“I rarely praise myself, but that was a good game,” said beaming Borussia Dortmund forward Andre Schürrle after ending a season-long goal drought in a glistening performance alongside Michy Batshuayi in Cologne on Matchday 21.
Set to make his 200th Bundesliga appearance against RB Leipzig this weekend, Schürrle has since put in several more impressive performances and is enjoying a mid-season upswing in form that means the 27-year-old – long one of Germany coach Joachim Löw’s favourite players - is being tipped as an outside bet for his country’s FIFA World Cup 2018 squad.
It is easy to see why Löw likes him: Schürrle shot to fame as part of the Germany team that dismantled Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, before laying on Mario Götze’s winner against Argentina in the final. In Brazil that glorious summer he was the toast of the nation, the ultimate super-sub, but recent seasons have been less kind to Schürrle, who was on the verge of leaving Dortmund in January.
Watch: Schürrle discusses playing alongside old friends Götze and Reus!
A torn thigh muscle had disrupted the early part of the current campaign for the former Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea and Wolfsburg man; his goal against Cologne, lashed home from the edge of the box after a through-ball from Batshuayi, was his first since a purple patch in March 2017, when he scored three in two games for club and country.
It must be something about the time of year: come February and March 2018, and Schürrle has hit another purple patch. The Ludwigshafen native has since also scored against Atalanta in the UEFA Europa League - a crucial strike in the context of a tight tie - and returned assists in recent wins against Hamburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Fitness has clearly played a major role in the upturn in form, as Schürrle himself admits. “I'm in good shape, and I repeat: I was injured for six months last year,” he said after the Cologne win. “Even if nobody wants to admit it, it takes time to rediscover your rhythm. I’m doing extremely well."
The coach, Peter Stöger, is a second factor in Schürrle’s - and Borussia Dortmund’s - recent resurgence. The Austrian tactician admitted that he sought out the then-downbeat World Cup winner for a chat when he arrived, promising that he would receive plenty of playing time if he stayed fit.
“I have the confidence and the trust of the manager, and that's all you need,” Schürrle himself said. “Because if you're not on the pitch, you can't play well. I want to give everything. I want to play, to have fun, and at the moment I'm on good form, so I have to keep that going and look forward.”
A third reason for Schürrle’s mid-career rebirth is the fun he mentions. Playing alongside good friends Götze and Marco Reus - the three have long been in one of Germany’s most famous WhatsApp groups - Schürrle is evidently loving life.
The trio that burst onto the scene full of promise in the early years of the decade, but through a combination of injuries and bad luck are only just beginning to show what could have been - and what could still be.
“It's a good feeling [to be playing together],” Schürrle said. “We're very good friends and we've wanted this for a long time. Now it's finally there and we have to get healthy and then play together like we used to."
Watch: Dortmund's BFFs, Schürrle, Götze and Reus, are thriving alongside one another
A fourth and final reason for Schürrle’s return to his best is his burgeoning relationship with Batshuayi. The Belgian’s lung-bursting desire to run in behind creates the space in which Schürrle can thrive - and deliver for his new colleague.
“The first time [Batshuayi and I] talked was right before the Cologne game,” said Schürrle. “When we were warming up I asked him how he liked his deliveries from out wide, and I have to say it worked very well. It was fun!”
“Good players feed off each other,” said Stöger of the duo’s on-field camaraderie. “I think Michy also benefits from Schürrle’s constant movement.”
Whatever it is - fitness, Stöger, playing with old friends or the role of Batshuayi - Schürrle and Borussia Dortmund fans would no doubt repeat the same refrain when it comes to the forward’s current good form: long may it continue.