The capture of one of Germany’s most sought-after talents last summer was supposed to give Borussia Dortmund that little extra percentage they needed to usurp Bayern Munich as the top dogs in the Bundesliga. Julian Brandt’s arrival from Bayer Leverkusen for €25 million (along with Mats Hummels, Nico Schulz and Thorgan Hazard) was just what the Schwarzgelben needed.
A year on and the Bavarians are being crowned German champions once again, so how should young Brandt’s first season at the Signal Iduna Park be judged? A hit, miss, or maybe?
The 24-year-old was one of the absolute stand-out performers in the 2018-19 Bundesliga season for Bayer Leverkusen. He really blossomed under Peter Bosz, who gave him the freedom to play in his favoured number 10 role and it paid massive dividends for the Werkself. Seven goals and fourteen assists were the end result and Dortmund couldn’t wait to bring that talent to the Ruhr.
It was a slow start for the player and he only started two of the first seven league matches of the season. When he was introduced as a second half substitute, he was often being deployed as a left winger. Speaking at the time he admitted a little frustration.
“It’s difficult, that’s clear. You sit on the bench a lot and only come on for short periods of time. Then you’ll play 90 minutes only to maybe find yourself on the bench again. The coach has his reasons for lining up the way he does. I didn’t want to talk to him about it. I’m not above the team.”
There was soon a change in fortunes as he settled into life at Dortmund and Lucien Favre discovered that he could play deeper alongside a defensive midfielder like Thomas Delaney/ Axel Witsel as part of a ‘Doppelsechs’. He started seven of the last eight games before the Winterpause. He ended the Hinrunde with two goals and just the one assist.
Now a regular, Brandt missed just one match in the Rückrunde and was a starter in fifteen of his sixteen appearances. He added one goal but improved his assists to six.
“I had to get used to it in the first few months, because I played in many different positions and didn’t know the boys very well. In the beginning it was not harmonious” Brandt said recently looking back at his first season in Dortmund.
“I am now fully integrated in the team and in the game. In my opinion it was a year with great moments. For example, I like to remember the game against Inter Milan. I’m really happy because it was the first year. But it can and it will get much better.”
His raw stats of goals and assists look like he has taken a step back at BVB, but the different style of the two teams and his role within that must be taken into account. He’s gone from seven goals and fourteen assists at Leverkusen to just three goals and eight assists at BVB.
At Leverkusen he was the focal point of their creativity and he was given the freedom to do what he wanted- the team was built around him, but at Dortmund you have the likes of Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard out wide, who share the burden of creating the chances.
His pass completion percentage has gone up from 77.5% (2018-19) to 83.2% this season. Tackles won rose from 15 to 35 showing a new side to him as he played as a deeper central midfielder. He has also improved massively in terms of successful pressures in the attacking third. Brandt looks to be working harder at BVB at slight expense of the glorifying stats.
His stand-out performances were on matchday 14 against Fortuna Düsseldorf, the 4-0 Revierderby win over Schalke where he became the king of the pre-assist and then the recent 2-0 win over RB Leipzig.
After a difficult start, where he found there were plenty of other big fish in the Borussia Dortmund pond, his ability has come to the fore, he’s proved himself versatile enough to play deeper, out wide or centrally. The season can be considered a success, even though the player admitted the team were not “cracking open the champagne corks at finishing second.”
There is more to come from Julian Brandt in a Dortmund shirt and his former youth coach at Wolfsburg Dirk Kunert believes he could be headed even higher.
“I don’t always have the feeling that he’s really playing at 100%, that he’s fully showing his potential,” Kunert told SPOX recently. “He can do much more, I’m sure of it.
“Sure, he plays for one of the best clubs in Germany and for the national team, but even before that I thought to myself from time to time: ‘Man, if he can reach 100%, a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona would be possible without any problems for Jule’.
“But he’s still young and has time to work on himself. If he continues to work as hard as he does now, I don’t see any limit for him.”