The 24-year-old made the most of head coach Sami Hyypiä’s decision to rest Heung-Min Son, bagging a first-half brace with two supremely composed finishes in a surprisingly comfortable 4-1 victory.
First-team chances have been at a premium for the attacking midfielder since signing from relegated Fortuna Düsseldorf in the summer, not that it was unexpected. "It's been a massive step up,” Kruse told AFP following the 4-2 defeat to Manchester United on Tuesday. “I‘ve gone from knowing I would play every week at Fortuna to being part of a big squad at Leverkusen.”
However, the Socceroos star remains as humble as ever in his attempts to break into the starting XI on a more regular basis. “It's hard to get in and once you're there, you have to play well to keep your place,” explained Kruse. “It's about being patient and being ready when the chances come.”
Hyypiä: “Important win”
After being told on Monday by Hyypiä that he’d feature against Mainz, Kruse had a full four days to digest the news and on Saturday grabbed the opportunity with both hands. “It couldn’t have gone any better,” Leverkusen's No23 admitted afterwards, particularly as it helped the side recover a measure of confidence after that midweek loss in Manchester.
Having needed just two shots to bag his brace - his first Bundesliga goals away from home - the nimble attacker proved precisely why Leverkusen were so keen to sign him. Kruse, for his part, admitted to feeling “really good” and "relieved that my hard work has paid off. Obviously you’re disappointed when you’re not playing often, but I was always there to support my team-mates and it shouldn’t be forgotten that I have top class players ahead of me.”
Making a move from relegation candidates to UEFA Champions League participants is never an easy transition, but Kruse is hoping that a positive performance on his full debut could open the door to further opportunities in an important World Cup season. “Now the head coach knows that he has another option available,” Kruse said. Hyypiä, inevitably, concurred: “Robbie is a good player and he didn’t hinder his chances of featuring more often today.”
With the club aiming to break into the Bundesliga’s top two and eager to prove their quality in Europe’s premier club competition, Leverkusen's packed schedule will give Kruse every opportunity to do just that. First up, though, is a trip to Arminia Bielefeld in the DFB Cup and, following five league wins from a possible six, Kruse won't be the only one feeling good on the trip north.
Tobias Schächter/James Thorogood