Surprise names target scoring crown
The race for the German Bundesliga's top striker crown has thrown up some surprising candidates as the league reaches the half-way mark this weekend.
The two top strikers of last season, Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez, are conspicuous by their absence at the top of the scoring charts.
Instead the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Alexander Meier or Adam Szalai from midtable Mainz are among seven players sharing 66 goals.
Meier joins VfB Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic and Bayer Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling on 10 goals, while Szalai is on nine together with Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund and the Bayern pair Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Mueller.
That Bosnia-Herzegovina striker Ibisevic again leads the way is hardly a surprise after he underlined his goalgetting prowess at Hoffenheim with 48 goals in 123 games.
Since joining Stuttgart at the start of the year he has now banged in 18 in 29 matches, including a hat-trick last weekend in the 3-1 defeat of Schalke.
"The last time I scored a hat-trick was against Hertha Berlin with Hoffenheim. It's great to be the league's top goalscorer with 10 goals, but it's far more important that we got the three points," was his comment after the game.
Kiessling is also a proven scorer with 83 goals and 35 assists in 202 games for Leverkusen since joining in the summer of 2006, meaning he has been involved in more than every other goal for his club when playing.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has overlooked the striker's claims since his the last of his six appearance for the German national side at the 2010 World Cup, even with the lengthy injury absence of Gomez.
"This (discussion) really gets on my nerves," Kiessling said recently amid media calls for his selection. "What is there that I can say about it. I have read Loew has registered me, but there's nothing I can do to influence this."
The biggest surprise though is 29-year-old Meier, who has spent eight years at Frankfurt in a variety of roles without looking more than a dependable journeyman whose international experience has been limited to two appearances for the German Under-21 team.
However, with Meier given an attacking midfield role by Frankfurt coach Armin Veh, he has been able to make penetrating runs into danger areas to great effect for the promoted side who are fourth in the table.
"Alex is exceptionally gifted on the ball and is always good for a surprise. He is simply unpredictable," Veh said.
Former Germany international Mario Basler, the last midfielder to win the Bundesliga top goalscorer crown, when he was joint top in 1994-95, believes Meier can continue his run of scoring.
"I believe he can reach 20 goals as I did. He is a complete player," the former Bayern star said.
Bayern meanwhile have Croatia striker Mandzukic and teammate Mueller -another attacking midfielder - leading their goals tally.
Mandzukic, a summer arrival from Wolfsburg, has benefited from the absence of Gomez, who has only just returned from injury. Gomez, who had 15 goals at the same stage last season, has however made an immediate impact when coming on as a substitute in recent weeks.
"If at the end of the season I have 10 more appearances as a substitute and we are champions then I will be happy," he told Bild newspaper published Wednesday.
Hungary striker Adam Szalai is another player who has suddenly hit a hot streak of form with his nine goals for Mainz.
The 25-year-old former Real Madrid reserve has found his feet in the Bundesliga after his 50 previous games before the start of the season produced only eight goals.
And Wolfsburg look to have done well in finding an adequate replacement for Mandzukic with the Dutchman Bas Dost, who arrived unheralded in the summer from Heerenveen.
The 23-year-striker's seven goals has helped Wolfsburg climb out of the immediate danger zone under interim coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner, and has brought him to the attention of Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal.
Dost has featured in recent Dutch squads - he was called up to replace the injured Robin van Persie for last month's friendly against Germany -but has yet to make his international debut, which if the goals continue should only be a matter of time.
"At first he had problems when he joined us because he had to adjust, but now he is on the right road," said Koestner.