A leader at just 19, Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz has been empowered by the responsibility vested in him this season, and he has duly been producing some of his best performances to date.
His eighth goal of the season in Die Werkself's 5-1 win over Mainz on Friday continued his and his club's upward trajectory, and ensured he now has more goals than his previous two seasons put together. Likewise, Leverkusen have European football back in their sights thanks to some fine on-field chemistry, involving their number 29.
The Germany international has found his rightful place, and he is producing the goods. Even under Heiko Herrlich, Havertz was enjoying the freedom afforded to him behind the front line, and with Peter Bosz now calling the shots on the touchline, he has continued to deliver in tandem with an on-fire Julian Brandt, forming perhaps one of the most exciting – and youthful – attacking midfield partnerships in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Kai Havertz's key role for Leverkusen
Havertz is the only Leverkusen player to have started all 21 of their Bundesliga games this season. The sigh of relief when he emerged to inspect the pitch prior to Friday's clash with Mainz, having missed the midweek DFB Cup defeat to Heidenheim due to injury, was a palpable indication of how important his presence on the field is, and the rest duly followed.
In the 17th minute, it was Havertz tracking back to win possession and switch direction with a precise pass for Leon Bailey that, although it did not lead to a goal, divided the Mainz ranks with consummate ease. Minutes later, his understanding with Brandt enabled him to give Leverkusen the lead. With Leverkusen cruising at 4-1, Bosz was keen not to run any risk of injury as he withdrew his midfield heartbeat ahead of a key run of fixtures, which includes the resumption of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
The ambidextrous midfielder – equally comfortable on his left and right foot – is a technically-gifted, rare breed of player known in Germany as an 'Alleskönner' – somebody who can do everything. He is impeccably versatile: able to shine deep, centrally or advanced in the midfield; a six, an eight or a ten – the numbers are adding up for Havertz this season
His strength in the tackle – 221 successful tackles ranking him 12th league-wide after Matchday 21 – combined with dazzling dribbling skills and pace that sees him fourth in the Bundesliga in terms of intense runs (1,657), combined with the intelligence to identify the right moment to push and know when he should instead sit, take the pace out of the game and circulate the ball all make Havertz so fundamental to Leverkusen's game.
"He's one in a million," enthused Leverkusen director Rudi Völler, while acknowledging that his eye-catching performances are bound to attract interest. His contract runs until 2022, though, and Leverkusen fans can look forward to seeing him strut his stuff at the BayArena beyond the summer.
"He's taken many steps forward here and I think we're going to make more together," said Simon Rolfes, Leverkusen's sporting director, to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. "We're fully expecting him to be here beyond the summer."
With a direct hand in 17 goals in 27 games in all competitions this season, having Havertz is helping Leverkusen hit heights that – with just five points separating them from fourth-placed RB Leipzig – could yet see the BayArena DJ dust off the UEFA Champions League anthem in September.