Omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient are terms often used to describe deities, but in the eyes of Werder Bremen fans dreaming of European qualification, that’s exactly what Max Kruse is.
The club captain has missed just 44 minutes of league action this season and, with a knack for inspiring those around him to greater heights, has been both the facilitator and finisher in an unprecedented scoring streak matched only by Paris Saint-Germain in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
While Bremen’s form has been impressive, Kruse’s has been breathtaking, particularly in March. The 31-year-old had a hand in ten of Bremen’s 11 goals over a five-game span - a tally only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (12) could top in the same timeframe.
In 2019, a tactical tweak to drop deeper as the tip of a diamond midfield has afforded Kruse a greater freedom on the pitch and allowed him to play an integral role in Bremen’s unbeaten start to the calendar year.
Watch: why Werder Bremen score in every game
“I wouldn’t put it all down to me,” was Kruse’s humble response to being asked about his impact in the second half of the season. “We spent a lot of time discussing things during the winter break and working out what we could do better.
“You can't pull it off in every game, but we've picked up important points and still haven't lost in the Rückrunde. Nevertheless, we’re still not satisfied and won’t be until we reach our targets.”
In recent seasons, Bremen’s current tally of 46 points would have been enough to achieve their aim of avoiding relegation. In 2018/19, sitting in seventh place with five games left to play is just further proof that times and targets have changed since Germany’s Coach of the Year took over back in April 2018.
Handed the captain’s armband in the summer, Kruse has been head coach Florian Kohfeldt’s right-hand man in a rebuilding process that has seen Bremen evolve from relegation candidates to top-six hopefuls.
“Max is doing a great job, both on and off the pitch,” Kohfeldt said when assessing his star striker’s recent performances. “He creates the balance between relaxed and totally focused on a Matchday. He is a difference maker.”
Kruse’s qualities are evidenced by the fact he’s finished as top scorer for seven straight seasons despite representing five different clubs in that time. The captain’s armband, though, has only extended his influence as he looks to do it for a third straight season in Bremen.
“I haven't calmed down, but I've certainly developed,” Kruse said. “Irrespective of whether they're positive or negative, you learn things from every situation life throws at you. Ultimately, I haven't changed much, but I have taken on more responsibility because as the captain you represent the club and the city.”
On the pitch, Kruse has shouldered the responsibility like the seasoned professional he is and currently tops the Bremen charts in terms of goals scored (ten) and assists (nine). More impressive, though, is that he leads the entire Bundesliga in terms of chances created in the current campaign.
In Werder’s 3-1 win over Mainz, the Weserstadion witnessed the latest in a series of ‘Masterclasses by Max’ that had previously left Schalke and Leverkusen by the wayside. Yet no superhero is complete without a sidekick and, in Milot Rashica, Kruse has the perfect foil.
“They fit very well together in terms of their understanding of the game - Milot with his runs in deep, Max with his vision,” admitted Kohfeldt of the most dynamic duo in Northern Germany.
Watch: Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Werder Bremen
Kruse’s quick thinking led to Rashica’s opener and, after Bremen’s captain doubled the lead before half-time, the Kosovo international returned the favour as Kruse notched the 10th brace of his Bundesliga career.
“The more we play together the better it works. Everyone knows Max’s quality on the ball and he expects certain movements from me as a forward. We practice that a lot,” said Rashica, who himself has netted seven times in 2019, with Kruse the provider for three of them.
It’s a prolific partnership that has drawn comparisons with the title-winning collaboration between Ailton and Ivan Klasnic in 2004. For Kruse, that’s an “exaggeration”, but he can’t deny being at the heart of Werder’s wave of euphoria as both player and club look to hit their targets: “I want to play in Europe and it would be great to do that with Bremen.”