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Can Robert Lewandowski claim to be better than Lionel Messi?

Thomas Muller has lit the blue touchpaper ahead of Friday night’s Champions League showdown between Bayern Munich and Barcelona by suggesting Robert Lewandowski is the world’s best player – ahead of Lionel Messi.

Bayern’s Polish striker has enjoyed the best season of his career, scoring 53 goals in 44 matches including two in their 4-1 win over Chelsea last weekend which carried them into the last eight.

But Messi has also banged in plenty of goals during 2019-20 – 31 in 43 games – and will certainly be doing everything within his power to win a fifth Champions League title with Barcelona.

When Muller was asked whether Lewandowski is the best all-round attacker in the world right now, he said: ‘We’ll see that on Friday. Lewy will have to answer this question.

‘Messi also played very well today. But it’s up to Lewy and us to answer this question in Lewy’s favour on Friday.’

Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus went one step further and insisted that Lewandowski is actually the best player in the world, let alone the best striker.

But are they right? Sportsmail’s DAN MATTHEWS and ADAM SHERGOLD argue both sides of the coin.

On the surface, the case for Robert Lewandowski is obvious.

The numbers tell their own story, after all. In 44 appearances this season, the Bayern Munich No 9 has scored (53) or assisted (eight) a staggering 61 goals.

Lionel Messi, meanwhile, is languishing behind on the, err, meagre total of 57. Slacker.

But let’s be clear: to measure Messi by statistics is to judge Steve Jobs on his choice of turtleneck.

To reduce his contribution to mere data is to strip the Barcelona talisman of everything that makes him so special: the artistry, the intangible genius that shows little sign of wavering well into his thirties.

They say there are no diagrams on the scoreboard: that a goal is worth as much if it comes from one yard or 30.

But try telling that to Jerome Boateng, whose ankles and pride are still bruised from Bayern Munich’s last meeting with Barcelona.

In that semi-final first leg in 2015, the defender’s skeleton was rearranged as Messi edged into the box, went inside then out and left Boateng in a heap.

Let’s not pretend all goals are created equal. And so let’s not pretend that Messi has been overshadowed by Lewandowski just because the striker has shone as Bayern won an eighth-straight Bundesliga.

The true test for Hansi Flick’s side is not whether they can win the domestic double, or whether they can canter past an overmatched Chelsea side running on empty.

Bayern and Lewandowski’s season will instead be defined by nights like this, when the spotlight burns brightest.

That is not to say Lewandowski is a flat-track bully – rather he has already proven himself a modern great. As striker’s go, he is currently the world’s best.

But with Bayern now many people’s favourites for the Champions League, one question remains: does their resurgence under Flick show the value of Lewandowski’s stunning season, or help to explain it?

Remember, for years Messi faced the ludicrous accusation that his numbers were inflated by the quality around him.

Then this season, amid the chaos and civil war at the Nou Camp, Messi’s genius has remained undiminished. And club football’s greatest prize remains within his grasp.

Should Messi upstage Lewandowski and lead Barcelona to another European title, would people still feel the Bayern striker was robbed of the cancelled Ballon d’Or?

This battle is so finely poised. Over the past eight Champions League campaigns, only Cristiano Ronaldo (with a ludicrous 47) has scored more knockout goals than Messi (21) and Lewandowski (22).

But remember: even if Messi draws level or moves ahead in that race on Thursday night, it will be his brilliance rather than any statistic that sets him apart once more.

Sorry, Leo. As much as I love and appreciate you, I’m inclined to agree with Thomas Muller. For this season at least.

Robert Lewandowski has scored 42, 43, 41 and 40 goals for Bayern Munich in the four seasons before this one.

To surpass those majestic totals, to score 53 goals (and counting) in a season that was disrupted for three months, a season that saw Bayern apparently in crisis when they changed their manager in November, means he certainly has a claim to be the best in the world.

Messi often provides us with moments of wonder but when it comes to cold, hard goalscoring on a metronomically regular and reliable basis, there is none better than Lewandowski.

Bayern have racked up 147 goals this season and Lewandowski has over one in three of them, scoring on average every 73 minutes.

It’s his sheer consistency that takes the breath away. He scored in each of Bayern’s opening 11 Bundesliga games, all but one of their matches he played in post-restart and every single Champions League game he’s played in as well.

And it’s not as though Lewandowski fills his boots against the cannon fodder in the Bundesliga and Champions League while failing to turn up in the biggest games.

He netted against Bayern’s main title rivals RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, scored twice in the Cup final against Bayer Leverkusen and played brilliantly in both legs of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea.

With this avalanche of goals, helping Bayern win the league, cup and, they hope, soon the Champions League, voices across the football world felt it was a travesty for the Pole that this year’s Ballon d’Or has been cancelled.

And they’re absolutely right. Messi has scored 22 fewer goals this season and failed to win a domestic trophy. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 37 times but that’s again not as many as Lewandowski and Juventus flopped in the Champions League.

It simply had to be Lewandowski’s name on the golden ball and hopefully justice will be served if and when other accolades are handed out.

If Bayern overcome Barcelona on Friday night – and certainly if Lewandowski helps himself to a goal or two – then this debate will be settled once and for all.

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