Schalke will have a spring in their step when they travel to Bayern Munich at the weekend, thanks to the fearsome form of Suat Serdar.
The 22-year-old became the Royal Blues' top-scorer this season with his seventh in a statement-making 2-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach last Friday night. That result enabled the Gelsenkirchen-based club to remain within three points of Bayern and head to Bavaria with broad shoulders next Saturday evening.
"We've definitely got no reason to hide, not even in Munich," Serdar said after extending Schalke's current unbeaten streak to four games, laying the gauntlet down to Bayern. "You could see that against Gladbach. We were up against a top club, and totally dominated them."
Friday's win allowed David Wagner's men to ensure their hat remains in the ring in one of the most open Bundesliga title races in recent memory, with only seven points separating the top five. It was also confirmation that their first half of the season was certainly no fluke.
"It was the kind of game all of us at Schalke wanted to start the year with," Serdar said. "The whole team deserves praise for how hard we fought. It was a fantastic team performance and I think the fans could tell that we desperately wanted to win it. Now we'll carry on the way we finished off against Gladbach, and then we'll see if we can take the three points back home from Munich with us."
Just a point in Munich would be enough for Schalke to better their haul of 33 for the whole of last season, emphasising what has been a remarkable transformation from a club fighting for survival to one challenging for silverware.
Credit for such a transformation must go to Wagner and the way he has extracted the best out of his players, and Serdar is one of the most eminent examples. Benefitting from the former Huddersfield Town manager's focus on physical strength and endurance, Serdar has quite literally been going the extra mile for the Royal Blues this season, covering 7.1 miles alone in their 3-1 win over RB Leipzig in September.
Furthermore, each goal Serdar has scored this season has given Schalke the lead, and he has not been on the losing side whenever he has found the back of the net.
His energetic performances have not been lost on Germany coach Joachim Löw either, with the Schalke No.8 making his Germany debut against Argentina last October, and adding caps against Estonia and Northern Ireland, while he was recognised by the Gelsenkirchen club's fans as their Player of the Month for December, earning 42 per cent of the vote to win the award for the first time.
Watch: Serdar's opener in the Matchday 13 win over Union Berlin
"It makes me proud how we have developed since last season," Serdar told bundesliga.com late last year. "It's reward for the hard work of recent weeks and months. Now, we have to keep going in the same vein. We've achieved nothing yet. It's important to take things step by step, game by game."
That next step will be a yardstick for Schalke and for Serdar.
A player comfortable in possession, boasting an impressive successful pass rate of over 82 per cent and a proven, keen eye for goal: Serdar ticks all the same boxes as a certain Leon Goretzka, the man whose place and number eight he has taken in Gelsenkirchen and is also competing for in the national team; the man he can measure up to on the same pitch this coming weekend.
Goretzka's best season in a Schalke shirt heralded five goals in 2016/17 – a statistic Serdar has already surpassed in only half of the current campaign – while Goretzka's total of 14 goals for the Royal Blues is already well within reach of a man who netted twice during his debut campaign in Gelsenkirchen, and both hopes and expects to have many opportunities to raise his tally.
"I have a contract with Schalke until 2022, so it still runs for a while," he told WAZ. "But if [Schalke head of sport] Jochen Schneider were to come and offer me a new contract now, I wouldn't say no. You should never say never, but I don't feel the need to leave Schalke at the moment, because everything fits here.
"I get on well with my teammates and have good friends, for example the Turkish players and Amine Harit. Additionally, the fans are outstanding."
It's not surprising they are warming to Serdar as much as he has already warmed to them, with six of his seven goals so far this season scored on home soil. But now is the time for Germany's latest midfield metronome to exude the same authority on the road, and what better a place to start than at the Allianz Arena.