Move over, Mesut Ozil: Julian Brandt is the new king of the pre-assist

Julian Brandt may not have been top of everyone’s list when it came to the players they were excited to see upon the Bundesliga’s return, but the Germany international made a compelling case as Borussia Dortmund beat Schalke.

Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho may be the Hollywood players of Lucien Favre’s Dortmund team, but it was Brandt who made the difference in the Revierderby.

The forward had a hand in three of his side’s four goals, and each contribution was vital, however unimportant it may have seemed in real time.

At first glance, the opening goal from Haaland is one of those so simple you wonder how he was able to get away with it.

Acres of space for Thorgan Hazard, and a curled cross so straightforward it’s impossible for the Norwegian to miss.

But is couldn’t happen without Brandt’s involvement: a dainty flick so subtle you barely notice it happening, which still has the role of confusing the Schalke defence and freeing Hazard to take his time over the perfect delivery.

Brandt’s act is like pan-searing a duck-breast to crisp up the skin before cooking it in the oven: there’s still more work to do, but it only takes care of itself if you’ve completed the first step properly. And without that step, you might not ever know what you could have had.

Dortmund’s game is all about speed of movement. We’ve seen that in countless goals this season, and it’s one way in which it’s possible to recognise a sense of continuity from the side Jurgen Klopp took to the Champions League final all those years ago.

However, when everything is moving a mile a minute, you need a counterpoint; a stillness whose visibility helps the surrounding movement become all the more striking.

In much the same way as bright colours stand out more against a plain background than a busy one which can confuse the eye, Raphael Guerreiro’s run and finish takes on an extra sheen through Brandt ignoring the bodies zipping either side of him and continuing at something just shy of a walking pace.

It’s an exercise in knowing just how much you need to do, both to make your own task easier and to simplify everything for those around you.

Not that a walking pace is essential to everything Brandt does.

Just like his namesake in The Big Lebowski, the former Leverkusen man seems duty-bound to assist his more storied colleagues, even when this requires him to find an extra gear.

Take the third goal, converted by Hazard but reliant almost entirely on Brandt’s burst from deep, via a contribution from Haaland which feels neutral at best.

It’s the kind of ‘fine, I’ll do it myself’ attitude normally associated with a big name star trying to drag his team out of a hole, not ‘just another player’ whose team is already cruising at 2-0 and in little danger of surrendering that advantage.

Even in an empty stadium, it shouldn’t be possible to hear the preemptive sigh as he sets himself to put on the afterburners, but there’s a sense that his hamstrings are able to cut through the silence and set him on the inevitable path towards the opposition goal.

There’s not even one individual Schalke player left exasperated at the German’s change of pace – if anything, it’s so effective it turns them all into an amorphous entity whose only task is stopping and staring, with effective defensive football far from a priority. If you do things subtly enough to bypass individual blame, it might just be easier to repeatedly get away with your tricks.

Brandt even had a part in the fourth goal, freeing Guerreiro down the left before the Portugal international exchanged passes with Haaland and fired past Markus Schubert to make it 4-0. Like with the opener, it wasn’t the most crucial touch but it was one without which you would not have a goal.

Perhaps Julian Brandt just missed football that much, and wants to make sure he gets as many minutes as possible out of fear that the Bundesliga will be shut down once more before all the fixtures are fulfilled.

Whatever his motivation, though, Dortmund certainly benefited from having a player who treated the first game back like it could be the last one he ever plays.

By Tom Victor

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