Given that he has scored 18 occasions in 19 matches all through his debut season, it might be nonsensical to argue that Barcelona will likely be higher off without Robert Lewandowski whereas he is suspended for his or her subsequent three LaLiga matches. The Catalans, regardless of opening the marketing campaign with a scoreless draw at dwelling to Rayo Vallecano and getting a little bit of a thumping from Real Madrid within the Clasico, whereas recurrently exhibiting the identical flaws that noticed them knocked out of the Champions League, someway sit prime of the desk as home soccer returns in Spain this week.
That “somehow” can be outlined in 3 ways: Madrid’s profligacy in dropping seven factors in opposition to Girona, Osasuna and Rayo, plus Barca’s outstanding ‘goals-against’ tally of simply 5… and having Lewandowski within the workforce.
The legendary Polish striker has repeatedly “sealed” all three factors — he was the one scorer in 1-0 wins in opposition to Mallorca and Valencia — repeatedly has been the man who breaks the 0-0 impasse in different video games and sometimes additionally put wins past doubt with the strike by giving Barcelona a two- or three-goal margin. Stellar returns from a brand new signing, little question, however there is a distinct argument that Barcelona play higher, extra full, extra convincing and extra fluent soccer without him.
When Xavi & Co. face Espanyol (dwelling), Atletico within the capital after which Getafe again at Camp Nou over the approaching weeks, there will likely be an opportunity not just for the workforce to indicate it can cope without Lewandowski however for the Catalan coach to check opponents in a completely totally different manner than Barca did in lots of their earlier fourteen LaLiga matches.
So far, the proof means that after they’re without a comparatively static, conventional centre-forward, Barcelona play with extra dynamism and risk and look rather more just like the template anticipated when the 42-year-old Catalan took over from Ronald Koeman in November 2021. However, the pattern dimension is brief and traditionalists will already be spluttering into their festive mulled wine: “… goals are everything… to hell with the quality of play. Lewandowski is master of all he surveys!”
It’s additionally true that membership president Joan Laporta intentionally turned the main target again on outcomes over high quality of efficiency when, simply earlier than Christmas, he introduced that “we’ve made it crystal clear to everyone in the dressing room that our all-important objective is to win the league.” Win in any respect prices, as fashion factors depend for nothing was the message.
Although not out of step together with his employer, Xavi put it very in a different way. “We cannot lose our ‘house style’ — that’s the thing which has made the club great. It’s the playing idea via which the national team won a World Cup and two European Championships, how Barca won five Champions Leagues: in fact, it’s time we redoubled our efforts to achieve the essence of the Barcelona playing philosophy. Yes, we’ll need a Plan B and a Plan C, but everything needs to be based on our central idea of how to play football.”
Regarding Lewandowski, the argument goes like this. With him within the XI, it is a Barcelona period when a big diploma of the positional and passing fashion that’s central to the Rinus Michels/Johan Cruyff/Pep Guardiola thought of find out how to play is sacrificed or lowered. On the opposite hand, the Polish star brings absolute mastery of find out how to produce typically outstanding targets — notably in tight conditions.
What will get sacrificed are the fluency of motion, the intricacy of build-up play, the speedy interchanging of positions and the way creatively possession is used within the closing third. Lewandowski’s associative and “build-up” play is not unbelievable. And though he does not hover across the penalty spot selfishly ready to be served, he’s, without query, an quaint “No. 9” whose greatest work is finished both when he is provided with distinctive crosses into the field or when an opponent’s line of defense (typically 5 – 6 males) is ragged.
It’s wholly pure that, at 34, his athletic velocity is declining. He will not often win a dash if the ball’s performed lengthy into house behind a excessive line of defense and, one-on-one, he is much less more likely to go previous a younger, sturdy, intelligent marker. Some proof nudging us additional in direction of these conclusions comes from his failure to attain, or make a severe affect, in 4 of Barcelona’s 5 matches in opposition to Bayern Munich, Inter and Real Madrid. Those who watched how Inter (in Milan), Madrid and Bayern — particularly at Camp Nou — nullified Lewandowski and prevented him from getting the standard of possession he now wants can have been ready for the pallid, sluggish performances he gave for Poland in the course of the World Cup.
He stays good, however he is 34, human and now not the rampaging colossus of his absolute peak.
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Lewandowski, whose professionalism, willingness to assist Xavi on the coaching pitch, recommendation to teammates and tolerance of enjoying in a stumbling Bambi-like period of Barcelona’s improvement are all fairly outstanding. So too are his aim stats, which, though barely down in contrast together with his final two seasons with Bayern, look nonetheless extra praiseworthy once you take note of what number of new, younger or ‘coming to the tip’ gamers there are round him.
A smooth-running juggernaut, this workforce isn’t.
So, again to the Lewandowski argument. Without him within the XI, there is a clear risk that Xavi’s workforce loses chew. If Barcelona look wanting a leading edge and scorn a great deal of aim probabilities within the three matches through which he is absent, then few will care an excessive amount of in the event that they’ve performed nicely … however misplaced or drawn. However, without him within the XI, in opposition to Viktoria Plzen, and for the final hour at Osasuna, Barcelona did not merely win however performed outstandingly in a different way from at every other time this season.
Lewandowski’s targets have a tendency to return with Barcelona camped within the closing third, prodding and probing over and once more to attempt to open up an opponent that has deployed important numbers to stifle and block. These are conditions when, if the ball is misplaced, Barcelona are very prone to speedy, well-executed counter-attacks. There will typically be solely two on the again, which implies Xavi’s workforce can be uncovered positionally and for tempo.
When Lewandowski’s not enjoying, it is a workforce that can play via the traces way more quickly, that can counter assault extra shortly and can profit from a relentless rotation of Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres, Raphinha, Gavi and Ousmane Dembele at any given second, and even Pedri arriving from deeper positions..
Away within the Czech Republic earlier this season, Barcelona dragged Viktoria Plzen about ruthlessly and received a Champions League sport when, provided that Xavi used a younger, inexperienced facet, there was a risk of shedding. It was vivacious and fluid, and Barca had been exhausting to pin down.
For the final hour in opposition to Osasuna, after Lewandowski’s sending off, in a match through which the hosts hadn’t merely led on the break however bullied Barcelona, pressed them and made it look as if this was a particular defeat within the making, LaLiga’s leaders performed higher with 10 males, had been once more noticeably extra fluid and speedy and, considerably, turned a 1-0 deficit right into a 2-1 win.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta expresses his hopes that membership legend and freshly topped world champion Lionel Messi will play in Blaugrana colors once more.
There’s one other level that Xavi can flip to his benefit as a substitute of lamenting the Polish participant’s three-game suspension.
For the previous 12 years, Lewandowski has benefitted from the Bundesliga’s “Winterpause” — a break from December to January or February that means no league matches for wherever between three to 5 weeks. The German league additionally performs a 34-match league season, the Spanish one 38. His absence, a three-match suspension that Barcelona appealed via each doable authority solely to be instructed to cease making a fuss about nothing, means he has, and can proceed to have, a mini Winterpause because the World Cup ended. In principle, he needs to be fitter and sharper for the Copa del Rey, the Supercup semifinal in opposition to Betis in Saudi Arabia after which for Manchester United within the Europa League.
Laporta is an unashamed fan. “Lewandowski is one of the reasons we’ve been able to make our fans happy again. Of course he brings professionalism, experience and responsibility, but he’s a hell of a guy and he’s brought the club an air of glamour.” True, however there is a counterpoint: it is a striker who considerably situations how Xavi’s workforce performs, and across the nook, there’s coming a time when Lewandowski — a short-term repair for an absence of energy, class and expertise whereas this squad was being rebuilt — will not be there.
While removed from definitive, the subsequent three LaLiga matches provide Xavi and his squad a glimpse of what the not-too-distant future will seem like. Perhaps a gorgeous glimpse at that.