Wolfsburg - When Max Kruse left Borussia Mönchengladbach for VfL Wolfsburg last summer, he justified the move by saying he thought he could enjoy more success in the next few years in Lower Saxony.
His wish was immediately granted, as Wolfsburg beat Bayern in August to win the DFL Supercup. Since then, though, Kruse's start at Wolfsburg has coincided with an individual dry patch.
A week to remember
Though he played in every single one of the Wolves' opening eight games, the attacker just could not find the net. For all his hard work and drive for success, Kruse was luckless in front of goal.
That is, until Matchday 9. Against Hoffenheim last weekend, the 27-year-old burst into life. Repeatedly popping up in exactly the right places, Kruse banged in his first goal in a Wolfsburg shirt, and then followed it up with his second and third. It was the first hat-trick of his career, and one which fired his team to an important and emphatic victory. Less than a week after scoring for Germany against Georgia to secure qualification for UEFA Euro 2016, Kruse turned a good week into a great one.
"They were two nice moments this week," he said. A cool assessment from a man who many had begun to criticise after his goalless period. Even before his treble, that criticism was not entirely fair. Kruse, after all, plays behind the striker, not as a poaching centre forward. His work rate this season has been anything but under par, and in every game he has played he has looked hungry and willing to work for his team.
The only thing that had been missing was the final product. Aside from the lack of goals, Kruse has also got only a single assist to his name, and he will be looking to build on that figure in the coming weeks.
Kruse could develop into the crucial cog in Wolfsburg's front line. With Andre Schürrle still struggling to find his form and Julian Draxler only just settling in, Kruse's work rate in the area behind Bas Dost will be increasingly important if Wolfsburg are to find the free-scoring form they had in the second half of last season.
On Matchday 10 the Wolves face SV Darmstadt 98. It is the first time they will meet the Lilien since last year's first round of the DFB Pokal. Wolfsburg went on to win the trophy, but nearly fell at the first hurdle, Darmstadt holding them to a 0-0 draw before Dieter Hecking's side finally triumphed 5-4 on penalties.
Only the beginning
This year, too, Darmstadt have proved resilient against huge odds in the new world of the Bundesliga. A battling outfit, they have held some of the league's most potent attacks at bay, and Wolfsburg will have to be at their best up front if they are to break them down.
What could be better, then, than Kruse's timely rediscovery of form? His work rate will in any case be useful against a Darmstadt side that will probably force Wolfsburg to fight to the bitter end, but it is his eye for goal which may make the difference. Another treble may be too much to ask for, but the Wolves will be be hoping Kruse's explosion against Hoffenheim was just the beginning.