The former Borussia Dortmund forward made his dream move to the Allianz Arena this summer but his first couple of months have proved a disappointment
Robert Lewandowski’s signing could not have come at a better time for Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola’s relationship with the incumbent No.9, Mario Mandzukic, had broken down over his role in the team and many of their attacking talents were battle weary from the World Cup.
Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller had gone the distance with Germany, Arjen Robben was involved until the final weekend and Franck Ribery was injured during France’s preparations and has struggled for fitness ever since.
Lewandowski’s Poland, on the other hand, were not involved and, with a full summer programme behind him, he would be able to pick up where he left off last season with Borussia Dortmund and lead them through the first part of the season.
With just one goal and a string of anonymous performances in his seven first games for the club, though, Bayern’s new star is yet to show the form he came across so easily in yellow and black.
Questions were immediately raised when it was announced that Lewandowski, a classic No.9, was signed to a Guardiola team. For all of his great work-rate, finishing and teamwork, the Catalan coach’s chequered history with traditional forwards – players very much in the Pole’s mould – meant that success was by no means a guarantee.
Mandzukic is not the only No.9 to have struggled under the former Barcelona boss, with both Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic falling at the wayside by the time Lionel Messi was installed as an unorthodox forward.
The Croat was adamant that he did not fit with the system when he announced his desire to move on. “Let’s be honest, the style Guardiola wants at Bayern doesn’t suit me. I definitely understood, no matter how much I try, I can’t get the best of myself with this style.”
And Lewandowski, whose striking talents are similar to those of the now Atletico Madrid forward, is suffering due to the same system.
Though he went through his footballing education in his homeland, his finishing school was under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, where he thrived under the eccentric coach’s self-styled “heavy-metal” football.
After some initial struggles, he formed a telepathic understanding with the creative players around him. First Shinji Kagawa, then Marco Reus, gave him the space he needed with their incisive running, Mario Gotze knew best how to pick out his runs, while his Polish compatriots Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek could break at speed down the right and cross perfectly for their countryman.
Though he has former BVB sparring partner Gotze for company in Bavaria, he must learn to play to a more orchestral tune now.
Perhaps because teams are more afraid of Bayern and less willing to attack them, perhaps because Guardiola employs a more patient style of football based on suffocating opponents with passing in their own half, he has struggled to adapt.
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The tireless Muller’s impeccable movement has seen him link up with his new team-mate effectively on several occasions, but Gotze is clearly exhausted after his exploits with Germany, while Ribery and Robben have struggled to stay fit.
The extra pace the Dutchman and the Frenchman provide would be to Lewandowski’s benefit, but they are not here and Guardiola must raise the pace of Bayern’s game to get the most use out the players at his disposal.
Gotze and Lewandowski were a formidable duo when the German played behind the Pole at Signal Iduna Park and they can certainly have the same impact, but Pep has admitted that his new striker is suffering from a lack of room up front.
“He doesn’t have as much space here as he was used to at Dortmund,” he said prior to the 0-0 draw at Hamburg on Saturday, with he started on the bench. “They played on the counterattack more often.”
The former Spain international insisted, though, that he remains happy with how his new signing has fared, pointing out that he “has had two or three chances in each game. He always finds himself in the right position”.
For now, though, Bayern are misfiring. The stalemate against lowly Hamburg was the second time they have dropped points in a Bundesliga match from which they would ordinarily emerge with a handsome victory, after they let a lead slip at Schalke a fortnight ago.
Lewandowski remains a great signing. Not many teams can bring in such talent for free and, to weaken a direct rival so significantly was a masterstroke. But so far he has failed to show his quality in a red shirt and Guardiola must move away from his patient passing doctrine to let his main striker shine.