An international debut and a second successive Bundesliga game registering a goal and an assist; September 2021 was going pretty well for Florian Wirtz until the final quarter of Saturday’s game.
The 18-year-old had opened the scoring with a classy outside-of-the-boot strike, before laying on Leverkusen’s second for Patrik Schick. But Leverkusen let both those leads slip and finally threw it away completely after a brilliant freekick from Raphael Guerreiro and an Erling Haaland penalty. The comeback secured the points for Borussia Dortmund in the sort of thrilling encounter that has become a hallmark of this fixture in recent seasons.
Wirtz has long been on the radar in German football circles. As a youth player, his move from Cologne to Leverkusen caused quite a stir as it broke a pact, that had existed since 2001, that the two clubs, and nearby Borussia Mönchengladbach, would not poach youth players from each other.
If any bad blood remains from that decision, it’s surely worth it. Wirtz already has two goals and three assists in just 124 league minutes this term and plays with a decisive maturity beyond his years.
His opening goal was a case in point. When Paulinho nicked the ball from Guerreiro, Wirtz sprung to life. As he received the ball his mind was uncluttered, his confidence was clear and his finish was smart.
After another of the Bundesliga’s current crop of Wünderkinder, Haaland, headed in an equalizer from a Thomas Meunier cross, it was Wirtz that dragged Leverkusen back in to the lead. Many of his most-admired qualities combined to create Schick’s strike: smart positioning on the counter, a driving run and a perfectly timed pass allowed the Czech Republic striker to curl first time in to the far corner.
Fans at the Bay Arena have become used to gifted German playmakers in recent years, with Kai Havertz and Julian Brandt, Wirtz’s predecessors in the role. While Wirtz has already allowed the Werkself to move on from Havertz’ move to Chelsea, Brandt returned to haunt his former employers when a brilliant, improvised touch helped him grab Dortmund’s second equalizer.
Erling Haaland once again secured the points for Borussia Dortmund
Moussa Diaby’s strike was further confirmation of the talent on display in Leverkusen’s attacking ranks. But it wasn’t enough, as Dortmund’s own offensive weapons managed to edge it. Close but not close enough, so often the Leverkusen way.
Though it’s still early in his career, it’s that status below the elite that means a player of Wirtz’s ability is likely to eventually follow Havertz and Brandt in leaving the BayArena. Given their persistent defensive shortcomings, it must also be questionable whether Dortmund can truly count themselves among that elite, though Haaland certainly can.
Though the Norwegian had the last laugh in Leverkusen on Saturday, Wirtz once again served notice that he too has all the tools to make it to the top. Leverkusen fans will, once again, have to enjoy him while they can.