Moussa Diaby has grown into a talismanic figure for Bayer Leverkusen this season and the France international continues to deliver performance after performance, with each one showing just how important he has become for Die Werkself.
Diaby's third season in Germany has already been one to remember, but the 22-year-old's form since the turn of the year has been devastating and suggests there is even more to come.
He did so by netting a brace in Leverkusen's dominant 3-0 win over Arminia Bielefeld and the Frenchman's performance was even more impressive for the young forward shouldering his team's goalscoring responsibilities in the absence of 20-goal top scorer Patrik Schick.
Watch: Diaby double downs Bielefeld
With the club saying their Czech international will be ruled out "for some weeks", Leverkusen fans will have been concerned over whether they could keep pace in the top-three, especially after their team threw away a lead to lose 3-2 to Mainz on Matchday 23 - the game that saw Schick picked up his calf injury. But those worries were dashed against Bielefeld as Schick replacement Lucas Alario got the ball rolling before Diaby doubled down in the second half.
Diaby has now scored six goals and provided one assist in his last five Bundesliga appearances - including his first hat-trick in the German top-flight - and the Parisian is flourishing under Gerardo Seoane. The Leverkusen boss has Die Werkself competing at the top of the table going into a big month for the club as they prepare to take on Bayern Munich and Rhine rivals Cologne, as well as a UEFA Europa League last-16 double-header against Atalanta.
Speaking after his three goals against Augsburg, Diaby said his own run of good form is a result of Leverkusen's collective progress.
He said: "I think if we managed to put in a big performance today it's because we've trained well over the last few weeks. The squad are really invested in it. I think we worked well in the last few weeks, and that enabled us to get a good result today that's important for what comes next."
Watch: Check out Diaby's hat-trick
While Leverkusen as a team have kicked up a gear in January, Diaby's individual brilliance and own considerable contributions haven't gone unnoticed by his teammates.
"Moussa scoring a hat-trick is no surprise to any of us," said Jeremie Frimpong after Diaby's treble against Augsburg. "He's an amazing player - it's really hard to play against him. He's fast, he can dribble, he can finish, he can run behind defenders. So it was a matter of time for him to score a hat-trick. Moussa is a really, really positive guy - he brings a lot to the team."
Following the victory over Bielefeld, Leverkusen skipper Lukas Hradecky added: "I don't think I've seen him in better form. He has a very big profile and he's a key factor for us. I hope he can keep it going and the sky's the limit for him."
Watch: Lukas Hradecky on Diaby
Hradecky is right to note his attacking colleague's increased significance in the side as Diaby has been playing a leading role for a Leverkusen team that have now scored 63 goals in 24 Bundesliga matches. The Paris native has contributed directly to 19 of those, and already returned the best single season figures of his career with 10 league games and the latter stages of the UEFA Europa League still to contest.
"He has taken yet another step forward this season," Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes said in December. "With his speed and dynamism, he was always important for our game. Now he's offering even more of a goal threat. His finishing has improved and he's clearer in what he does - his crossing has also got a lot better."
Diaby has previously said that he is well suited to the attacking, high-intensity style favoured in the Bundesliga, but his exploits this season haven't been limited to the German top flight. He also got three goals in the UEFA Europa League group stage, helping Leverkusen qualify for the last-16 by topping their group.
He also earned his first cap for France in September 2021, and will hope to do enough to earn a place in their FIFA World Cup squad by the end of the year. To do so, of course, Diaby will need to continue to produce top performances for Leverkusen. On recent evidence, that shouldn't be a problem.
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