RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg has shown himself to be a highly competent winger and central midfielder in recent years, but has elevated his game to new heights in the No.10 role under Julian Nagelsmann.
Just eight appearances into the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign, Forsberg already has four goals to his name. That’s half his career-best single-season goal haul of eight in 2016/17, when he also chipped in with a league-best 19 assists in 30 games.
Watch: Emil Forsberg scored his first ever Bundesliga brace in Leipzig's 4-1 win over Cologne on Matchday 12!
The following year, injury restricted the 49-time Sweden international to 21 outings - including a handful in an unfamiliar deeper central role. His goals and assists count dropped to two apiece, before spiking to four and eight respectively in 20 top-flight appearances last term.
Far from eye-watering, but solid enough given he missed over a third of the season through niggling groin trouble before hitting his straps late March through to May. In his final 10 appearances of the campaign, he produced three goals and a further four assists - not from out wide, not as a quasi-quarterback, but running the show as a bona-fide playmaker.
The green shoots of recovery had grown from a seed planted on Matchday 3 when Forsberg weighed in with two assists in a 3-2 win over Hannover operating in the self-same role. Of his 35 outings in all competitions since, he has scored 11 and assisted nine as a No.10.
The 28-year-old’s four goals and one assist in the current Bundesliga campaign have come every 99 minutes - just like his injury-time brace against Benfica that propelled Leipzig into the UEFA Champions League last 16 for the first time in the club’s young history - from a central position.
"I’m just happy to be fully fit again, and playing well," Forsberg said modestly after his history-writing night in the Champions League. "I’m always hungry and always want to play. Even if it doesn’t make sense for me to play, I still want to - that’s just me. I always think I can help the team, and that’s what I try to do regardless of where I play. I always believe that quality shines through."
There’s no arguing with Forsberg’s razor-sharp philosophy. After 16 games in all competitions, he’s second only to Timo Werner for goals and still ranks in Leipzig’s top five assist providers (four).
He was among the substitutes for Leipzig’s first three competitive matches of the 2019/20 season - making second-half cameos in two of them - but has started 11 of their subsequent 13 assignments at home and abroad. Needless to say, Nagelsmann has been completely won over.
"Emil’s a real asset," enthused the Leipzig coach after witnessing Forsberg’s Benfica salvo. "We have a lot of very gifted young players in the attacking areas. He’s one of the older guys, but gives us something else. He’s made for those games where you need that little something extra to break through. He provides balance, creativity and goals."
Leipzig would not be in the draw for the Champions League knockouts with room to spare without Forsberg – that’s about as water-tight as facts get – but they might not be a single point off the Bundesliga summit after 12 rounds of fixtures and through to the DFB Cup round of 16 minus the services of their slam-dunking Swede, either.
His early-season concerns of "possibly being too old" for a club that prides itself on its policy of only signing players under the age 25 have proved to be completely unfounded. If 'Foppa' is an old dog, there’s plenty of life left in him yet.
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