The Bundesliga is blessed with some of the very best attacking talent the game has to offer with the supremely gifted showmen conjuring goal after goal each Matchday with their mesmerising feet.
bundesliga.com has taken a look at four players who do their best work in the margins of the pitch, the wide men whose devastating fleet of foot or moment of trickery can turn a game on its head, and get a crowd on its feet.
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund
Games played: 17
Successful dribbles/Attempted: 60/139
After a breakthrough season and another campaign to establish himself at Dortmund, Pulisic’s 2017/18 is one of a change in stature: a transformation from promising youngster to bona fide BVB first-teamer.
With 15 starts already this season he has equalled his tally from the 2016/17 campaign and has spent almost as many minutes on the pitch in 17 games this term as in 29 last. The stats merely confirm what even the most casual observer of Dortmund’s fortunes will have noted: Pulisic — still only 19 — is now a key cog in the BVB machine.
Watch: How does Pulisic fare with some tricky quickfire questions?
Still, the recently crowned USMNT Player of the Year has not been immune to the rash of difficulties the season suffered at the Signal Iduna Park.
The stormy waters that claimed the job of Peter Bosz were largely down to the team’s inability to consistently exploit their full potential. Brilliantly razor-sharp in the opening weeks of the season, they suddenly became worryingly fragile in defence before Peter Stöger’s arrival stiffened their resolve.
The big-dipper form of his team mirrored Pulisic’s own. The goal and assist in the 3-0 win over Wolfsburg on the opening day have been followed by just two more strikes and disappointingly just one assist, significantly fewer than both Thorgan Hazard and Leon Bailey. By contrast, he had four at this point in 2016/17, half of his final total.
Despite showing less inspiration in the final third, the Hershey-born attacking midfielder continues to produce just as much perspiration for the cause. His massive tally of attempted dribbles and impressive return of success from them shows an unflinching determination to drive his team forward, while he covers an average of 6.8 miles a game and has been clocked at a pacy 21.1mph, a mark bettered only by Bailey among his peers.
His vastly improved pass completion rate — 82.4 per cent compared to 73.2 per cent in 2016/17 — means he helps his side retain valuable possession. If he can tap into his undoubted rich vein of talent to add more end product to his endeavour, Dortmund’s Rückrunde is bound to be a memorable one.
Leon Bailey, Bayer Leverkusen
Games played: 16
Successful dribbles/Attempted: 45/89
“We bought him with an eye on 2017/18,” said Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler shortly after Bailey had put pen to paper on a five-and-a-half-year deal just over a year ago. The former Germany striker and coach has been proven right, and stunningly so.
Bailey’s 2016/17 stats mean little — he played just 133 minutes after his winter move from Genk — but his Bundesliga aperitif means he has been able to hit the ground running in 2017/18, and he has done so. Fast, very fast. The speed gun caught the jet-heeled Jamaican at 21.12mph, but more eye-catchingly still, Bailey has proven to be more than just quick.
A tally of seven league goals puts him second only to Kevin Volland (with 10) in the high-performing Leverkusen squad, while just six players in the entire Bundesliga have been involved in more goals for their teams than Bailey, who has also registered an impressive five assists.
His stats are thanks in large part to his pace — he has put the finishing touch to two counter-attacks — and an in-built clinical streak that means he is frugal but effective with his shots, finding the net every six attempts on goal, the best ratio of the quartet highlighted here. That ruthless streak also applies when he has been called on to change a game coming off the bench: three Jokertoren are testament to that.
He has an eye for the spectacular — want proof? Check out his impish backheel against Hoffenheim — and a handy knack for performing in big games, as witnessed by his Matchday 19 strike that adds to goals in matches against top-four rivals Schalke and Rheinland neighbours Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Aged just 20, the most exciting thing about Bailey is that the best is surely yet to come.
Watch: Bailey's cheeky backheel against Hoffenheim
Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich
Games played: 13
Successful dribbles/Attempted: 31/61
Having just celebrated his 34th birthday, Robben knows his best days are most likely behind him, but the veteran Dutchman can still play a significant role in Bayern’s season.
With his Hinrunde ruined by a thigh injury, his contribution to the cause this term is smaller than his astonishing 2016/17 during which he was involved in a massive 27 Bayern league goals, scoring 13 himself.
He may not be quite as quick as his younger counterparts, but still has little to be embarrassed about (top speed 19.8 mph), and though he makes a relatively low 23 sprints per game — compared to over 30 for Pulisic, Bailey and Hazard — he clearly uses his vast experience to pick and choose his moments to best hurt opponents. In terms of nous at the highest level, none of his peers here come close to matching him.
Surprisingly given the finesse he shows with the ball at his feet, he is also not afraid to roll up his sleeves. While just 14 per cent of his passes do not find their target — Pulisic is next-best with 17 per cent — keeping Bayern ticking over in possession, he has also made 181 challenges, winning 55 per cent of them.
With his contract up in the summer, Robben said “the future is open” regarding where — or indeed if — he plays next season, though he added he could “play for Bayern for another three years.” If he can stay fit and continue to be as influential, we may see still more of him yet, which can only be good news for everyone bar opposing defenders.
Watch: Robben's best Bundesliga goals
Thorgan Hazard, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Games played: 19
Successful dribbles/Attempted: 31/89
What is most amazing about Hazard’s best season in his Bundesliga career so far is — as he himself emphasises — it has been “all without my playing once in my favourite position, in the middle.” Used in a wider role by Dieter Hecking, Hazard has edged a little closer to his elder brother, Eden, among the elite of European football, stepping out of the long shadow of the Chelsea superstar.
The most dangerous in the final third of the whole quartet in terms of goals and assists, Hazard has impressively kept his cool four times from the penalty spot this season, including the opening goal he tucked away from 12 yards to ensure Matchday 13 was unlucky for Bayern.
Watch: Hazard hits the target as Gladbach beat Bayern
The nerveless strike meant the Belgium international became the first Gladbach player since records began in 1992 to be involved in a goal by either scoring or assisting in ten successive Bundesliga matches, and underscored the central role he has played to the Foals’ fine campaign so fair, ably assisted by Raffael, the ideal foil.
That clinical streak means his ratio of a goal with every eight shots is unsurprising if still impressive, while the fact he has been fouled 25 times — significantly more than his peers here, Bailey is next-highest with 17 — indicates opponents have earmarked him as a man they must stop if they are to overcome Gladbach.
So far they have struggled to do so, and the bad news for them is that Hazard will not be resting on his laurels. “If I had taken all my chances in games, I could probably have ten or more goals,” he told bundesliga.com shortly before the Rückrunde start. “That’s why it’s very important for me to keep working hard on my efficiency.”