Much is made of the wealth of rising stars the Bundesliga boasts, but while the likes of Christian Pulisic, Julian Brandt and Kingsley Coman steal the headlines, one player perhaps not getting enough recognition for his performances this season is FC Schalke 04’s Leon Goretzka.
The Royal Blues have undergone a great transition in Markus Weinzierl’s first season in charge, but while their patchy form sees them currently sitting four points adrift of the top six, Goretzka’s consistency has been unquestionable.
This season Goretzka has produced stellar performances as a defensive anchor in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but has also proven his ability to pose a real threat in a more attack-minded 4-2-2-2 system. The 22-year-old’s versatility means he can be considered Schalke’s most complete midfielder and difficult puzzle for opponents to solve when it comes to taking him out of the game.
Goretzka’s fourth season with Schalke has comfortably been his best. The Royal Blues brought the highly-touted youngster to the club back in 2013 after he shone in the second tier with Bochum – 32 games, four goals, five assists. The Bochum native felt he was ready to make the step up to the top flight and his performances since then have proven his belief was not misplaced.
After making his Bundesliga debut at the age of 18, Goretzka went on to score four goals in 25 appearances in his first season and was a permanent fixture in Jens Keller’s starting line-up as of Matchday 21. His maturity and composure even led to him making his international debut in May 2014 before missing out on a spot in Germany’s World Cup winning squad by the skin of his teeth.
The following year was the most trying of his career so far. Goretzka tore a muscle in a pre-season friendly and, following further complications in his recovery process, ended up missing the first two thirds of the 2014/15 campaign. While he has had to deal with minor injuries and short stints on the sidelines since, Goretzka has still managed to rack up nine goals in 82 Bundesliga outings.
This season Goretzka has featured 26 times in the top flight and has set a new personal best goal tally in a single season having chipped in with five goals for the Royal Blues. However, somewhat surprisingly the Olympic silver medallist has only provided one assist this season.
While he’s more than capable of playing the killer ball, his role has often been to provide the pass that has led to the assist or exploit space in between the lines to pose a threat in front of goal as proven by the league-leading 30 one-twos he’s played this season.
Watch: Goretzka's late winner against Wolfsburg on Matchday 11
Alongside Nabil Bentaleb, his fellow midfield maestro, Goretzka is charged with linking Schalke’s build-up play from back to front and their battling qualities, work ethic and creative flair have seen the two become a dynamic duo at the heart of Weinzierl’s system. “[Schalke] count on me and Leon Goretzka as midfielders to create something in the final third,” Bentaleb said in a recent interview with DW Sports.
Schalke have not given up hope of clinching a top-six finish this season and are just four points off a UEFA Europa League position. However, when it comes to Goretzka’s role at the club it’s all about the long-term prospect of him fulfilling his potential.
His contract is due to run out in 2018, but Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes put it best when he recently singled Goretzka out for praise claiming that he is “incredibly important” for the club’s future.