Leon Goretzka was the hero of the day for Bayern Munich when his double against Hoffenheim ensured the defending champions kept the pressure on league leaders Borussia Dortmund. After impressing as a number 10 on Matchday 18, can the Germany midfielder prove a clutch performer in the title race?
The plaudits were plentiful after Goretzka’s match-winning display in Bayern’s first game of 2019. With James Rodriguez starting on the bench as he eased his way back from injury, it was left to Goretzka to play in behind visiting striker Robert Lewandowski. The former Schalke player didn’t disappoint.
“He did everything right,” Bayern boss Niko Kovac said after Friday’s 3-1 win. “Against Hoffenheim we wanted someone who could bring both defensive and attacking qualities to the game. The fact he was rewarded with two goals makes it even nicer.”
Goretzka first pounced on a rebound to slot home, left-footed, from a tight angle. He then gave the visitors a two-goal cushion at the break by stretching to turn in David Alaba’s cross with a smart, right-footed finish.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer said his teammate is “ice cool” in front of goal, while Thomas Müller – a man more familiar with the role Goretzka played – also praised his attacking qualities. “His finishes were super,” Müller told Bild. ”Leon knows what do to in front of goal.”
Watch: A closer look at Goretzka's role in Bayern's tactics against Hoffenheim
Goretzka made his name in a deeper role with Schalke, and his late breaks from the number eight position were rewarded with three goals for Germany at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
But in a pressure game at Hoffenheim, the summer signing showed he is comfortable with virtually any midfield mission. Goretzka’s work rate was impressive – he covered almost 7.5 miles (12.05 kilometres) during the course of the game - and he also had more attempts on goal than anyone else. He got two goals from his six efforts, registering his first Bundesliga brace after scoring twice scoring doubles for Germany at international level.
Matchday 18 continued a trend that has seen Goretzka only score important goal this season. All four of his strikes for Bayern have come away from home, and he has netted the opening goal in the three games he has scored in this term.
The 23-year-old has now proven he can take on the mantle of filling Colombian star James’ boots if required, demonstrating a level of flexibility that could be very useful to Bayern in the title run-in. With French World Cup winner Corentin Tolisso out with a cruciate ligament injury – and Spanish midfielder Thiago also missing a month earlier in the season – Goretzka has also filled in as a holding midfielder since joining Bayern.
“In the first half of the season, I had more defensive duties and played further back,” he told Bayern’s website after the win over Hoffenheim. “Today I played in the number 10 role. It’s a position I enjoy, and where the coach knows I can play.”
Like every new arrival, Goretzka needed time to adapt to life in Bavaria. There are bigger expectations at the record German champions, and his summer transfer saw him move over 370 miles (600 kilometres) from his home city of Bochum.
It was the first time the former Schalke favourite had had to move any great distance from where he grew up, but the goals against Hoffenheim will help him feel even more relaxed in his new home.
“Overall, I think it’s gone even better than I would have thought,” he said of his first six months with Bayern. “I settled in very quickly at the club. I feel very good in the city too. I’ve definitely arrived.”
Feeling at home in Munich – and in any position across the midfield – Goretzka could yet play a key role in Bayern’s title defence.