Connect in the back of the net

“Yeni Mesut Ozil” is the cry about the Bundesliga’s freshest exciting playmaker. Born in Germany with Turkish heritage and now lighting up the German top-flight after patient progression at youth level, the similarities with the earliest stages of Ozil’s career are certainly there, but Yunus Malli will not be following Ozil in terms of international representation.

Mainz’s Malli had caught the eye of the German Football Association (DFB) at the start of October according to sporting director Hansi Flick but after meeting with Turkey’s coach Fatih Terim, the 23 year-old has opted to represent the Crescent Stars, who qualified for Euro 2016 at the expense of the Netherlands, and has been included in the provisional squad for the November friendly with Qatar.

There had been no official approach from the DFB for Malli and it is thought they were only interested in keeping tabs on the midfielder at that stage, but despite the plethora of options available to Joachim Loew’s world champions in attack, missing out on Malli can be construed as a blow.

“Yunus has developed very well in the last years,” former Germany assistant manager Flick said. “He’s learned not only to play the decisive pass but also to score goals.”


In demand

Those goals are the main factor behind the demand for Malli as he has hit six already this term, equalling the tally he reached in the whole of last season. Those goals all came after New Year, thriving after manager Kasper Hjulmand was replaced by Martin Schmidt, and this current form has added to a superb 2015 in which Malli has truly announced himself to the Bundesliga at least.

Only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, together with Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus currently have more goals than Malli’s six.

This red-hot streak has come with the 23 year old playing in support of Yoshinori Muto, the Japanese striker who also has six goals. Between them they have accounted for 12 of Mainz’s 16 league goals and although the Nullfunfer currently sit mid-table in twelfth, looking nervously over their shoulders to the relegation zone three points below, they have helped to ensure coach Schmidt hasn’t missed last season’s top-scorers Shinji Okazaki and Ja-Cheol Koo, who both departed the Coface Arena in the summer, too much.

Malli has also been a creative force and with 15 opportunities made he is Mainz’s most effective chance-creator despite the 23 year old failing to register a single assist so far this season.

It is a newly-discovered assuredness in-front of goal however that has perked the interest of the likes of Arsenal, opening another link to Ozil, with a deadly hat-trick accounting for Hoffenheim when they visited the Coface in September, coming shortly after marrying his fiancé his fiancée Hatice.

“Marriage has done him good,” said Schmidt.


Marriage, a huge boost

Perhaps galvanised by tying the knot, Malli revelled in the free role handed to him by Schmidt in that game, in which he became only the third Mainz player to net a hat-trick in a Bundesliga match, taking advantage of forward-going full-backs to pop up in wider areas to cut inside and find the corner of the net with lethal precision.

His third goal against Hoffenhiem came from a clever late run into the box to get on the end of a cross and his sixth of the season, coming in the 2-3 away win at Darmstadt, arrived in similar fashion. Ghosting to the edge of the box he picked the ball up from Muto, swerved his body to fend off defenders before arcing the ball into the bottom corner.

Long regarded as one of the Bundesliga’s most-gifted dribblers, his close-control and excellent skill are now being combined with end-product to make for a potent cocktail that Bundesliga defences are having trouble dealing with.

Together with fellow-Turk Hakan Calhanoglu of Bayer Leverkusen, they are two of the Bundesliga’s most dangerous midfielders outside of Munich and Dortmund and with Barcelona’s Arda Turan to also add into the equation, Terim will have one of Europe’s most talented midfields when he is asked to forge his squad for next summer’s tournament in France.


Rewarded for his patience

Malli’s current rise has been reward for the patience he has shown at Mainz since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free, ever increasing as an astute investment, in 2011.

The Turkish midfielder had to wait until the August of last year before he could nail down a first-team place for Mainz and from then on he has missed just three of their 45 Bundesliga matches since.

“That’s (his run of form last season) why we went out of our way to get him to sign a new deal [in the summer]”, said Mainz’s sporting director Christian Heidel.

His decision to represent the country of his parentage in Turkey will surely arrive as a setback to Die Mannschaft who are missing out on a playmaker who is far more direct than Ozil but has also been capped by them over 40 times at youth level, including 11 times with the under-21s.

If Malli continues to improve, which according to Heidel and the player himself he certainly has the capacity to do so, then the DFB will be left ruing not doing more to secure his allegiance.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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