'The second Havertz': Rising star Wirtz making Bundesliga history
Berlin, Oct 1, 2021 (AFP) - Florian Wirtz is a rising star in the Bundesliga, with the 18-year-old already a full Germany international on the back of superb performances for Bayer Leverkusen as the in-house replacement for Kai Havertz.
"Florian has everything you need for an outstanding career," Leverkusen sports director Simon Rolfes told AFP subsidiary SID.
"He is a young guy who we have to encourage, develop and prepare for the tasks that are certain to lie ahead of him."
Wirtz became the youngest player to reach the milestone of 10 Bundesliga goals in Germany's top flight last Saturday when he hit the winner at home to Mainz.
This Sunday, struggling Bielefeld will be the next team trying to contain the precocious teenager.
His four goals and four assists this season have helped Leverkusen climb to second in the league, three points behind leaders Bayern Munich, who they meet in a fortnight.
Wirtz, an attacking midfielder who also plays on the wing, made his Bundesliga debut in May 2020, two weeks after his 17th birthday and four months after he was signed from the youth academy of rivals Cologne.
He has since stamped his authority on Leverkusen's attack, filling the void left by the departure to Chelsea of Havertz, scorer of the winning goal in last season's Champions League final.
"He will be the second Kai Havertz," Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus predicts of Wirtz.
Shortly after his 18th birthday, Wirtz helped Germany win the Under-21 European Championship, notably scoring both goals in a 2-1 semi-final win over the Netherlands.
Football runs in his family.
Older sister Juliane, 20, is a defender for the Leverkusen women's team and has played for Germany's Under-19s.
Wirtz's powerful runs into the box cause havoc, a sight increasingly common after his recovery from an adductor injury that slowed him to start the season.
He is now one of the first names in Leverkusen's starting line-up, and has been on target in each of the past six games, including wins over Ferencvaros and Celtic in the Europa League.
"The team works very well, it won games at the start of the season even without him, but at the moment he's the icing on the cake," Leverkusen director Rudi Voller told local newspaper the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.
Wirtz is set to be included when national team coach Hansi Flick, who gave him his Germany debut in September, names his squad for World Cup qualifiers against Romania and North Macedonia.
One to watch: Christopher Nkunku
The French forward has netted seven goals in nine games for RB Leipzig despite his team's erratic form.
The 23-year-old scored a stunning free-kick in a two-goal, two-assist haul in last weekend's 6-0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin.
Despite Leipzig's two defeats in Europe, Nkunku has scored four Champions League goals. He grabbed a hat-trick in the 6-3 thrashing at Manchester City and then bagged the opener in Tuesday's 2-1 home defeat to Club Brugge.
Leipzig host Bochum on Saturday and their American coach Jesse Marsch said he switched Nkunku to an attacking midfield role from the wing recently because "he is so clever, so quick, so aggressive".
41 - Bundesliga games Wirtz needed to become the youngest player to reach 10 goals in Germany's top flight.
46 - Goals Bayern Munich have scored in 10 games so far this season, 13 of which by Robert Lewandowski, ahead of Sunday's home game against Eintracht Frankfurt.
36,000 - Attendance Borussia Dortmund expect for Saturday's home game against Augsburg after the local health authority relaxed the hygiene rules on Thursday. Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke hopes Signal Iduna Park will again see a capacity crowd of 81,000 by mid-October for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Germany.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)
Cologne v Greuther Fuerth (1830)
Borussia Dortmund v Augsburg, VfL Wolfsburg v Borussia Moenchengladbach, VfB Stuttgart v Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin v Freiburg, RB Leipzig v Bochum (1630)
Mainz v Union Berlin, Bayern Munich v Eintracht Frankfurt (1530), Arminia Bielefeld v Bayer Leverkusen (1730)
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