2022-23
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Robert Lewandowski has gone cold in front of goal, which could be a serious issue for Barcelona despite their La Liga success

It was the kind of chance Robert Lewandowski usually buries. Midway through the first half of Barcelona's Copa del Rey semi-final clash with Real Madrid, the Polish striker snuck in front of a static Eduardo Camavinga, and slung his left foot at a cross. But he caught the ball awkwardly, giving Thibaut Courtois a fairly routine save to make.

Madrid swiftly countered, working their way down the other end of the pitch and grabbed a goal for a 1-0 lead. Lewandowski, meanwhile, could only watch and rue his miss.

The sequence was emblematic of the Pole's fortunes of late. Lewandowski got himself into the right area, struck the ball with the sort of technique most strikers fantasise about, but didn't find the net. And his team suffered as a result.

He is now in a mini-drought, with just two goals in his last eight games for club and country, and eight in his last 19. For anyone else, that's a respectable return. But for a striker who was famously robbed of the Ballon d'Or, it's a proper lull.

Indeed, stretches like this don't happen for the veteran frontman. And although it won't hinder Barca's charge towards a first La Liga title in three years, Lewandowski's inconsistency might just raise some concerns for the Blaugrana's future.

  1. A confusing drought
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    A confusing drought

    There are no obvious flaws to pick at here. The striker is still doing everything right. He still floats into the right spaces like he used to. He still drops deep to link play. He still leaps above defenders to meet headers.

    But that final touch, the thing that sees the ball ripple the back of the net, has gone. This, in isolation, isn't uncommon. Lewandowski is 34, and although he has been the most prolific striker in Europe over the past 10 years, goal droughts come with age. He has also been playing through a knock, and reportedly "couldn't walk" after taking a blow to the back from Eder Militao in last week's Clasico.

    These are the standard issues, then, that can hurt any player. Ageing and injuries are part of and parcel of being a professional footballer. Even the world's best goalscorers can't avoid them. Just ask Neymar.

    There are further mitigating factors. Lewandowski spent nearly a month out of the side after serving a suspension for making a lewd gesture at a referee, and seems to have lost some rhythm since then.

    Barcelona have also changed systems in 2023, giving the striker just the one wide attacking player to link up with. As a result, he is shooting less, and leading the line for a more defensive-minded team than the one he starred for at the end of 2022.

  2. Stuck in an unfamiliar rut
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    Stuck in an unfamiliar rut

    But despite those obvious factors, there is something not quite right about Lewandowski at the moment. It is not merely a case of the yips or poor luck. Indeed, his decision-making seems to be off, his killer instinct gone.

    Such was the case in Barcelona's tepid 0-0 draw with Girona last week. The striker was through on goal and could've smashed the ball home with his left foot. Instead, he tried to cut awkwardly onto his right, allowing a recovering defender to block his attempt.

    In that same contest, he whipped a shot just over the bar despite being in acres of space — missing an attempt that the old Lewandowski would have buried. There was also an ill-advised backheel in stoppage time, as well as the occasional loose touch.

    Perhaps these mistakes can be attributed to the fact that Lewandowski is in unfamiliar territory. The goals have never really dried up for him. Indeed, prior to this year, he hadn't gone more than three games without scoring since 2018. If you're not used to goal droughts, breaking out of one is easier said than done. But for one of the greats, this should be instinctive.

  3. Important goals nonetheless
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    Important goals nonetheless

    It is worth mentioning, however, that Lewandowski has still shown up in the big games. This is not necessarily the story of a declining star — not yet.

    Even though he's only bagged eight since the new year, Lewandowski has still scored against Manchester United and Real Madrid. His goal against Real Betis in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final was also vital in sending the Blaugrana to their first trophy under Xavi.

    And when he's not scoring, Lewandowski still finds ways to impact the game. He assisted Barca's only goal in a tricky away win at Villarreal. His clever movement also freed up space in Barca's 2-1 La Liga win over Real Madrid that effectively sewed up the title.

    There are many strikers that need to hit the back of the net in order to lift their team. Lewandowski is not one of them. He is, then, fortunate that there are goalscorers around him. But it is his willingness to cede chances to them that has made Barcelona so effective.

    In the past, though, Lewandowski was able to have both. He could free up space before emphatically hitting the net himself. This is a player who has scored at least 34 league goals in each of the last three seasons. At this rate, he might just crack 25.

  4. An uncertain future

    An uncertain future

    There is no doubt that Lewandowski is one of the main reasons that Barcelona are 13 points clear in La Liga with 10 games to go. His 23 goal involvements blow last season's numbers out of the water at Camp Nou.

    His leadership — and experience of racking up trophies at Bayern Munich — are also not to be understated. There is value in having a serial winner in your dressing room. Signing him was, of course, not a mistake. And given the fact that they had no obvious No.9 in their XI — and no immediate academy product to rely on — he was an excellent piece of business at €50 million (£42m/$51m).

    Still, Barcelona have Lewandowski for three more seasons. The Blaugrana threw a massive contract at him, realising that he could be the missing piece for short-term success. He brought that in the first months of the season, scoring 18 goals in all competitions before the World Cup break. It was enough to make his eye-watering €400,000 per week (£350k/$426k) salary seem slightly less egregious than it looks.

    But Barcelona now turn to the question of sustainability. The Blaugrana have been excellent this year, but have certainly benefitted from a shoddy domestic season for Real Madrid — who could conceivably finish third with Atletico lurking. The chances are, Real will improve next year. Barcelona will need a response of their own. Merely replicating this season will not be good enough.

    The good news is, the squad is well set up for that to happen. At least half of Barca's likely starting XI next year is under 25, so development all over the pitch is sure to come. But things might stagnate in a crucial position.

    Lewandowski doesn't need to be benched or replaced. More accurately, he needs monitoring. If these goal droughts become more common, the Xavi revolution could lose its momentum.