With two goals and two assists on Saturday night, Robert Lewandowski really drove the point home: he and Bayern Munich mean business. The German champions pretty much already had both feet in the quarter-finals as they returned to Munich with a 3-0 lead, but no-one could’ve told that from the way they went about business at the Allianz. Let’s not mention the fact that Bayern hadn’t played a competitive game in over a month.
With his haul in that second leg, Lewandowski took his Champions League tally for the season to 13 goals and 4 assists. The Polish hitman no doubt has Ronaldo’s record of 17 Champions League goals in a season in his sights, even if he will have two games less in which to do it, thanks to this truncated season. This fact led us to ask the question: is Lewandowski currently the best buy on SportStack?
Before we get into some of the numbers, we should address the question “what makes the best SportStack long?” In short, it’s someone who is perennially underpriced. We recognise that there is much more to a SportStack payout than goal contributions, hence we calculate a base payout for every player in every game. With that said, there is no greater glory on the pitch than scoring a goal, and this is reflected in the SportStack scoring table. Scoring a goal, or even setting one up, can turn a bad payout into a good one, and so we are interested here in the players that are scoring and assisting the most. And if these players are rarely losing holders money, that to us is a good long.
We recognise it’s a little fallacious to compare Champions League and Premier League players – De Bruyne, Mahrez and Bruno Fernandes have put together pretty impressive numbers over the course of the domestic season, but they will of course be subject to rest and rotation. Champions League numbers are skewed higher because teams rest their star players for the games that really matter.
There is a slight issue with drawing comparisons between Lewandowski and anyone else based on Champions League numbers this season, as you can see below. Without having played every game he is the competition’s dominant goalscorer and only Kylian Mbappe has registered more assists.
NB: People might have noticed Kevin De Bruyne’s absence from the table above. While various stats sites have him down as one of the competition’s best performers this season, goal contributions have been lacking, giving him a somewhat mediocre average payout in the competition of 49p.
We are going to have to narrow the field slightly. The obvious contenders for the title of ‘Best SportStack Long’ would be Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, so let’s throw those guys in along with Lewandowski. There is also something to be said for Erling Braut Haland’s stunning CL debut season, and it is easy to forget that Kylian Mbappe is only 21. These two rising stars make the cut based on their numbers this season – it’s scary to think where they could be in three to five years’ time.
The SportStack scoring table gives us a useful means to compare apples to oranges (goals and assists), add them up and average them out. So from our pool of elite players, let’s begin by looking at their season averages for the Champions League.
Lewandowski (87p) is the clear leader here. There exist caveats to some of these figures, but his dominance on this metric is indisputable. One of Neymar’s (63p) five appearances this season was from the bench, and he paid out just 25p – the average payout from his starts is 72p. Impressive, but still not a patch on Lewandowski. Kylian Mbappe (47p) has made eight appearances in the competition this season, although four of those have been as a substitute. His average payout as starter is slightly higher at 55p, but we should mention his performance off the bench in October against Club Brugge. He came on in the 52nd minute and notched three goals and an assist for a total payout of 85p. Finally, only Erling Braut Haland’s performances as a Dortmund player are available on SportStack, so his season average is skewed lower. Eight of his ten goals came in a Salzburg jersey, and his season average would undoubtedly be higher if they were included.
In terms of goal contributions specifically, we also know that Lewandowski is way ahead. Below we have totalled the payouts each player would’ve earned from their goal and assist totals for the season in the Champions League.
Remarkably, the bigger names here are the ones that have struggled most in the competition. Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar have all earned less than 100p for goal contributions over the course of the season. Mbappe has 150p in somewhat limited minutes while Haland has 210p while having played less time than Messi or Ronaldo. Lewandowski, while having played nearly every minute of the seven games he has featured in, has 300p from goal contributions, a stunning return. Adjusting for playing time, either on a per-minute or per-game basis, Lewandowski still walks the rankings.
As we mentioned, we feel anyone in the running for the title of Best SportStack Long has to make traders money with as high a probability as possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to pricing data, but we can perform some rudimentary analysis. As some of the best goalscorers in world football, they have typically been priced between 55 and 65p ahead of the games we have seen on the platform – before the first leg of the Bayern-Chelsea tie, Lewandowski’s price got as high as 75p, but we’ll put that down to traders getting a little over-excited. Below we can see each player’s lowest payout as a starter, compared to the number of times they have paid out less than 55p as a starter. 55p is a bit of an arbitrary level, but you can be pretty sure that if any of these guys have paid out below that mark, they will have almost certainly lost traders money.
There are a few things to comment on regarding the chart above. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly looks the most hit-and-miss, having paid out less than 55p in five of his eight appearances this season, and three of those were in the 30-40p range (yuck). Mbappe and Neymar only have four starts for us to look at, while Haland has just the two as mentioned earlier. On this small sample size, Neymar looks a pretty good bet, having missed the 55p narrowly on one occasion. For Mbappe and Haland, the pitfalls of being an out-and-out striker are on full display. Haland was barely involved as Dortmund went out in the second leg against PSG, paying out just 19p. Mbappe has missed the 55p mark in two of his four starts, and once he was bang on that payout.
Meanwhile, Lewandowski has been exactly what Haland will one day hope to evolve into. His lowest payout is 58p, three times he has earned 70-80p, he has once paid out 89p, and has two max payouts to his name. That is an obscene return, and any trader buying consistently around the 60-65p mark will have fared extremely well.
The biggest asterisk from the above chart belongs to Haland though. The 20-year-old signed for Dortmund in December for a fee just under £20m, and has gone on to run riot in the Bundesliga. He’s bagged 16 goals and 4 assists in just 14 games for a free-scoring Dortmund side. This is demonstrated more clearly below where we adjust for appearances, to find goal contribution payout per game. Haland nudges ahead on this metric, and while we want to stress that he has carried this form over half a season rather than a full term, as has Lewandowski, it’s an
incredible rate of production for a (then) 19-year-old.
So ultimately, Lewandowski’s season has probably been the most remarkable of any of the big guns in Europe. We think there are a combination of factors worth addressing. Each of his nearest competitors – Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo – have their own issues.
Messi’s future at Barca is unclear and the club is likely to part ways with Quique Setien and move in a new direction over the next few weeks. Messi has dragged Barcelona through the back end of this season, with the team far from firing on all cylinders.
Juventus have once again been dominant domestically, but it’s possible that Father Time is catching up with the seemingly evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo. His output in the league remains remarkable and his taste for success is clearly as strong as ever, but this is his lowest goal tally in the CL since 2008-09. Given his output has dropped significantly since leaving Madrid, it is perhaps an issue with the management at Juventus; Sarri last season and Allegri the season prior.
Neymar, as in previous seasons, has struggled with injury this year. When he has played he’s been sublime, and in Wednesday’s showing against Atalanta he demonstrated what he is capable of with the bit between his teeth. PSG will carry the weight of their previous Champions League failings every step of the way in this year’s competition, but they have as good a chance this season as any to make the final.
While all of this is going on, Lewandowski continues to spearhead an efficient football machine at Bayern Munich. He is most certainly still in his prime, even at the age of 31, and Bayern remain the dominant force in German football with Dortmund still a selling club. It’s partly down to circumstance that, as a goalscorer, he is pretty much in a league of his own. Ronaldo is most comparable in playing style, and Lewandowski is four years his junior. He’s also two years younger than Messi, though he and Neymar play more withdrawn roles. In Lewandowski, we may have a glimpse into Haland’s future as the world’s elite number 9.
We think the Polish marksman is probably the safest bet on SportStack at this moment in time. Although he’ll usually command a price in the 60-65p region, he has been militant in front of goal this season, and both his and Bayern’s intentions in the Champions League are quite clear. The next hurdle he faces is a quarter-final against Barcelona, and the prices certainly make Bayern the favourites, so let’s see what he and Messi are capable of going head-to-head.