With eight goals in his last six league appearances for Freiburg, Nils Petersen is almost single-handedly leading the Black Forest club’s charge away from the Bundesliga drop zone and towards the heady heights of mid-table.
The 29-year-old continued his sensational purple patch with a brace in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund, which helped Christian Streich’s side extend their unbeaten league run to eight matches and moved the former Bayern Munich striker onto 10 goals for the season. No German player has scored more in the Bundesliga this term.
His first strike against Dortmund - a close-range tap-in from Janik Haberer’s cross - brought Freiburg level at the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK after Shinji Kagawa had given BVB an early lead, but the game will be remembered for Petersen’s spectacular second. Intercepting a stray ball from Nuri Sahin near the centre circle, the striker sent a looping, first-time drive over the head of Borussia goalkeeper Roman Bürki and into the back of the net, stunning the home fans into silence.
Watch: Petersen's 45-yard strike against Dortmund
“I haven’t done that sort of thing very often,” Petersen told reporters afterwards with an almost sheepish smile. “I didn’t even look [to see where the goalkeeper was]. I used to play with Roman. He always wants to get involved in the build-up and is often standing quite far off his line. I just hoped and prayed it would go in. To me, it seemed like the ball was travelling in the air for at least 15 seconds!”
Incredibly, Petersen’s 45-yard stunner was Freiburg’s first goal from outside the penalty area all season, something the former Germany Under-21 international was quick to point out after the final whistle. “We’ve been reminded constantly that we’re the only team that never scores from outside the box,” he said. “Now we’ve managed to score from a really long way out!”
The goal was also Petersen’s 29th in a Freiburg shirt, drawing him level with Georgian club legend Alexander Iashvili. Only Senegal striker Papiss Cisse, who netted 37 times for the club during a two-year stint in south-west Germany, has scored more league goals for the Schwarzwald-Stadion outfit.
Petersen’s rich vein of form is even more remarkable given his stuttering start to the 2017/18 campaign. He failed to start any of Freiburg’s opening ten games, coming on as a substitute on eight occasions and missing the other two [vs. Dortmund on Matchday 3 and Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 4] with a muscle strain.
However, a serious knee injury to Florian Niederlechner at the beginning of November handed Petersen the opportunity he had been waiting for. He scored the opener in a 2-1 win over Mainz on Matchday 12 - his second start of the season - before netting only his second top-flight hat-trick in the remarkable 4-3 victory at Cologne two weeks later, which lifted SCF out of the automatic relegation places.
Watch: Cologne 3-4 Freiburg - highlights
Petersen was awarded the captaincy by Christian Streich following his match-winning heroics at the RheinEnergieSTADION, but the added pressure of wearing the armband has not affected his overall contribution to the Freiburg cause. As well as his two goals against Dortmund, he covered more ground (13.1 kilometres) than any other player on the pitch while winning a whopping 16 of his attempted challenges.
Jeremy Toljan’s last-gasp equaliser may have salvaged a share of the spoils for Peter Stöger’s side on Saturday, but Petersen refused to be too downbeat, choosing instead to look ahead to his side’s upcoming league encounters against Leverkusen (home), Hannover (away) and Werder Bremen (home).
“Nobody would have expected us to get five points from our first three Rückrunde matches,” he said. “We should be very proud of getting a point here in Dortmund. We need to use it as a foundation for our next few matches. We’re playing against some difficult opponents, but I wouldn’t want to face us at the moment. We’re horrible to play against!”