Turns out the guy who scored 608 career goals, and ran at more than 25 per year every year for more than ten years, it was pretty good. There were plenty of players missing when La Liga returned from the international break last weekend, but that’s not all. It is, it seems, inevitable. And so when they were finished, there he was, silently standing over them all. Robert Lewandowski, Ian Rush of Poland and the Spanish Pichichi. And, who knows, maybe something else: he has, after all, just taken his team to a place they haven’t been in two and a half years.
This was the weekend that kept the Williams brothers going, Nico and Inaki returning home from opening games with different countries to set each other up as Athletic scored four for the third time to go top of the game. everyone else league A weekend in which Girona and Real Sociedad went wild, scoring eight between them, including a ridiculous one from Rodrigo Riquelme and something a little special from Alex Sorloth in a 5-3 away win. The weekend when Getafe and Valladolid were so, unexpectedly: they are not usually the great entertainers of Spain, they attended the best show seen at the Coliseum since 325AD.
This weekend saw Espanyol goalkeeper Álvaro Fernández’s smartest mistake of the season – until he took a worse turn three minutes later, conceding a 96th-minute equalizer against Valencia. He didn’t have much Iago Apas as he sat on the bench with a sore stomach, but Gabri Veiga hit a 30-yard winner for Celta against Betis, beaten on the road for the second time in a row and only third overall. year. In all likelihood, Julen Lopetegui had his last stand, Sevilla a single point and a single place from the relegation spots, and the manager called one out of the bag after a 2-0 defeat at Atlético Madrid. And there was Osasuna at the Bernabéu, where Sergio Herrera’s strange grip on Karim Benzema became tense.
In as good a game as any of those, he also had a goal from Robert Lewandowski, which isn’t really news but a yes the point. You have to go back to the opening day of the season for the last time he didn’t score. “A killer,” Mallorca coach Javi Aguirre called him in the hours before they met, and he knew it. “There is no dignity in defeat: they all get hurt,” he said 24 hours later. It was late on Saturday at Son Moix, and his team took more shots than Barcelona, but was beaten. Because if they had 13, Lewandowski had one – and that was enough.
Cutting inside, he bowed a finish as perfect as it was unfussy, excellence made to look easy. And that was enough, the only goal. Had he led them in and capitalized on the team’s previous good night – Barcelona had scored four, four, three, four, three in their previous five league games and put five over Viktoria Plzen – now he had seen them through their evil alone. “Lewandowski, the Zahori,” called AS. A water designer, basically. Some kind of mystic, he had found an oasis in the desert, wrote Santi Giménez, “and when you are thirsty and you get water, you will believe in anything”. Even in Barcelona. This was one headline, “Lewy’s Law”. No wonder Sport and Mundo Deportivo thought they could go one better than Thomas Müller.
They were wrong. So very, very wrong.
You may remember the delighted look on the Bayern midfielder’s face, all pleased with himself when he told the press: “We calldit, LewanGOALski” we call him – a line full of gentleness and as bad as she was good. This Sunday, Sport added their front cover to Goalandowski, and Mundo Deportivo went for Lethaldowski – a pair of lines so bad they were bad. And yet if they lacked the charm, warmth, or imagination of the original – and did they ever – it was understandable. It was Lewandowski’s ninth in seven league games – he is three ahead of Borja Iglesias, having missed Iglesias’ three – and 12th in nine games overall. Only László Kubala, Alfredo Di Stefano and Christian Vieri had scored in seven games in Spain. He has scored in six consecutive league games. It’s a “guarantee of goals”, says Xavi.
But then you knew that, and so did Xavi. There is a reason why Barcelona kept pushing even when Bayern pushed back, why they saw through their commitment to him even when the price went to two times, three times what they had excepted to pay. Look at his club totals over the past seven seasons: 42, 43, 41, 40, 55, 48, 50, for goodness sake. Whatever the reason – they said it was all about eating pudding before his main course, always putting sweets first, but that’s rubbish, this column has been trying for years – he always scored a goal. This is nothing new: it is nine years since he sent Real Madrid down four, almost as long since Madrid made the first of many attempts to sign him, and to Polish Ian Rush something back to Lech Poznan. Its success is not surprising.
Except it sort of does. “He enters the area, a pool of crocodiles, like his own home,” wrote Jorge Valdano. “Being a goalscorer is like a reductionist all he knows how to do the most difficult thing of all. And anyway before a goal scorer, he is a player. Someone you can pass the ball to and he never lets you down.” That’s part of it: you never know if it’s going to work out for any footballer, and even if the productivity isn’t surprising there’s part of the play: the intelligence, the contact, the movement, the subtlety, the vision and the variety. Time is only about being there at the end. After providing Pedri with a gorgeous back-heel assist, an impressed Eric García insisted: “I can’t see that pass from the bench and he can see it on the pitch.” Xavi says “it understands the game”, he knows what to do and when.
Then there is the personality, a natural ascentency over others that is carried lightly, that is not exhausted over the years. “He feels comfortable, he adapts, he understands that he is responsible for coming here,” says Xavi. “He has maturity, he talks to the young players, he is humble and hardworking. He’s calm, he’s confident, and he’s a natural leader for the team.”
You can know that a footballer is good but not how good you can see it somewhere else, but it’s not the same as when it turns up on your team, your league. There is always discovery, even the knowledge that is known. There is also always doubt, a hint of danger, and when a player enters an environment where there is already a lot of doubt, even more so than before. Lewandowski came at 34 on a four years deal, Bayern refusing to offer more than one. And he admitted that he personally saw some of the problems that Barcelona had last season when he was on the other side; he also insisted, however, that he focused on where they were going, not where they came from, a calm authority on his part. If a good player can always be brought down, a really good player can bring down those around him.
That’s why what happened in Mallorca had less impact than other nights but was more important, something that dreamed of something significant.
On Sunday, Osasuna ended a wild weekend, the revelation of this season so far, by holding Madrid to a 1-1 draw. Kike García headed in a goal that Antonio Rüdiger called “one in a million” and then Benzema hit the bar with a penalty 10 minutes from time – his fourth of six misses, three of them against Herrera. It was the first time Madrid had failed to win all season, but it was enough to allow Lewandowski’s goal to put his side on top.
It is still very early, the clásico coming soon, injuries and the list of players suggest that they will be vulnerable this month, and Barcelona have not beaten their most famous opponents: Mallorca, Elche, Cádiz, Valladolid and Sevilla who are in the bottom half. Lewandowski wasn’t winning either – Marc André ter Stegen extended his run without conceding a goal to a personal best 534 minutes and that’s 18 away games without a win under Xavi, stretching back to last season. But this is their first time on top since Ernesto Valverde was coach and the first time they have been there since June 2020 – when Quique Setién was in charge and the stadiums were still empty, 91 games ago . Valencia, Granada, Betis, Madrid, Getafe, Real Sociedad and Atlético have all been there since but Barcelona were not. Lewandowski is now back in contention to compete for his ninth consecutive league title, his 11th in 13 years.
“Lewandowski is a blessing,” says Xavi.