Ever heard of Philipp Max? No? Where have you been while the Augsburg defender has set up more goals than Bayern Munich's FIFA World Cup-winning forward Thomas Müller and his colleague for club and country, Philipp Lahm's successor Joshua Kimmich.
If Augsburg are in the hunt to qualify for European football in 2018/19, Max’s game-changing ability at left-back has been a key factor.
bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the forward-thinking defender whose wand of a left foot has cast a spell over opponents this season and catapulted him into contention for a place in Germany’s 2018 FIFA World Cup squad.
Watch: Max orchestrates Augsburg's Matchday 4 win in Frankfurt
Attack, best form of defence
Given his dad Martin was twice the Bundesliga’s leading scorer during his time at 1860 Munich around the dawn of the millennium, the fact his son is so often found on the front foot is perhaps no surprise. What is eye-catching is just how effectively he does it.
The 24-year-old’s Bundesliga-leading nine assists — three more than the next best, Bayern's World Cup winning forward Müller — coupled with the goal he struck against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 4 mean he has been involved in 10 of the 27 occasions his club have hit the net this term, that’s just one less than Iceland international Alfred Finnbogason, and he’s a striker!
In 14 glorious seasons, Bayern legend Lahm only managed to get his combined goals and assists tally into double figures once, and his total of 11 in Bayern’s stunning treble season of 2012/13 was earned from a whole 34-match campaign.
Well, not quite actually… Hertha Berlin’s Marvin Plattenhardt has seen four goals scored from his corner kicks this season, but Max’s tally of three means he provides a serious threat from set-pieces. Still, he can have a significant impact on a game beyond his ability to bring life to dead-ball situations.
Again, his in-built attacking instincts mean he keeps his head in the attacking final third when other defenders are getting vertigo so high up the pitch. Max was on 1860's books before a three-year Bayern youth academy adventure between 2007 and 2010; he then switched to Schalke, and spent all those years as a budding forward. It was not until he moved to Karlsruhe in 2014 that he switched — on the advice of his UEFA Cup-winning dad — permanently to left-back, and it shows.
He has teed up 65 shots so far this season — more than any other player — and his 65 crosses — a joint-Bundesliga-best along with fellow foraging full-back Kimmich — have led to four Augsburg goals.
Industry and inspiration
All the emphasis on his attacking play does not mean he can be accused of being "a defender who cannot defend." He has won just under half of all his challenges this season, and the seven miles per game he averages zipping up and down the left flank make him one of the German top-flight’s busiest full-backs. Not bad for a player who was told by Schalke’s legendary youth coach Norbert Elgert — the man who brought through Julian Draxler and Mesut Özil — "You have the stamina of a below-average chess player."
Max now is making all the smart moves, as are Augsburg in trying to ensure he continues flying in their club’s colours, and they have already extended his contract twice in 2017 with the last deal tying him to the club until 2022.
Are you watching, Joachim Löw?
A new offer could well be on the table in the summer if he can maintain the form he showed in the Hinrunde, though Augsburg may have to wait for him to get back from Russia before he can put pen to paper. With Cologne’s Jonas Hector sidelined by a long-term injury, left-back slots in Germany’s FIFA World Cup squad are up for grabs.
"I will not let that get to me at all," Max stated recently on the upsurge in speculation he could join his father in wearing the colours of their country. At the time, he was sitting alongside Augsburg coach Manuel Baum who — coincidentally — used to be his teacher at high school in Munich. As far as Baum is concerned, his star pupil has passed the Bundesliga exam with flying colours, and must soon be considered for graduation to Joachim Löw’s squad. "I think at some point," said Baum when asked about Max’s chances of playing for his country. "You will not be able to look past him."