THE REAL G.O.A.T OF 2021

Lionel Messi won the 2021 Ballon d’Or with 33 more points than the 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski. This is where the connection between the two players ends. Despite publicly stating that he felt Lewandowski should have won last year when the awards were cancelled, many feel this year’s prize also should have gone to the Pole.

 

And with good reason. Messi’s long awaited wait for a trophy with Argentina finally ended, but when it came to on-field performances in 2021, it is hard to look past Lewandowski.

 

Granted he won the newly minted “Best Striker of the Year” prize but the fact that it was done to alleviate the anger at him not winning the Ballon d’Or fooled very few observers.

 

GOALS

Lewandowski was way ahead of Messi’s goal tally in 2021, across club and international duties. The Bayern Munich striker has 53 goals for the Bavarians in all competitions, averaging a ridiculous 67 minutes in between strikes. More than half of them came in a record-breaking league season, which saw him surpass Gerd Muller’s 41 goals tally in the Bundesliga.

 

Moreover, he also hit 11 goals for Poland in Euro 2020 (three) and the World Cup 2022 Qualifiers (eight). Though they were unable to make it into knockout rounds of the former, Lewandowski and co. have clinched a playoff spot for the World Cup next year.

 

Messi was way behind with 32 goals, as both he and Barcelona struggled mightily in Ronald Koeman’s final full season. Furthermore, he has not been helped by a slow start to life at PSG, with only four goals across all competitions so far. However, his crowning moment of course came at the Copa America as he racked up four goals and five assists.

 

Messi has had a further five goals in World Cup Qualifiers. Nevertheless, it has not been one of the “ridiculous” years that fans have come to expect and Lewandowski was comfortably better placed.

 

ASSISTS

Lewandowski has never been a prolific assists provider, given the central role he occupies. Still, he managed nine assists, though none of them came at Euro 2020. The fundamental difference in roles played by each player means that he will always trail in this department.

 

Setting up teammates has always been one of Messi’s greatest strengths, as indicated by 17 assists for club and country. Five of those came at the Copa America, and a further three in the most recent match for PSG.

 

XG

Both players overperformed on their xG according to stats from Understat over the past season. Lewandowski’s 41 league goals from an xG of just 32.08- a whopping difference of 8.92. He did it with an xG90 of 1.17 as well. Given how he preys inside the penalty box, it is no surprise that only three of his strikes were from outside. His lowest xG was 0.02 but most of them had a much greater chance of getting finished, which they duly were.

 

Messi’s 30 strikes were from an xG of 26.68, less than half of Lewandowski’s. His xG90 is also behind at 0.80. Unsurprisingly, he has had eight goals from outside the penalty area. Messi’s lowest xG was 0.03, while he was also helped by his unerring finishing from set-pieces too.

 

For the current season, Lewandowski has 14 goals in the Bundesliga from an xG of 14.40, which just highlights his deadly accuracy in front of goal. On the other hand, Messi has struggled as his solitary goal has only happened from an xG of 3.19. No doubt he is taking to settle in Paris, but for now the Pole is clear.

 

XA

For a change, Lewandowski actually aced this area as well. His seven assists in the Bundesliga were his most since he joined Bayern Munich. Understat gave him an xA of only 4.82 but he was comfortably clear of it, and had 0.18 xA90.

 

The current season has started off a bit slowly, as Lewandowski trails his xA of 2.49 with just one assist so far. There is plenty of time to make up for it and few would bet against him to do just that.

 

Likewise, Messi also underperformed with an xA of 11.42 belying his nine assists in La Liga. He had an xA90 of 0.34, and his contributions were very decisive for Barcelona eventually finishing third. With PSG, his three assists in one game has already overshot his xA of 1.88 till now. As he finds his feet more and more, those numbers are sure to rise.

 

ACCOLADES WON

Lewandowski (as individual): Bundesliga Golden Boot, European Golden Boot, IFFHS World’s Best Man Player, Tuttosport Golden Player, Footballer of the Year in Germany.

 

Lewandowski (club and country): Bundesliga, DFL Supercup.

Messi (as individual): La Liga Golden Boot,  Copa America Golden Boot, Copa America Top Assists-provider, Copa America Player of the Tournament.

 

Messi (club and country): Copa del Rey, Copa America.

 

FINAL VERDICT

Both the players had a supremely impressive 2021, and Messi’s international trophy might just have given him the edge, alongside on-pitch brilliance. Nevertheless, with how Lewandowski performed over the past two years, he was surely in Pole position to lift his first Ballon d’Or.

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