James Rodriguez, Marco Reus, Kai Havertz and Ondrej Duda: four men who pull the strings for their sides, unlock defences with a pass and can also find themselves on the end of a back-four-splitting ball before burying it in the back of the net.
bundesliga.com runs the rule over the Bayern Munich man, the Borussia Dortmund captain, the Bayer Leverkusen prodigy and Hertha Berlin's Slovakian schemer and asks: Who is the Bundesliga's best attacking midfielder?
FINDING THE NET
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Marco Reus. The Dortmund captain is enjoying one of his best Bundesliga seasons ever in front of goal. Only three of his previous nine top-flight campaigns have been as goal-happy as the 2018/19 vintage, and given he has 13 strikes already, his personal best tally of 18 — set in 2011/12 when he was still at Borussia Mönchengladbach — is in serious jeopardy of being surpassed.
Watch: Reus orchestrates Dortmund's Klassiker win over Bayern
With 10 and nine goals for Duda and Havertz respectively, they are already enjoying the most prolific campaigns of their careers, though both have played more minutes than the Dortmund man, while James has not added to his three strikes since October.
Top dog: Reus
Taking chances is far from the only weapon required in the armoury of a top-drawer attacking midfielder. Teeing them up also weighs in heavily, and once more, Reus is the biggest hitter.
The Dortmund man has six assists this season, double the tallies of James and Havertz, while Duda has just two. Add that to his goals, and Reus has had a hand in a goal for Lucien Favre's side every 91 minutes — virtually one every match — which puts him 56 minutes ahead of James, who has scored or made six goals in 879 minutes on the pitch for Bayern this season.
Duda's strike rate of a goal every 180 minutes is enviable, less so his assists that come round every 900 minutes — or ten games — which leaves the Hertha man lagging behind in the running, while Havertz has contributed to a Leverkusen goal once every 171 minutes.
Top dog: Reus
INFLUENCE ON TEAM
An attacking midfielder plays that role because they have that precious ability to turn games, and Duda has done that for Hertha this season. The Slovakia international has been involved in nearly a third of his team's 2018/19 goals, though he would likely want to improve on his modest tally of two strikes that have provided that crucial seizing of the initiative: the first goal.
Havertz — the youngest of the crop at 19, five years the junior of Duda, the next-youngest, and ten years behind Reus — boasts the most impressive tally in that regard, opening the scoring on four occasions this term. The teenager has had a hand in a healthy share of his team's goals, too, at 27.9 per cent, quite a ratio for a young man in only his third top-flight season.
James has a lot of competition to stand out from the crowd at Bayern where goals can come from a host of sources. The ex-Porto man has been involved in 10.7 per cent of the reigning Bundesliga champions' 56 goals — though Reus has managed to catch the eye at Dortmund where the cast is almost as impressive as at the Allianz Arena.
Favre handed his ex-Gladbach protege the captain's armband for a reason, and Reus has responded by leading by example. Nineteen of BVB's 58 strikes — 32.75 per cent — have been the fruit of the rare gifts of the Germany international in some way, shape or form, while three of his 13 goals have been the all-important opener…Did someone say 'pivotal role'?
Top dog: Reus
POSSESSION AND INDUSTRY
Perhaps it is no surprise that the youngest of the quartet, Havertz, averages most distance per 90 minutes, covering 7.5 miles. He does, however, run only slightly further than Duda, who — like the Leverkusen youngster — has more emphasis on 'midfielder' than 'attacking' in his tactical brief.
Positioned slightly higher up the pitch, James and Reus are hardly work-shy — both eat up 7.3 miles a match — though a large proportion of that for the Dortmund man comprises strength-sapping sprints. He makes an average of 33.1 a game at a top speed of 20.6 miles per hour with James — a more classic Number 10 playmaker — clocking just 17.5 at a more sedate 19mph.
Use of the ball is strongly influenced by where on the pitch a player gets it, but the raw stats clearly show James weighs heavily on Bayern's game, averaging 85 touches a game — 20 more than Havertz, who sees more of the ball for his team than either Reus or Duda do for theirs.
The Hertha man has proven a little wasteful with nearly 22 per cent of his passes going astray, in stark contrast to Havertz, who has attempted 300 more passes than any of his peers and yet has a 89.3 per cent pass completion ratio that six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady would be proud of. He is also the speed demon of the four, clocking a searing 21.7mph… Scary thought for opponents: just how good will he be when he's Reus' age?
Top dog: Havertz
Despite his velvet touch and defence-piercing vision, James also rolls up his sleeves for his side. He has won 52.5 per cent of his challenges this season — a ratio that would put a smile on the face players positioned much further back down the pitch.
Though he measures nearly three inches shorter than Havertz — who is a rangy 6'2" — James has come out on top in 42.9 per cent of his aerial duels, more than the Leverkusen man, which is testament to the Colombian's determination to further the Bayern cause.
Havertz has the next-best 'challenges won' percentage with 47.4, but the youngster can pride himself on being the 'cleanest' player of the four. He commits a foul once every 170 minutes — 'bad boy' Duda gives away a free-kick every 35 minutes — and has only been booked once this season, fewer than any of his peers.
Top dog: James
AND THE WINNER IS...
Can you look any further than Reus? One of Europe's most exciting players with the ball at his feet, the Dortmund man not only has a devastating impact on opposition defences, but also has a galvanising effect on his own side. Had it not been for injury, Reus would surely have been even better, but we are probably now seeing a highly gifted man at the peak of his considerable powers.