Is RB Leipzig's Yussuf Poulsen the Bundesliga's most underrated player?
Yussuf Poulsen has become only the fourth Danish player after Ebbe Sand, Thomas Christiansen and Alan Simonsen to score 15 goals in a single season. His hat-trick in RB Leipzig's 5-0 win over Hertha Berlin on Matchday 27 could well draw some overdue attention to one of the Bundesliga's most underrated stars.
Poulsen has scored six braces among those 15 goals, and his first hat-trick in German football earned him his first Derbystar ball, which he tucked under his shirt as a gesture to his pregnant girlfriend Maria, watching on from the stands.
"I haven't decided where to put it yet," Poulsen said afterwards, still grinning from ear to ear after becoming the first Leipzig player to score three in a single Bundesliga fixture. "This is my third year in the Bundesliga now, and I've needed this time to get to where I am."
Watch: Poulsen's first Bundesliga hat-trick against Hertha!
Indeed, despite being a key figure in Leipzig's monumental rise from the third division of German football to staging UEFA Champions League football at the Red Bull Arena, Poulsen has rarely been at the centre of attention. Emil Forsberg, who struck his second of the season in Saturday's rout, and Timo Werner, who supplied two assists, have regularly earned the rave reviews.
Now, though, is the time for the Denmark international to reap what his consistent performances have warranted.
Whereas last season Poulsen started only 18 matches, this term he has been in the team from the off for 24 of Leipzig’s 27 matches. His response has been spectacular – with his 15 strikes so far comfortably surpassing the nine goals he got in his first two Bundesliga campaigns combined.
"He's in a blinding spell of form," said Kevin Kampl, who set up Poulsen's first against Hertha. "He's not just scoring goals, but he's putting himself about for the team." Captain Willi Orban added: "With or without the ball he's a machine, and he does an incredible amount of work for us."
The 6'3" frontman has been involved in more challenges than any other player apart from Eintracht Frankfurt’s Sebastien Haller, winning 50 per cent of his aerial duels. He is certainly battle hardened at this stage, having played over 200 games for Leipzig since his arrival in Germany, after which he scored 10 times in their Bundesliga 3 promotion campaign of 2013/14.
The Copenhagen native now has three more goals than Werner this season, and he is the fourth-highest goalscorer in the league along with Borussia Dortmund skipper Marco Reus. Unlike Reus and Robert Lewandowski, who leads the scoring charts with 19, all of Poulsen’s goals have come from open play.
Watch: Poulsen scored one of his five braces this season vs. Leverkusen!
The 24-year-old’s contributions are usually important, too. He has scored five times in the first quarter of an hour of games, and no player has given his team a 1-0 lead more often than the Leipzig number nine (six times).
“Finally he's getting his rewards," said Leipzig head coach Ralf Rangnick, who didn't necessarily need to see more goals to know how valuable a player Poulsen is to his team in their pursuit of a top-four finish and a Champions League place. "I'm particularly happy for him," added Rangnick, who once said Poulsen was "tailor-made for the way we play our football here."
Withdrawing the former Lyngby forward to a standing ovation for the final 20 minutes may be the reason why Leipzig did not win by an even greater margin. But there is still time for Poulsen to add to his tally and, who knows, become the most prolific Dane in the Bundesliga. Bochum's Christiansen took the Torjägerkanone in the 2002/03 season with 21 goals, and Poulsen is now just six shy of that mark.
"This was our best home game of the season, and we could even have scored more," said Rangnick, who saw the floodgates open after Leipzig had scored only three in their past four Bundesliga fixtures. With a trip to Bayer Leverkusen and games against fellow European candidates Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach to come, the fact that Poulsen has his scoring boots on could be a boon for his side.
His second and Leipzig's third could, in that sense, be significant. "It was a sign of the amount of self-confidence I've got right now," the Dane said of his audacious lob over Rune Jarstein.
After signing a contract extension through to 2022 just a fortnight ago, Poulsen is feeling more settled than ever. The limelight is now his for the taking.
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