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Barcelona and the Robert Lewandowski conundrum

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Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Stumbling to three points against Alaves, a loss to Shakhtar Donetsk while on the precipice of their first Champions League knockout berth in three years, gasping their way to a last-minute win against Real Sociedad and a crushing loss in the El Clasico.

This has been the story of Barcelona’s last four games – and the funny part is – only the Clasico housed a performance that the team can be even remotely proud of.

These games have pinpointed once again the culture of mediocrity and the overall lack of mental fortitude under adversity that has backed Barcelona into a corner over the last few years.

As much as the club’s identity and playing philosophies are discussed, there seems to be a general lack of coherence in their system and an air of desperation about their build-up when patience in creating obvious gaps does not pay off.

And one player who suffers more than most due to this is Robert Lewandowski.

A skillset like no other

In terms of pure finishing ability and getting himself into the right positions to score goals, it may be fair to say that Robert Lewandowski may be the most unique player in the whole league.

As one of the finest number 9s of our generation, the Pole does have a knack for popping up in the right place and turning games on their head even if he may have been having a horror show the entire night – much like his display against Alaves.

Something out of nothing. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

That performance accentuates a number of things that Barcelona need to consider with the veteran striker in order to get the best out of him, as time is clearly catching up to the veteran striker. But more on that later.

What does the supporting cast need to do?

The all-important equaliser he scored against Alaves with a wonderful header highlights the first of the many issues to address: get him in the box where he can be a threat from crosses.

Lewandowski has flourished throughout his career – unsurprisingly – when he is not the point the attack flows through, but the point where it ends.

Barcelona’s current lack of personnel exposes his flaws a bit more due to a lack of pure, pacy wingers who can stretch the field and give him more space (like he had at Bayern Munich), but there are still ways to make sure he is not responsible for running the show.

When he has tried to drop deep and act as a creator or drift wide to deliver crosses himself, the team has suffered painful ends to seemingly promising attacking moves.

If he does find himself in a deeper position with the ball, wide runs from players are imperative to stretch the play, because more often than not, neither will Lewandowski be able to run past his men through the middle, nor will he be able to generate threat by taking the ball out wide.

The lack of mobility from the rest of the team is a huge issue for the Catalans and while the kind of goals they have conceded show the defensive issues it causes – the attacking problems are just as frustrating.

Lewandowski cannot be expected to provide the mobility at his age and for his role, considering he has to be in and around the penalty area to maximise threat.

The team needs to be more proactive and in a nutshell – run.

As for the midfielders, they must utilise the way Ferran Torres and Joao Felix occupy half spaces and push up more effectively.

They can then make sure if their shape is compact in possession, they can release the full-backs and Joao Cancelo can also push wide to ensure Lewandowski is on the end of crosses and not the one putting them in.

Use the dynamism. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Lewandowski’s responsibilities

It is evident that father time is catching up to Lewandowski, and that he is not going to be as efficient as he once was.

Despite the fact, the 35-year-old is physically still in incredible shape and Barcelona’s staff have no qualms about his ability to play regularly.

And as established above, he is by no means expected to be constantly involved in the game, quite the contrary in fact.

It is fine if he has very few touches of the ball and if he does not make good passes to his teammates and stays higher upfield, as long as the touches he does take are efficient.

Keep it simple. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Given all these concessions, the Pole cannot be making the errors he has been guilty of for quite some time now.

His first touches have been subpar to say the least, he has ignored teammates in better positions very often and has been quick to voice his frustration if he is on the receiving end of such a situation.

And although he is undoubtedly more efficient inside the box, as long as he is operating close to it, he does not need to hesitate to take a few long-range shots at goal given his exceptional shooting technique.

He has often misplaced simple passes and has also dwelled on the ball for far too long on multiple occasions, which has completely dismantled a number of promising-looking attacks.

His recent troubles can still be excused given that he is still regaining sharpness after returning from his ankle injury.

And to ensure Lewandowski thrives, the system definitely needs improvement – but so does he, because he is the purest goalscorer Barcelona have and they need him while he can still keep up solid output.

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