This coming summer transfer window, young Bayer Leverkusen and Germany attacker Julian Brandt should be in high demand. Despite coming off a season at club level in which his output appears to have regressed there are still enough major clubs around Europe that are enamoured enough with the 21-year-old that we should see significant interest.
For such a young player Brandt has already amassed a huge amount of experience at the top level with almost one hundred appearances in the Bundesliga and five full caps for the German national team. He has been utilised in a number of positions and roles to this point showing himself to be equally comfortable in wide attacking areas or as a central striker. I would expect that as he matures he will be used more often centrally either as a lone striker or in a slightly withdrawn supporting role.
It has been a difficult season for Bayer Leverkusen with the club dismissing Austrian coach Roger Schmidt due to a poor run of form and his replacement Tayfun Korkut failing to arrest the slide. In the end, a 12th place league finish meant no European football to look forward to for the club next season, this could act in the favour of any club looking to sign Brandt as Bayer may well look to cash in on their prized asset.
Brandt has already shown that he is willing to force a move for the good of his career when he left VFL Wolfsburg to join Leverkusen in 2014 having correctly identified that the move would be a positive one for his career. I strongly expect that he will do the same this season if for any reason Bayer do look to stand in his way.
He is a modern attacker who reads the game very well for a player of his age and times his runs into the box perfectly. Capable of finishing moves on his own or linking with teammates in and around the penalty area, any side that do sign Brandt are going to be getting a player with potential still to be fulfilled.
Movement and Finishing
Whether playing in the wide areas or centrally, Brandt carries a genuine goal threat that should improve further as he gains more experience and becomes more tactically aware, Brandt has the innate ability to find pockets of space in the penalty area and time his runs to arrive in that space just as the ball does.
When playing as a central striker and with a greater onus on the need to link play, Brandt provides less of a sustained goal threat although his ability to play the key pass – the pass before the assist – makes him extremely valuable as part of the team dynamic.
Here we see an example of the forwards ability to drift and attack space in the penalty area at the right time.
Initially, Leverkusen have constructed excellent spacing on their left-hand side as the ball is cycled between players to beat the Darmstadt press. As the ball is set back we see a Leverkusen player take possession in space centrally. Even though the Darmstadt defensive line is well positioned, Brandt still finds space in the penalty area by pulling off of the shoulder of the left-back onto the blind side.
One accurate diagonal pass releases Brandt in the box and he is able to finish comfortably.
This time we see a different type of movement and finish from the young attacker.
Originally, he takes possession of the ball centrally with an overload on the Leverkusen left flank. His natural inclination is to move towards the overloaded side in order to apply even more pressure to that side of the opposition’s defensive structure.
As he feeds the ball out wide we would often see players sit deeper to offer a quick option to take the ball back inside. Instead, Brandt continues his run into the penalty area and beyond the Monaco defensive line before finishing comfortably.
Vision and ability to pick a pass
In terms of player type, Brandt is very much a creator with an ability to finish added on. He displays excellent vision and spatial awareness when travelling with the ball, with the ability to evade challenges and play the correct pass.
This specific aspect of his game is that leads me to believe that he will perform better in the future as a more withdrawn central player with the freedom to move into space whenever he sees fit in the attacking transition.
Here we see Brandt receive the ball on the left of the penalty area in a small pocket of space. The defensive structure from Borussia Monchengladbach is still very strong.
Instead of immediately committing to an attacking movement and potentially losing possession, we see the young attacker pause in possession of the ball as he assesses the space and the options in the centre.
As the runner attacks the edge of the penalty area Brandt is able to pull the ball back for a shot at goal.
On this occasion, Brandt collects possession of the ball out on the left-hand side of the field further demonstrating the positional flexibility that he offers his side.
As the Frankfurt defensive players initially try to get tight to engage and apply pressure to the ball we see Brandt turn and accelerate beating the first defender on the outside. Again he shows his appreciation of space and of the pitch around him as he then cuts back into the centre of the field having identified that the space is on the far side.
As he cuts back past a second defensive player he can then release the diagonal pass out to the teammate on the left-hand side to attack.
Comfortable driving forward in possession
As well as being able to pick the correct pass in the attacking transition Brandt is equally comfortable driving through the lines of the defensive structure in possession of the ball. By running forward into advanced areas in this manner you effectively break the structure of the defending team and give your team the ability to play from a more advanced platform.
Of course, when you get into these advanced areas there is still a need to pick either the right pass or finish.
In this example, when playing against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, we see Brandt collect possession centrally in the attacking transition.
With Atletico trying to regain their defensive structure having been attacking moments before, they immediately engage Brandt to try and force a quick turnover. The youngster, however, is able to hold off the initial press and move forwards with the ball, where he beats yet another Atletico defensive player and moves further into the opposition half.
Now we see the effectiveness of this attacking movement as the opposition defensive structure is broken and Brandt is able to slip the through ball into an advanced player in space.
This clip is taken from the same match against Atletico Madrid and again Brandt collects the ball in the immediate transition when the ball is won back.
He immediately breaks forward and beats the first defensive player and then evades a challenge from behind whilst stepping wide to avoid yet another defensive player. In this one movement, there are effectively three Atletico players that have been completely taken out of the game.
As he advances forward he is then able to slip the ball out to the wide area. The key then, however, is that Brandt continues his run into the wide area taking the defensive focus away and allowing the man in possession to cut back inside.
There is little doubt that Julian Brandt is ready to take the next step in his career and that should mean a move to one of the giants of the European game.
The key to the development of his game will come in the coach that he is signed by. There comes a point in a players career that positional flexibility becomes a negative with that player never settling into a single role within the team.
If Brandt is given a free role in the centre of the field with the ability to roam and find space then he could go on to become one of the most disruptive attacking forces in football.