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And we all thought Barcelona was done big-game hunting


Is Lewandowski Barça bound?

Is Lewandowski Barça bound?
Image: Getty Images

We didn’t really get as big of a window to laugh at Barcelona as we thought or hoped. Proving the life lesson that you need to celebrate anything worth celebrating at that time and that place or you’ll miss the opportunity. Barça is roaring in La Liga right now, all the way up to second after winning seven in a row and nine of their last 10. Xavi has re-instituted the flare that we associate with the club.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can’t stop scoring, and did so again yesterday. Pedri looks like the next Barça legend, and also scored yesterday in a 3-2 win over Levante, even though they gave away three penalties. That kind of thing happens and you start to believe that Xavi walks around with a pouch of magic gems and eyes of newt and all that. If the La Liga season were a month longer than it is, you sort of wonder if they wouldn’t suddenly chase down Madrid. We thought it might be multiple seasons that Barça were doing the “Trading Places,” thing. Turns out it was just a few months.

What makes it more impressive is that Xavi has basically had to do this with what was lying around that Ronald Koeman couldn’t make any sense of. Sure, he got Adama Traoré, Aubameyang, and Ferran Torres in January, but all came with questions. Traoré had never shown a finish to any of his work with the ball. Torres was the definition of ballast at Man City. Aubameyang had basically quit on Arsenal.

But Xavi not only is getting contributions from that troika, but found a system that turned Pedri into an all-conquering hero as well as finally unlocking Frenkie De Jong. He’s even been able to not only keep Ousmane Dembélé from checking out and worrying about his next contract, but to play really well in pursuit of the same.

It’s fair to ask in Barcelona aren’t better off now without Lionel Messi than with him. The two parted ways last summer due to Barça’s face-first dive into the financial cellar, and now Messi is booed by his own fans after a pretty meandering performance for PSG as they Inspector Cluseau’d their way out of the Champions League again. That doesn’t mean Barça played that whole affair well or anything resembling that. They just may have Forrest Gump’d their way to success.

But all of that doesn’t mean that Barça are done hungering for the big names in the game to come play for them, especially when it’s still a foregone conclusion that their biggest rivals, Real Madrid, are bringing in Kylian Mbappé next summer and aren’t even out of the running for Erling Haaland to join him (or at least so they say). Whatever plan Barça has, the arms race with Madrid is always front of mind

So with that, there’s an awful lot of smoke that they’ve already agreed to a contract with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. There’s the small issue that Lewandowski is under contract with the German squad until the summer of 2023, and that Barça still only have fresh-baked pastries available to pay for any transfer. They can pay high salaries, somehow, which Lewandowski clearly commands (rumors have the deal they’ve agreed to paying him up to $38 million a year). The hope will be that Lewandowski is able to work something out with Munich to let him go cheaply. And it’s been an open secret that Lewandowski would like to make one more big move in his career and to a different country. Chelsea was a rumored destination not so long ago. City was muted some time back. But Spain has been the most whispered destination, which means either of the two giants.

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Lewandowski certainly has nothing left to prove in Germany. Just in the last two seasons he’s poured in 73 goals in 58 league games. Munich lifted the European Cup in 2020, though maybe they think it’s a little marked as it was during the pandemic and the abbreviated knockout tournament it became. They could easily win it again this year. They’ve never not won the Bundesliga with Lewy leading the line. If Lewandowski felt he needed a different challenge, you would understand. The one he faced in Germany has most certainly been conquered.

And Barça seem like a perfect fit under Xavi. They don’t play all that differently. Wingers who stay wide to provide more space for the attacking midfielders, all funneling chances and passes to a central forward. Hand Lewandowski a bucket of chances, you’ll get a bucket of goals.

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Any alarm bells that might ring for Barça supporters would probably center around Lewandowski’s age. He’ll be 34 at the start of next season, which is just about the same age even Messi started to come off his delirious heights. However, Spain is about the only place where the pace of play noticeably drops from Germany. Spain might have more technical skill, but teams don’t press and counter or even move at nearly the pace they do in Germany. That might aid someone entering the twilight of his career.

The other red light might be the history of exports out of the Bundesliga. Timo Werner tore the Bundesliga apart for a couple seasons. Chelsea fans are now relieved when he gets on the field with both shoes tied. Wout Weghorst had 20-goal seasons in Germany, and he’s currently toiling for Burnley (though everyone toils at Burnley, that’s their way). Jadon Sancho has not made a mark at Man United after setting Germany alight. Luka Jović couldn’t even get into the Madrid team for seasons on end. Lewandowski certainly has more pedigree than all of them, but it is worth not totally ignoring.

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It’s certainly sound planning to not count on Aubameyang long-term. He went on this heater when he arrived at Arsenal, and won them an FA Cup pretty much by himself. And that’s what Arsenal thought they would get in the following seasons, and they most certainly didn’t. He’s not going to continue to score on 35 percent of his total shots or on 53 percent of all his shots on target (career marks: 22 and 37 percent).

Lewandowski does score at those rates all the time (career mark of 40 percent goals from shots on target). Even if his legs start to go, he’s not going to need them as much in Spain (and Barça might space out his games more than Munich does), he’s going to have De Jong and Pedri and others making sure all he really has to do is get open in the box and fire home. That said, Aubameyang and Lewandowski did play together for one season in Dortmund. They combined for 33 goals. But you can see them giving each other a break in their 30s now instead of being on the field at the same time.

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It’s not a long-term solution, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bridge to whatever the decade-long solution Xavi finds at center forward.

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