Is Lewandowski a big-game flop?

Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich 2019-20
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There is a narrative that the Bayern Munich striker does not turn up in the knockout round, but is it actually true?

Brilliance is viewed as the bare minimum at Bayern Munich.

So much so, that even after finishing as the Bundesliga top scorer in 2010-11 and then helping the Bavarians reach the Champions League final the following season with 13 goals, Mario Gomez was given a back-handed compliment by then-president Uli Hoeness.

"We now have alternatives for Mario Gomez," Hoeness explained after signing both Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic to compete with the German international for a starting spot.

"This is a prerequisite for success. Mario is good – but not very good."

The following year, Bayern won the Champions League, but Gomez started on the bench in the final, with Mandzukic chosen to lead the line. They have won the Bundesliga every single year since.

The signing of Robert Lewandowski has been key to their domestic dominance, with the Polish striker contributing 162 goals in 190 games since arriving from rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2014.

However, Bayern repeatedly came up short in Europe with Lewandowski in attack, which prompted some pundits to ask whether he was a flat-track bully and a big-game flop.

In his final season at Dortmund, he became the first player to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final, when he ran riot against Real Madrid, but he drew a blank against Bayern in the tournament decider at Wembley.

Robert Lewandowski, Sergio Ramos | Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund | UCL

The blame for Bayern's repeated failures to reach the final has usually been attributed to the coach at the time, with even Pep Guardiola referring to his spell in charge as a "failure" despite winning everything in Germany.

Niko Kovac's domestic double was not enough to keep him in a job, while Jupp Heynckes was called out of retirement in 2017 to replace Carlo Ancelotti, who had won the league but lost the dressing room after disappointing in Europe.

Since moving to Munich, Lewandowski has racked up an impressive 51 goals in 61 European appearances for the club.

The narrative of him being a big-game bottler emerged around 2018, after a poor year in the Champions League.

In his first two seasons at Bayern, he had scored in semi-finals against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, but a quarter-final goal against Real Madrid the following season was not enough to keep the German side in the tournament before Real dumped them out again in 2017-18.

Lewandowski had scored twice against Besiktas in the round of 16 that season, but went scoreless in matches against Sevilla and Real before another disappointing European adventure in 2018-19, where all his goals came in the group stage.

That second poor season strengthened the narrative that Lewandowski does not turn up in big games, but he has done everything in his power to put that myth to bed in 2019-20.

GFX Flick on Lewandowski

After contributing to all seven goals in the two-legged demolition of Chelsea, Lewandowski has scored in both his games in Lisbon, netting the sixth goal in the 8-2 hammering of Barcelona and then rubbing salt in Lyon's wounds with an excellent header for the third goal of a 3-0 win in the semi-final.

Lewandowski plays in his second-ever Champions League final on Sunday, where Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar and Kylian Mbappe stand between him and not only his first European Cup, but probably his first FIFA The Best Men's Player of the Year award.

Two goals against PSG would also equal Cristiano Ronaldo's record for the most goals ever in a single Champions League campaign, but Flick does not think those sort of accolades are of interest to Lewandowski.

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"He is not thinking about that," the Bayern boss told reporters. "This is very important for us. He works a lot for the team and this is really key for us and his team-mates and the coaching staff and he also helps with our defending.

"He is very dangerous in front of goal, we all know that. For me, he is the best striker in the world and we just hope he can continue like that and show his qualities against PSG."

If he shows those qualities in Lisbon, everyone can finally forget about that big-game bottler myth once and for all.