Last summer Lewis Holtby's departure from Schalke was softened by the fact that the club had a number of emerging youngsters to take his place. Julian Draxler was at the front of the queue, though he had broken into the first team some time before, but now the club may well be gearing up for life without their latest prized asset.
The progression of 18-year old Max Meyer eased some of the fans fears early on in the campaign, but more recently it has been versatile midfielder Leon Goretzka that has stolen the limelight. The German was signed from Bundesliga II outfit Bochum in the summer having established himself in their first team before he turned 18. The belief that his new club had in the teenager was evident, handing the youth international the number 8 shirt upon his arrival in Gelsenkirchen.
Goretzka made his first start for the club in a 2-1 defeat at Hannover back in August but was withdrawn before half time because of an injury. Although he opened his account for Schalke from the bench in a 3-2 win at Braunschweig back in October, Goretzka would have to wait until February for his second Bundesliga start.
The youngster, playing from the left on that occasion against Bayer Leverkusen - he's started in 4 different positions this season - opened the scoring with a delightfully composed chip. He'd stolen possession in the final third before skipping past a desperate challenge from an opposition defender beforehand. With a WhoScored.com rating of 7.8 in the match, it was the platform from which Goretzka has built since, having started all 12 of Schalke's Bundesliga matches thereafter and clearly won over manager Jens Keller.
Unlike his close friend at the club Max Meyer, who cuts a diminutive figure, Goretzka is far lankier - not dissimilar to Julian Draxler in build - standing at over 6'2". He's a confident player, mustering a shot at goal every 36 minutes (only Huntelaar and Boateng have fired off a shot more often), and while he's not as skillful in possession as his aforementioned young teammates, Goretzka has the tools to be an impressive all-rounder.
His height means that when he comes inside - a preference indicated in his WhoScored characteristics - he can offer an aerial threat in the box. Meanwhile, he possesses a strength when it comes to defensive contribution, averaging a tackle every 45 minutes of playing time. When compared to Meyer's 102 here, the difference between the priorities of the two is quite clear.
It was perhaps not so evident this weekend, however, as Goretzka put in his strongest performance of the season according to WhoScored.com's ratings, with a score of 9.8 enough to earn the youngster a second man of the match award in the space of a month. Fielded on the right wing this time, although the 19-year old didn't score or register an assist, he was a constant menace in a 2-0 win at Freiburg.
Goretzka mustered 5 shots at goal (2 on target), created 4 chances for teammates and completed 9 dribbles, usurping Meyer's impressive 7 on the day. He did all this whilst maintaining an excellent defensive output, managing 3 tackles and 3 interceptions, while a total of 6 aerial duels won and 2 out of 2 accurate crosses showed just what the youngster is capable of. It was an outstanding display from almost every aspect.
The Bochum born midfielder has been one of the standout performers for Schalke since the winter break and while his average rating from WhoScored of 7.09 indicates a hugely encouraging campaign, if you factor out Goretzka's substitute appearances there is certainly more to come. His rating leaps to an exceptional 7.58 when excluding his 10 league appearances from the bench and Schalke have clearly unearthed another gem.
This summer's World Cup will likely come to soon but don't rule out an involvement in Germany's qualifying campaign for Euro 2016. Goretzka joins a long list of emerging talents in the Bundesliga, and indeed from Schalke alone, but his development may well pave the way for Draxler to leave the club before next season. After that it may be a case of finding a replacement for their upcoming man (teen) of the moment.
How impressed have you been with Goretzka's development this season? Let us know in the comments below
All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.