A strange thing happened at Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s BayArena on Matchday 16: coach Roger Schmidt fielded two forwards, instead of just one, and the change paid off instantly.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez has occupied the lone striker’s role in a 4-2-3-1 formation since his arrival at the end of August, but against Borussia Mönchengladbach he was joined up front by Stefan Kießling.
The latter has struggled for form this term, but playing alongside Chicharito he was sensational, scoring two goals himself and setting up another two for his Mexican strike partner in a 5-0 victory. “We played really well today,” said Chicharito afterwards, having taken his personal goal tally for the season to 17 in 20 competitive games with a hat-trick against the Foals.
Leverkusen’s No.7 has scored ten in the Bundesliga, five in the UEFA Champions League and two in the DFB Cup, a return that has forced Schmidt’s hand when choosing his starting XI. Collectively, however, Leverkusen have not been as clinical in the final third this term and went into the fixture with Gladbach having only hit the net 19 times in 15 league games.
Perhaps the coach’s tactical tweak on Saturday was in response to that poor record, or maybe it was borne out of frustration at their inability to finish off chances against FC Barcelona on Wednesday, a shortcoming that meant die Werkself must now play in the UEFA Europa League in the spring.
Yet whatever his reasoning, the move proved highly successful and has given Schmidt food for thought. “Seeing the way the two of them played together today, that could have a big future,” said the 48-year-old strategist. “If I’d have known Kießling would score like that when playing from the start, I would have put him in much sooner.”
Schmidt told veteran frontman he would be starting the day before the match, and was delighted with the striker’s response: “He played very freely. He was unencumbered, and got into the game straight away. He was terrific.” There is no deny that: Kießling held up the ball superbly, was unselfish in his build-up play and worked tirelessly for the team, covering more ground than any player (11.29 kilometres) apart from team-mate Christoph Kramer.
Most successful Mexican
Chicharito, too, was outstanding and scored with each of his three shots on goal against Gladbach. In less than three months he is already the most successful ever Mexican in the Bundesliga, becoming the first player from that country to score a brace (on Matchday 13), a hat-trick (Matchday 16), as well as finding the target more often than the combined total (seven goals) of the five compatriots who preceded him in Germany’s top flight.
Saturday’s encounter was only the fourth time that Kießling and Chicharito have started a match together. In their two outings on home turf, Leverkusen have scored nine times, with each player directly involved in four goals. It has been less successful on the road – a 3-0 defeat at Borussia Dortmund and a 0-0 draw at Hamburger SV - although both of those games came when Chicharito was still adjusting to a new environment.
Only time will tell if the Chicharito-Kießling partnership flourish in the long-term, but as Gladbach found out first-hand, there is no doubting its devastating potential.