Bayer Leverkusen's Kevin Volland stepping out of Chicharito's shadow
Kevin Volland was once again the hero for Bayer Leverkusen as they edged Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 13 to make it eight games unbeaten in the Bundesliga. The 25-year old striker, now the league’s top-scoring German, has played a starring role in his side’s recent renaissance and may be giving national coach Joachim Löw some food for thought ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Following last season’s disappointing 12th-place finish, Leverkusen fans may have been a little anxious when their side kicked off the current campaign with two defeats and a draw. However, Volland soon put their fears to rest by netting four goals in successive home wins over Freiburg and Hamburg, and the red-hot striker has continued to go from strength to strength as Die Werkself have soared from 14th to sixth in the table in the space of just two months.
Leverkusen are currently unbeaten in eight league games – nine in all competitions – and during that period Volland has been firing on all cylinders, racking up six goals and one assist. His confidence should therefore be running sky high as Borussia Dortmund visit the BayArena on Saturday. Peter Bosz’s struggling Black-and-Yellows have picked up just two points from a possible 18, and blew a 4-0 lead to draw an incredible Revierderby with Schalke last weekend.
“There are always phases like this in sport,” Volland said after his late winner against Frankfurt. “Sometimes you’re not thinking too much about scoring goals, but you have a clear head, you’re confident, and the ball just goes in. We won an incredibly tough match against Eintracht after striking at a decisive moment in the second half. I hit the ball really well for my goal.”
Watch: Volland’s 76th-minute strike made the difference for Leverkusen against the Eagles
Leverkusen’s never-say-die attitude has seen them score 12 of their last 14 league goals in the second half, and during their eight-game unbeaten streak they have come from behind on no fewer than four occasions, rescuing draws against Schalke and RB Leipzig and beating Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cologne.
“It’s a characteristic of our team to always fight back,” Volland said after the Cologne win. “We all fight for one another, and guys like Leon Bailey and Julian Brandt work really hard defensively. That doesn’t happen by accident, it’s what the coach Heiko Herrlich demands of us. We also have a lot of individual quality in the squad.”
With eight goals in 13 appearances this season, Volland has already improved on his six-goal haul from last term, where a series of injury niggles restricted him to just 16 starts. The 25-year-old has also stepped out of Chicharito‘s shadow since the Mexico striker joined West Ham this summer, becoming the de facto leader of Leverkusen’s attack and starting every game so far.
“Kevin works incredibly hard for the team,” Herrlich enthused after the win in Frankfurt. “He’s already proven in recent years that he can score goals, but it’s his work ethic that makes him so important to the team.”
Volland and Leverkusen now have their sights trained firmly on Dortmund, who are enduring a miserable run of four defeats and two draws in their last six outings. Victory for Die Werkself on Saturday would even see them leapfrog BVB in the table and boost their chances of returning to Europe next season, with just a point separating the two sides ahead of their Matchday 14 clash.
“It’s not so bad playing the role of pursuers,” Volland mused. “We’re up into the top third of the table now, and it’s not like Dortmund are far ahead of us.”
“We’re determined to keep our unbeaten run going against BVB,” added goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Watch: Dortmund and Leverkusen served up an eight-goal thriller in their last meeting in March
Germany coach Jogi Löw will no doubt be keeping a close eye on proceedings at the BayArena as he continues to prepare for his side’s World Cup title defence in Russia next summer. While the 57-year-old has an incredible wealth of talent at his disposal, there aren’t too many genuine strikers in the mix, and if Volland can keep up his rich vein of form he may find himself vying with Lars Stindl, Mario Gomez and Sandro Wagner for a place in the squad alongside Timo Werner.
The versatile Volland has the advantage of being able to lead the line or play out wide in a three-man attack, as he has already demonstrated to great effect this season. He started on the right in the 5-1 thrashing of Gladbach and on the left against Frankfurt, netting in both games. As a left-footed striker he also presents a slightly different profile to the right-footed trio of Stindl, Gomez and Wagner, and could even emerge as the natural successor to Lukas Podolski.
Volland has been on the fringes of the national side for several years, making his debut in a friendly against Poland just before the 2014 World Cup, and featuring in a handful of qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2016 and the 2018 World Cup. He has yet to make the cut for a major tournament, though, and is understandably modest about his chances of going to Russia.
“There are so many good players in that position, like Timo Werner and Lars Stindl,” he insisted. “They’ve been doing an outstanding job.”
The fact remains, though, that Volland is currently outscoring the lot of them, and if his superb form continues it could carry him to the biggest stage of them all. First, though, he will be determined to get Leverkusen firmly back among the European places by helping them make it nine Bundesliga games without defeat. Dortmund have been warned.