This feature is part of Virtuoso
You can do a lot in nine minutes. You can walk from the London Eye across Westminster Bridge to Big Ben. You can listen to Even Flow and Alive on Pearl Jam’s Ten album, uninterrupted. Or, if you’re this way inclined, you could score five goals in a single Bundesliga match for Bayern Munich and break multiple records in the process.
On 22 September 2015, Polish hitman Robert Lewandowski achieved the latter in spectacular fashion, perhaps managing to establish himself as the finest striker in the world at the time, with one of the most incredible 45 minutes a player has ever produced.
Settling into his sophomore year with the German giants, Lewandowski was coming off the back of a productive season in which he notched 25 goals in 49 games, finishing joint-top of the Bundesliga scoring charts alongside teammate Arjen Robben and Alex Maier of Frankfurt, on 17 goals each. Pep Guardiola had obviously brought out a more well-rounded style of striker from the Pole, even if his statistical performances had decreased from his time at Borussia Dortmund, but the transition from being the sole provider of firepower to a team with multiple world-class players can often present these kinds of results.
Under Guardiola, Lewandowski had evolved from a poacher who played well with his back to goal into a striker who could sniff out a goal from any conceivable angle and managed to link up play extremely well, even if his goal scoring exploits overshadowed this skill. He could head the ball with power, hit the ball accurately on the run, exploit space in the box, beat players with pace — you name it, he could do the lot.
In some ways, Lewandowski was the perfect striker and during the early to mid-2010s, you could argue he was the deadliest on the planet. But, no matter how deadly in front of goal he showed himself to be, nobody could have anticipated the kind of night he’d mastermind against a most unfortunate Wolfsburg team. As with any incredible individual performance, there are a few things that need explaining to really encapsulate the magnitude of what Lewandowski pulled off.
Firstly, the striker had only ever scored three hat-tricks in his career up until September 2015 and had just one four-goal haul. Admittedly, the latter was in a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, so if you’re going to only do it once that’s a pretty good time to do it, but he hardly made a habit of such exploits.
Secondly, Lewandowski had missed the previous match against Darmstadt with an ankle problem, so started the night on Bayern’s bench and would only come on at half-time, making it even more impressive that he single-handedly turned the game around in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
What is often forgotten about this game is that Wolfsburg had actually edged ahead just before the half-hour mark, when Julian Draxler found Daniel Caligiuri in space and the German powered home a fine goal to send Wolfsburg into the break with a lead. Unfortunately, this would probably be the last time any of those Wolfsburg players would enjoy any part of that night, as things were only just getting started for the Bavarians.
At half-time, Bayern made two subs. Left-back Juan Bernat was replaced by Javi Martínez to sure up the midfield, which made sense once Thiago was hauled off for Lewandowski to add a little more bite up up front, with Mario Götze dropping into midfield and Thomas Müller roaming across the front line. It only took five minutes for Lewandowski to get involved when Bayern’s brilliant build-up play from the back allowed a quick interchange allowed Müller to find Lewandowski who only had to get any kind of contact on his finish to score. Fifty-one minutes: one goal.
On the Bundesliga’s official YouTube page you can actually find the whole nine minutes that took place with the replays cut short to allow us to see Lewandowski hit his second; this time a long-range effort that was placed perfectly into the bottom left-hand corner, giving Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio no chance of stopping it. Fifty-two minutes: two goals.
The next goal was yet another move started with a well-worked piece of passing from the Bayern backline and even though the final finish was scrappy, it secured Lewandowski a hat-trick and the record of quickest ever by a Bundesliga player. Four minutes was all it took him. If the game had ended here, few would have been insufficiently satisfied or left unimpressed but Bayern and Lewandowski wanted more. The goal scoring instinct of the Pole had him smelling Wolfsburg’s blood.
Another bit of Bayern build-up play allowed Douglas Costa to run at his rapid pace down the left flank to cross into Lewandowski who hit the ball sweetly on the half-volley into the roof of the net to make it four and to send Guardiola and rest of the Allianz Arena into raptures. To see it happen live on television was incredible, but to be there to see it in the flesh would have been the best feeling of all, so long as you weren’t a Wolfsburg fan, of course. But yet, after four goals and the quickest hat-trick in Bundesliga history, Lewandowski had somehow left the best for last.
Intense pressing followed by wonderful passing allowed Bayern to create the space as Götze found himself on the right-hand touchline. He took one look up, swung the cross to the edge of the box and, without a moment’s hesitation and showing us the true instinctive striker he is, Lewandowski met the ball perfectly on the side volley and made history. Guardiola looked amazed and perplexed out on the touchline, as did pretty much everyone else in the Allianz that night. It was a striker’s paradise for Lewandowski who managed to evade markers and use every strength he had to his advantage, breaking records and dragging Bayern back to win the game 5-1.
Every goal had something special about it from the striker’s point of view. The first goal showed that Lewandowski knew how to be in the right place at the right time. The second from outside the box demonstrated his ability to hit long-range and accurate shots in the perfect place. The third was his willingness to get the ball into the back of the net even if he were made to hit the post and have his shot blocked twice before eventually putting it in. He wanted that goal and he was going to get it. The fourth was perfect in showcasing how he could run onto the ball and make the right contact, just as he did with his incredible fifth goal.
Lewandowski broke the records of most goals by a substitute in Bundesliga history; the fastest hat-trick; fastest four goals; fastest five goals; and most goals from a substitute in a single game. The five-goal haul was the fastest in Europe’s major leagues since Opta began recording stats back in 1996 and broke Wolfsburg’s impressive 14-match unbeaten run.
The image of Guardiola smiling with his head in his hands will be remembered for many years, thanks to the fine work of the meme-loving internet, but the goalscoring records and outright ruthlessness of Robert Lewandowski will be remembered forever, not only because of the magnitude of what he achieved but also because of the ease with which he scored the five goals. One of the best strikers of his generation, this was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime performance.
By Tom Scholes @_TomScholes
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp