Robert Lewandowski: How he will help Barcelona become a force in Europe again – scout report
Robert Lewandowski has been one of the most deadly and complete forwards in the past decade. He has proven himself in the Bundesliga with both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, netting 312 goals and 75 assists in 384 games and in the Champions League with 86 goals and 25 assists in 106 matches. Even whilst playing for a slightly weaker side, the Polish national team, he has managed to score 76 goals in 132 games.
After eight seasons at Bayern, Lewandowski felt like it was time for a new change of scenery in both his personal life and professional career, one filled with winning trophies and breaking goal-scoring records, which he will hope to carry on in his spell at Barcelona.
Barcelona have just gone out and signed Andreas Christensen, Franck Kessie, and Raphinha, and have their eyes set on further defensive signings although they look set to miss out on Jules Kounde who may be set to move to Chelsea. These transfers are a statement of intent that Barcelona are not here to mess about, they will definitely be challenging for the La Liga trophy and will likely have their eyes on the Champions League if defensive reinforcements come in.
In this scout report, there will be a tactical analysis of Robert Lewandowski’s style of play, his role at Barcelona, and whether the £50 million transfer fee was worth it. Furthermore, Barcelona’s tactics will be reviewed, with an analysis detailing how Xavi will set his team up.
How do Barca play?
In November 2021, Xavi came into an underachieving Barcelona side, one that was lost without Lionel Messi, and there were many changes that had to be made. Since then, Xavi has gotten his team playing like the Barcelona sides that he used to play in, controlling the ball and creating chance after chance. Barcelona have averaged 63% possession and 13 shots per game, although only 36% of those have been on target.
Since Xavi’s appointment, Barcelona only collected three points less than the La Liga and Champions League winners, Real Madrid. This can be seen as a success, based on the failure in previous seasons and the emerging youth players getting regular game time for the first time this season.
One big factor of the improved performances is the quality structure Xavi has instilled into his side. The picture below shows Barcelona setting up in a 2-3-5 formation, which allows the deep player to be in close proximity for ball retention, while the front five all occupy the vertical five lanes of the pitch from where they can attack the opposition’s back line or combine with each other. This helps Barcelona to sustain pressure on the opposition which allows them to create chances frequently.
Barcelona have been able to create deadly chances from all over the pitch, due to their ability to control all zones of the attacking third. One area where they are particularly effective is in wide areas, where wingers are left 1v1 and they can run at their defender. Thanks to Barcelona’s width in positioning and frequent switches of play, Barcelona’s wingers are often left in isolated scenarios from which they can cause chaos and put in dangerous deliveries. The image below shows Ousmane Dembele with lots of time on the ball in the opposition box, from where he puts in a dangerous ball across the goal, which should’ve been converted into a goal.
Barcelona also sometimes put in crosses from deeper areas, where they put the ball into the space between the opposition’s back line and goalkeeper for the Barca players to attack the space in the box. In the Sevilla game below 89% of the attacks came from the flanks in the first half, highlighting Barca’s preference to isolate wide players and deliver balls into the box for the oncoming runners.
Keeping the ball in wide areas also allows Barcelona to stretch the opposition’s back line, which therefore leaves big gaps between the defenders. The image below shows Barcelona attempting to exploit those gaps through incisive passing from wide to central areas. In this example, Pedri plays the ball to Aubameyang, who attracts a defender so that Pedri can attack the space created, however, Aubameyang can’t return the pass and plays it to a winger in a less dangerous position. This example highlights just how critical it is for the centre forward to be comfortable in linking play as well as being clinical in front of the goal.
Barcelona’s creativity knows no bounds. They are able to consistently create chances, especially thanks to the passing abilities of Pedri and Dembele. As shown below, Pedri has the ability and passing range to lift the ball over the defence perfectly into the path of Dembele who plays the ball across the face of the goal, with no one able to get onto the end of the pass. These kinds of chances consistently arrive in the box of Barcelona’s opponents, and the arrival of Lewandowski should see more of these chances being converted.
What does Lewandowski bring?
Robert Lewandowski is one of, if not the best player in the world right now. His brilliant technical ability, coupled with his physical and mental sides of the game means that there is virtually no weakness in his style of play. His best skill is his ability to time his runs in the box, and position himself in the right areas to receive the ball and tap it in with ease.
His movement in the box allows him to regularly be in the right place at the right time to score goals from close range unmarked, although he is surrounded by multiple defenders. The image below shows him attacking the box, and getting in front of the defender to be in an easy shooting position.
Another reason why Lewandowski has been so successful is his composure in front of goal. Lewandowski isn’t a confidence player in the sense that when one goal goes in, more follow. Lewandowski is always confident, and will always attempt to make the most dangerous pass or shot even if it is not the easiest option.
The image below displays this quality that he possesses. Lewandowski is being hunted by two defenders, but he is unfazed and slows down his strides, pretends to shoot to force the goalkeeper to commit, and dinks the ball over the goalkeeper. Although there are people chasing him, he doesn’t get rushed and makes life easier for himself by sitting the goalkeeper down so that he is more likely to score. Lewandowski always scores easy goals, but this is not by luck, he is smart enough to engineer chances for himself from which he can’t miss even when they seem difficult in the first place.
Another important part of being a complete striker is the ability to strike through the ball effectively on both feet. Being one-footed makes you predictable, and easier to defend against whereas you keep the defenders guessing if they know you can switch the ball on to either foot. As shown below, even when the pass is played a bit wide and at an angle, Lewandowski is able to clinically slot the ball into the bottom corner with his weaker foot.
One common theme from Barcelona’s style of play was the frequency of crosses coming in and headers being wasted by the Barca players. Lewandowski is as good with his feet as he is with his head, so you can expect him to be scoring headed chances every couple of weeks at least. Lewandowski has the ability to header the ball with both power and precision, as shown below in the image.
Another thing that makes Lewandowski so complete is his ability to set up teammates. As seen earlier in the article, Barcelona do sometimes play the ball to the striker so that he can combine with players around him. Lewandowski has displayed his excellent on ball abilities at both club and international level. For his country, he sometimes has to act as the playmaker due to the lower level of his teammates, and he regularly shows his excellent decision-making and link-up abilities. The image below shows him playing a perfect cross to the back post with his weaker foot. While his goal record may be brilliant, Lewandowski will play the ball to a teammate in a better position if it’s what’s best for the team.
This article has displayed both how Barcelona will attack opposition teams, and what Lewandowski brings to the club. Lewandowski’s efficiency in front of goal, paired with the constant chances that Barcelona provide is a mouth-watering prospect and Barca will finally have a reliable player to be on the end of chances, something that they haven’t had since Luis Suarez all those years ago.
Memphis Depay was their top scorer in the league last season with 12 goals, whilst the last time Lewandowski scored fewer goals than this figure in a season was in 2010-11, his first campaign outside Poland. His technical quality will also help ensure that Barcelona can combine play through him in tight spaces and allow the likes of Ansu Fati or Ferran Torres to attack the space created behind.
A team with a perfect blend of youth and experience will definitely be in the race for the league title and it will be up to Xavi to prove whether he can set his team up well enough to progress in the Champions League knockout stages. Lewandowski has come for trophies and Barca fans can expect trophies with the quality of their team that they possess.