Since taking Shinji Kagawa's vacant spot in the Dortmund starting lineup in August, Marco Reus has been the phenomenon of German football. To say the ex-Gladbach man has filled in flawlessly for the Japan international, who was sold to Manchester United last summer, is an understatement.
Reus has played at a high level from the very beginning, and in 39 games in all competitions for club and country he's scored 18 goals and given 13 assists, propelling himself to superstardom. Reus is a proven big-game performer, opening the scoring in away matches in the Champions League in Manchester, Madrid and Amsterdam.
With Robert Lewandowski suspended two weeks ago, Reus silenced any doubts of BVB's scoring abilities without the Polish striker as he netted a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory over Frankfurt. But even for all this, Reus is not Dortmund's best player. That would be Mario Goetze.
It took the better part of two months for Goetze to find his stride, but especially since early November he has been in unstoppable form. He's scored or assisted in 13 of his last 15 matches, and his record for club stands at 13 goals and 15 assists in 31 appearances.
Consistency is what makes Goetze stand apart. For all the quality Reus offers, it cannot be expected to be shown every week. Goetze produces in nearly every game he plays, and can be relied upon when it matters most. He recorded an assist in each of BVB's Champions League matches against Real Madrid, and scored the all-important equalizer against Bayern in December.
Even when deployed as a false nine over the weekend against Gladbach, Goetze delivered. Coach Juergen Klopp had no strikers available with first-team experience, but out of position, the 20-year-old attacker won and converted an early penalty.
With his side desperate for a winner in the closing seconds, Goetze shrugged off a challenge, crept up the byline and set up Sebastian Kehl with the easiest of chances from inside the six-yard box. The captain shot wide with one of the most humiliating misses in any league this season, but that should take nothing away from the brilliance of Goetze's setup—or the timeliness of his service.
Goetze may lack the shooting technique or power of Reus, but time and time again he's proven equally capable of changing a game. The 20-year-old makes an impression not with 30-yard net-bursters, but with elegant footwork, ingenious passing and an ever-improving finishing technique.
His range of qualities give Goetze the X-factor to change any game. He's less predictable than Reus, and if one or two of his qualities are not entirely sharp on any given day, he can use plan C, D or E. The proof is in the stats: A minimum of one goal or assist in 13 out of 15 games is a very, very rare level of consistency.
The most remarkable thing about Goetze is that he continues to develop his game more and more. In August and September, he played very well without having as much of an impact in terms of actual goal creation. As the season has progressed he's become more and more decisive, and all this has come before his 21st birthday. At the same age, Lionel Messi finished the season with 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 club appearances.
This is not to say Goetze is or ever will be on Messi's level. However, the young German's development is on a trajectory similar to that of the Argentine superstar, and we will in the coming years find out just how long his improvement continues. For now, he's on the right track: After starting the season in Reus' shadow, he's stepped into the spotlight and become Dortmund's best and most decisive player.