Julian Brandt: Bayer’s Blonde Bandit

Last season, Wolfsburg sold Kevin De Bruyne for a club record £55 million but could also regret allowing Julian Brandt to leave at youth level for Bayer Leverkusen. The German U20 international is one third of a dangerous forward line including Chicharito and Karim Bellarabi which has been involved in 11 of the team’s last 13 goals. Brandt has been involved in 7 of the last 13 goals with 5 goals in his last 5 games and 2 assists as he has been stearing his team into the Champions League places.

A fleet-footed winger blessed with blistering pace and creativity in the final third  has made himself a key component of Bayer’s side going into the final stages of this season. In a squad littered with young talent, Roger Schmidt has created an atmosphere where players can express themselves and develop. Brandt began this season on the periphery and has now played his way into the starting lineup as his form has kept him in the side, possibly ahead of Hakan Calhanoglu who sat on the bench in the recent match against Schalke at the Veltins ArenA.

Bayer Leverkusen are currently on a six game winning streak which has taken them into 3rd place which they could seal with a win next week against Hertha Berlin. Brandt has brought zest into Leverkusen’s attacking setup with his ability to trouble his fullback with his quick feet. He can also cut in leaving opponents in a heap with his devastating turn of pace while his growth in confidence has encouraged him to shoot more which has resulted in an upturn of his goalscoring form this season. The blonde-haired 19 year-old is a player tailor-made for the counter-attack as this is where he can truly express himself with the space available to him and with the support of Chicharito and Bellarabi, he has thrived for Bayer, so much so that he is touted as a wild card for Germany at Euro 2016.

This would be testament to his rapid rise as only last summer, he travelled with the German U20 National Team to New Zealand for the U20 World Cup. It is highly unlikely to see the youngster playing in France given the wealth of options Joachim Loew has at his disposal in the attacking positions. However, this should not take away from the strides the youngster has made this season and with three games left, his performances could help him set a place as a starter for next season. Brandt, ofcourse was the reason why the former Red Bull Salzburg coach was so comfortable in allowing Hon Seung-Ming to join Tottenham in the summer.

Something that has caught the eye of those that have been lucky enough to see Brandt play is the lack of fear that is in his game. Last season, he scored against Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich at home in the second half of the season while this season he has scored against Wolfsburg and Schalke who are some of the bigger teams in the league while also scoring in a derby against Koln. In fact against Wolfsburg in a 3-0 win recently, he was the best player on a pitch with the likes of Julian Draxler, Andre Schurrle, Maximilian Arnold, Calhanoglu and Bellerabi. His pace and direct running were a thorn in the side of his former club as he broke the deadlock in the 27th minute. He is unfazed by the bright lights of the big occassion and that bodes well for his career as he seems to thrive in the bigger games. In the last game against Schalke, with Leverkusen 2-0 down at the break, he scored his team’s first and assisted the winning goal to put them in the driving seat for third place.

However, there are some shortcomings in his game as he can sometimes can hold on to the ball for too long which can be a blessing and a curse. He can make driving runs deep in the opposition half, only to lose possession or he can make hurtling runs at the opposition defence only to be fouled and gift his team a free-kick in a dangerous position. His decision making has improved greatly this season but could still use some work as he can still mix up when to shoot or when to pass to a teammate in a better position as that can only come with experience. He also needs to improve his crossing as only 25% of his crosses have been accurate this season as this is an important facet of his game as a winger.

“I am physically much more compact and have become mentally stronger. When you come as a young player in a club, it is uncertain, often playing too hectic and make more mistakes. This Aufgeregtsein I passed. Want an example? If Kyriakos Papadopoulos would previously running towards me in training, I would have been nervous. Now I am still very cool,” said Brandt on his development during the winter break in the United States.

Brandt has 8 goals and 2 assists in all competitions as the youngster has had 24 attempts on goal and created 74 chances this season. He has played the full 90 minutes on 8 of the last 10 games symbolising his growing influence on the 3rd placed team in the Bundesliga. He makes one shot and one key pass per game in the Bundesliga as he is a growing force for Bayer and in the Bundesliga.

Brandt was labeled ‘one of the most talented young players in German football’ by Rudi Voller on his arrival in Leverkusen three years ago while Schmidt has previously stated that he has ‘potential’. He is in a side with the likes of Jonathan Tah and Tin Jedvaj while he is part of a generation of wonderkids including the likes of Julian Weigl and Joshua Kimmich. The conveyer belt of talent in the Bundesliga shows no sign of slowing down and with Voller shrewdly tying the youngster down till 2019 on his current contract, Bayer could have one of the stars of the future in their ranks.

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