Donyell Malen finally fulfilling his promise to power Borussia Dortmund's title tilt
Donyell Malen is enjoying his best spell as a Borussia Dortmund player, and the 24-year-old's uptick in form couldn't have been more perfectly timed as Die Schwarzgelben aim to end Bayern Munich's decade-long grip on the Bundesliga title.
Signed in the summer of 2021, Malen arrived at the Signal Iduna Park with lofty expectations of filling the considerable void left by Jadon Sancho.
Sancho's were never going to be easy shoes to fill and the Netherlands international took 12 games to score his first Bundesliga goal before injury eventually brought his rookie season in the German top flight to a premature end.
By the close of the 2021/22 campaign, Malen had scored five goals in 27 Bundesliga outings, while his best form came in the UEFA Champions League where he struck three times in six games.
Even then, Dortmund dropped out of the group stages, rendering Malen's contributions, albeit impressive, relatively redundant.
Overall, his debut season in Germany ended with the Dutchman showing only glimpses of the talent that led to Dortmund capturing his signature ahead of some of the biggest teams in Europe.
There was surely far more to come and Malen initially hit the ground running at the start of his second season by delivering a Player of the Match performance in the 3-0 win over 1860 Munich which marked Dortmund's opening game of the new term.
Malen scored one and set up another in that DFB Cup first-round victory, prompting Sebastian Kehl - the club's sporting director and a man that played a significant role in bringing Malen to North Rhine-Westphalia - to suggest big things were on the horizon.
“I thought Donny Malen played very, very well,” said the former Dortmund skipper. “He has taken a real step forward, he worked hard for that over the summer. He seems fresher, lighter, more positive. You could see this confidence in quite a few of his actions."
But, once more, Malen struggled to capitalise on this performance and went 19 matches without scoring again until registering a first Bundesliga strike of the season in Matchday 21's 4-1 win over Hertha Berlin.
A mixture of injury and illness had again made for a bitty campaign up until then, with Malen also a victim of his own versatility.
The fact he can play all across the front line is a major attribute but, as Malen has flitted from right to left wing and also through the middle, Dortmund's No. 21 hasn't found a settled position from which he can gain positional familiarity and a consistency in his play.
Watch: All of Malen's Bundesliga goals in 2022/23
It was as a centre-forward that Malen broke his league duck for 2022/23 against Hertha, but it's a regular outpost from the right that has improved his output in front of goal.
He has started each of the last six games from the BVB right and settled into a devastating groove as a result, scoring in each of his last five matches and finding the back of the net six times in the process. The last Borussia player to strike in five straight Bundesliga games was in fact Sancho in 2019.
His red-hot run culminated in two-goal heroics in the 4-0 destruction of Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 29, a result which catapulted BVB into top spot with just five games to go.
"Today was the best performance we've seen from Donny in a BVB shirt, he played an outstanding game," hailed a clearly delighted Dortmund coach, Edin Terzic, after the win over Frankfurt.
"He had already improved throughout the course of the first half of the season, but he was always a bit unlucky. He was one or two centimetres off and missing that last little bit of conviction in his finishing. Now you can see what capabilities he has."
Watch: Malen at the double against Frankfurt - highlights
Malen has certainly proven to be convincing in the final third in recent weeks and he has also benefitted from the return to fitness of Karim Adeyemi, who provided both assists for the Netherlands international's double against Die Adler and teed up Malen's up-and-running effort versus Hertha.
The pair now seem settled as Terzic's preferred pairing to flank Sebastien Haller in attack, with their form keeping the likes of Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Marco Reus and Gio Reyna among the substitutes, further highlighting just how difficult it is to get a starting berth in this talent-heavy Dortmund outfit.
It's the perfect headache for Terzic to have, knowing he can call on a star-studded cast to drive his team over the line as they seek to end Bayern's domestic dominance.
Malen's scene-stealing run of form couldn't have been more perfectly timed as Dortmund look to claim a first league title since 2012.
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