Leon Goretzka’s physical appearance has not been the only major transformation in the Germany international season, with the 25-year-old blossoming into a truly world-class box-to-box midfielder for Hansi Flick’s all-conquering Bayern Munich outfit.
Having signed for the record champions from Schalke in the summer of 2018, Goretzka’s Popeye impression posing with the Meisterschale in June certainly caught the eye - but not as much as his dazzling performances up and down the Bayern midfield.
In his first full season at the club, Goretzka was deployed in no less than six different positions and even turned out at left-back in 2018/19.
Flick’s intentions were clear from the very start and the Bochum-native has been an ever present, ever since.
"He puts the opponent under very intense and aggressive pressure and wins the ball a lot,” Flick told kicker. "He’s very important to us and I am more than satisfied with his development.”
Aiding said development has been Goretzka’s added physicality, which became Hulk-like during the downtime when covid-19 put football on pause.
Crucially, he says, the added muscular bulk has been built with his intensive role in the Bayern engine-room very much front and centre of his thinking.
Watch: The numbers stacking up for Goretzka and Bayern
"It was not important to me to increase the size of the muscles, but rather to increase the muscle performance," Goretzka told the DFB-Journal.
"Anyone who watches a 100-metre final will see that a muscular upper body and speed are more dependent on each other than mutually exclusive in track and field athletes.
"I was able to train without having to worry about games, training units or other obligations that you have as a professional footballer.
“A look at my in-game results in terms of speed and stamina shows that I've made a positive development. I can say that I currently feel more fit and stable than ever."
The numbers stack up too for a man that scored six and laid on five goals in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, all under the tutelage of Flick.
Goretzka was also involved in nine goals across the final 11 Bundesliga matchdays of the season (five goals, four assists), with his gym-work clearly paying off at the campaign’s back-end.
In a box-to-box role, Goretzka needs to do exactly that - get himself and his side relentlessly from one end of the pitch to the other and back.
Those demands have become even greater under Flick’s high-pressing revolution and when you compare Goretzka’s leg-work to the veritable running machine next to him in midfield, the signs suggest he’s moving in the right direction.
Joshua Kimmich ran a league-high 247 miles last year, covering on average 0.09 miles every minute and 7.49 miles per game.
Goretzka’s 119 miles may have come up short of Kimmich’s return, but that was across 1,308 fewer minutes of football and still at an average of 0.08 miles a minute, 4.96 miles a game.
Similarly, Germany coach Joachim Löw believes Goretzka is in the best shape and form of his life. "His latest development in particular is very positive and Leon has achieved a very good position at Bayern Munich," Löw told kicker.
"At the moment he is feeling better than ever before, as he recently told me on the phone.”
Rangy, technical and now both quicker and stronger, Goretzka has everything - as highlighted by the fact that across his 24 Bundesliga appearances (17 starts) last term he won almost 50 per cent of his challenges both in the air (47.7%) and on the ground (47.9%), while completing nearly 90 per cent of his passes (88.4%).
As fellow former Schalke and Bayern man Jan Kirchhoff put it recently, Goretzka was born to star in this pivotal midfield role.
"Although he is quite tall, he is very fast. Leon is a born box-to-box player and can cover unbelievably long distances in a very short time," Kirchhoff told Goal. "That’s always been his strength. He’s energetic one-on-one and recovers a lot of balls.
“He gained a few pounds, but has not lost speed and agility. The fact that he has again improved in terms of his athleticism has certainly helped him. He now has the perfect mix."
If he carries on in a similar vein, Goretzka’s perfectly balanced mixture of midfield ingredients moving from box-to-box could prove just the recipe for success for both club and country for years to come.
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