Julian Brandt's Standout Performance Against Schalke a Timely Reminder of His Versatile Brilliance

Grey Whitebloom
Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga
Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga / DeFodi Images/Getty Images

As a seemingly harmless pass is rolled into Julian Brandt's feet, Borussia Dortmund's number 19 stops dead. With an impudent flick of his right boot, he gives Thorgan Hazard the ball and the freedom of the right flank to tee up Erling Braut Haaland for the first Bundesliga goal for 66 days.

That was just one of four goals Borussia Dortmund would score in an emphatic Revierderby triumph - all of which saw Brandt at the heart of the preceding move.

After a slow start, Dortmund began to exert themselves upon Schalke, who pressed high from the off. Haaland's opener, and the role Brandt played within it, seemed to imbue the 24-year-old with a renewed sense of confidence after spending much of the first 30 minutes fending off opponents snapping at his heels.

Brandt rolled a perfectly weighted pass into Raphael Guerreiro's path and, without breaking a stride, the Portuguese wing-back made it 2-0 on the cusp of half time. Brandt teed up Hazard again three minutes after the restart, this time for the Belgian to score himself.

While he was near unplayable at points in the 4-0 win, this direct involvement at the sharp end of the pitch was not a seamless continuation of where he left off before the break in play. In fact, before the hour mark on the weekend, Brandt has registered as many assists as he'd managed in his previous 1,511 minutes of Bundesliga action for Dortmund.

This isn't to say Brandt has been poor since swapping Bayer Leverkusen for Borussia in the summer, it's more an emphatic consequence of a change in position - something the young player has been subject to on multiple occasions in the last 18 months.

Brandt moved to Dortmund for £22.5m after spending five and a half years at Bayer Leverkusen
Brandt moved to Dortmund for £22.5m after spending five and a half years at Bayer Leverkusen / TF-Images/Getty Images

For the vast majority of his career, Brandt has simply been a winger. But the arrival of Peter Bosz halfway through the 2018/19 campaign saw the technically-gifted but less than physically dominant Brandt shifted in-field. He formed a midfield partnership with Kai Havertz not widely dissimilar to the dual-attacking roles Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva have thrived within under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Perhaps this homage isn't that surprising given Bosz listed Pep Confidential, the in-depth look at Guardiola's first season with Bayern Munich, as his favourite book.

Yet, despite the clear upturn in form this tactical change brought, Dortmund's coach Lucien Favre was reluctant to deploy Brandt centrally following his transfer, that is, when he played him at all. Brandt has spoken about the 'difficult' situation he was in at the beginning of the season, starting three of the team's first nine Bundesliga games.

But a change in system for Dortmund, from Favre's favoured 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3, saw Brandt become central to the team, both in a literal and figurative sense, as he started attacks from deep alongside Axel Witsel in midfield.

However, this was not the position from which he lacerated Schalke's backline on Saturday. In fact, Brandt was nominally deployed on the left-hand side of Dortmund's front three - with Hazard on the opposite flank as both Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus were sidelined.

Brandt enjoyed an incredibly free role, drifting across the pitch as Hazard and Haaland pivoted around him. It was his surprise presence on the right-hand side which enticed Schalke's unsure Matija Nastasic out of their backline, leaving the chasm which was filled by the on-rushing Hazard.

Brandt's performance as one of Dortmund's front three was made even more encouraging given the fact that playing him that bit higher up the pitch allows Favre the security of playing both Witsel and the late January addition of Emre Can; providing some much needed ballast to Dortmund's midfield.

Emre Can arrived, initially on loan from Juventus on January transfer deadline day, before the deal was made permanent in February
Emre Can arrived, initially on loan from Juventus on January transfer deadline day, before the deal was made permanent in February / DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Neither central midfielder started the Schalke match - although the increasingly toothless attacks their opponents mustered posed their deputies little trouble - but they will be mightily important for the final few games of the run-in, which include a visit from Bayern Munich and a trip to RB Leipzig.

Not every touch Brandt made in the first game back was worthy of making the highlight reel, but the 24-year-old had the confidence to try and set his teammates free, be it in conventional or spectacular manner.

If Brandt can replicate this influential display as Dortmund welcome their more high-profile stars to the fold in the coming weeks, it will certainly make for sensational viewing as the Bundesliga builds to an enthralling climax.