Two of the Bundesliga's most in-form strikers face off on Friday as Robert Lewandowski and Dortmund play host to Vedad Ibisevic's Stuttgart.
While VfB have struggled this season and are out of the Europa League while having taken just 13 points from their first 10 Bundesliga matches, Ibisevic has been magnificent for the Swabians and is joint-league leader in goals scored.
BVB are alive and well on three fronts and are just a point behind Bayern in the Bundesliga table while boating the league's best goal difference. And as he was in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Lewandowski has been a key figure for Dortmund this season. But who is the better player? Read on for a point-by-point breakdown:
At 6'2" and 181 pounds, Ibisevic is larger than the 5'11.5", 172-pound Lewandowski. But although a little smaller, the latter uses his athletic qualities to great effect. His limbs are longer than his height suggests, and he's exceptionally adept at shielding the ball with his large frame.
Ibisevic can do the same to an extent and has even more of a body to work with, but he lacks the explosiveness, pace and agility of Lewandowski.
One of the clearest categories for comparing Ibisevic and Lewandowski is their build-up play. The former is a poacher who offers little outside the box and has to wait for the ball to come to him. The latter is capable of venturing into wide areas, a reliable outlet man when playing the ball out of defense, plays superbly with his back to goal and, in his first season at BVB, even played behind a main striker.
Practice makes perfect, and it's therefore no surprise that at 73 percent, Lewandowski has one of the best pass completion rates among Bundesliga strikers. Ibisevic trails significantly behind, with an accuracy of 64 percent.
As previously referenced, Ibisevic has a 2.5-inch advantage over Lewandowski. And he uses that extra height to great effect: the 29-year-old has scored as many goals with his head this season as he has with his left and right foot combined.
Lewandowski is good at winning aerial duels in midfield, but his heading—especially on goal—is certainly not his strongest point. The 25-year-old has only scored once with his head this season.
As a penalty box striker, Ibisevic must have strong instincts with positioning and understanding when and where to make his runs. If not, he would score a lot less often and still be without many useful skills outside the box—he really would have little appeal for a starting role. But at 29 he had the time and experience to develop instincts without the ball; these show when he attacks crosses and quickly breaks to the ball.
Lewandowski is less experienced and has many other angles to his game on which he focuses. And as a result, his movement is not quite as refined as that of his counterpart.
Although he's found the target more often than Lewandowski, Ibisevic has put less than half (12) of his 27 shots on target in the Bundesliga this season. His Dortmund counterpart has a shot accuracy of 71 percent, having found the goal frame with 24 out of 34 attempts. Lewandowski has therefore shot more, put more attempts on target and missed with fewer attempts than Ibisevic.
At the same time, Ibisevic has scored one more goal than Lewandowski despite taking seven fewer shots. Even if he misses the target at a greater rate, and thus produces fewer opportunities for goals from rebounds, he is more of a clinical finisher.
Work Rate and Defense
Watching Dortmund's high-octane style of play, it may seem a no-brainer that Lewandowski is a harder worker than Ibisevic. But the Poland international has pressed less in 2013-14 than in previous years and covers less ground (9.60 km) per 90 minutes than Ibisevic (10.02 km).
Lewandowski still is the more combative and aggressive player without the ball, and by a significant margin. The ex-Lech Poznan man has engaged in 141 challenges this season, 38 of which have been non-aerial. Ibisevic has challenged for the ball on 119 occasions, only 18 of which were on the ground.
In the Bundesliga, not much separates Ibisevic and Lewandowski in terms of form. The Bosnia international is the league's joint-top scorer with seven goals, but the Pole is hot on his heels with six. Outside the German league, however, Ibisevic has a clear edge. He's found the net 17 times in all competitions for club and country, leading Bosnia to qualification for their first-ever World Cup. Lewandowski failed to duplicate such success with Poland, and his goals tally stands at a relatively modest 10.
His winner against Lithuania that put Bosnia through to the World Cup will increase Ibisevic's stock significantly, but there's a reason the Stuttgart man is valued at €10 million whereas Lewandowski is rated at €39 million. At 29, Ibisevic is at the height of his career and not very far from his natural decline. Lewandowski is four years younger and has his best years ahead, yet still has accomplished more in his career. A Champions League finalist, two-time Bundesliga title winner, DFB-Pokal winner and one-time Bundesliga Striker of the Season, Lewandowski has an overall edge. But at the moment, the in-form Ibisevic is not far behind.
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