The secret superstar who can ruin Manchester United’s European dream

Following the Champions League draw, Vincent Ralph looks at the Bayer Leverkusen striker United must pay close attention to when they meet.

At first glance, Manchester United’s Champions League draw isn’t a bad one. And even at second glance, it remains a thoroughly manageable series of matches that should see David Moyes’ side through to the next round.

That isn’t a case of disrespecting the sides United have to face, only an observation that if they wish to triumph in Europe’s elite club competition, they should be beating the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Real Sociedad and Bayer Leverkusen.

And yet to assume safe passage into the knockout-stage is all but secure would be foolish in the extreme. All three clubs have the ability to beat United on their day, and while they are not coming up against any of the truly exceptional teams in the competition, none of them are duds either.

If United do not start the competition as they mean to go on, they may find it hard to qualify from a group in which not a single game is a stonewall three points.

But there is one man in particular who could be their downfall if they are not ready for him; because although it may be Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski who earns the majority of the plaudits, Bayer Leverkusen can call on a man who outscored the prolific Pole in last season’s Bundesliga.

Stefan Kießling may be an unfamiliar name to those not au fait with German football. After all, the 29-year-old hasn’t played for his national side since 2010, collecting the last of his six caps in the World Cup third-place play-off before slipping into international football obscurity.

Why that is the case has never been fully revealed, although Germany coach Joachim Low has given hints.

That his form took a dip in the season directly after that summer is undeniable, as he scored just nine goals in 28 appearances. The following year he scored 17 goals in 43 matches – again nothing to write home about.

But last season was a very different story, as Kießling’s 25 goals in 34 starts saw him crowned the Bundesliga’s top scorer – one strike ahead of Lewandowski.

And while the Polish forward added significantly to his tally with his Champions League exploits, the simple fact is Leverkusen have a goal-getter with the ability to shoot United down if they are not wary of his threat.

They will take some hope from the fact that Kießling’s best form is invariably saved for domestic matters, and that he has yet to make significant impact during his European exploits – be that in the Champions League or the Europa League.

But United’s previous European campaigns have been blighted by men far less prolific than Kießling. And the fact that he already has four goals in four games this season means Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have their work cut out to ensure he doesn’t continue that fine form when they come face to face.

To call Kießling a "secret" superstar is perhaps doing him and his fans a disservice.  And yet in an age when players are heralded across the world for their efforts, and the rumour mill churns with potential moves for this player and that, the Leverkusen striker appears to be happy just getting on with his job.  A job that United will attempt to prevent him from doing at least for 180 minutes.

image: © andyjakeman

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