After a poor start to the Bundesliga season, Borussia Dortmund had only managed to win five of their first 12 games, leaving Dortmund sixth place in the table. Manager Lucien Favre decided to make a tactical change to his side, changing shape to a 3-4-2-1.
This change has seen a great impact, with Dortmund only losing twice in 13 games when operating in it. One player who has an important role since the change in tactics is Julian Brandt.
This tactical analysis scout report will be assessing the 23-year-old’s season in his newly found position in the centre of midfield. It will use analysis to determine the strengths and weaknesses in Brandt’s game and how he has helped the side since they have transitioned to a 3-4-2-1 and whether this should be his fixed position for Dortmund.
Brandt has played the majority of his football this season in the middle of midfield, either as a box-to-box or as an attacking midfielder. This is in contrast to previous seasons where he would operate on the left-wing for the most part.
Whether in a more attacking role or not, Brandt’s heatmap shows the midfielders intentions to get into the half-spaces in the opposition third.
Also shown in the heatmap is the high amount of ground covered by the German, critical for a player when playing in a midfield two. He is active in both the defensive and attacking areas of the pitch. However, his defensive work is not the most efficient; this will be looked into later in the analysis.
Borussia Dortmund has been most effective while counter-attacking this season; with 10 of their goals coming from counter-attacks, the joint-most in the Bundesliga. Having Brandt in the midfield can offer the side a quick progressor of the ball, whether it is with a verticle pass or a dribble to beat a press; these aspects of the German are very beneficial in a counter-attacking style system and will be assessed later in the scout report.
His movement when in the middle of the park is impressive and a massive bonus to the team when they’re looking to play forward. Brandt is always looking to find pockets of space to receive the ball, whether it is between the lines, in a half-space or in a deeper position. This mainly benefits the Dortmund defenders who are looking to progress the ball through the midfield.
The midfielder is constantly scanning when in space to see where his nearest opponents are and whether they are pressing him, and where his passing option will be. Having this skill allows Brandt to attempt to play smart quick passes as he usually one pass ahead of the opponent.
In the image above, Brandt moves into a pocket of space to receive the ball from Mats Hummels. The German checks his shoulder twice, once when moving into space and a second time just before receiving the pass. He can see that the player behind him is not pressing him and this allows Brandt to dribble into the red highlighted space in between the two highlighted opposition players and play the pass out wide left.
Without scanning behind him, Brandt wouldn’t have known whether he have time to turn inside as he did, or whether he would’ve needed to pass backwards to retain possession.
Brandt also looks for spaces in between the opponent’s lines, like in the image shown above. He positions himself in a large space between the lines of the opposition’s forward and defensive lines. Hummels again finds Brandt with a pass, and again Brandt assesses his situation by checking his shoulder before receiving the pass. As no defenders were highly pressing him, Brandt could turn with ease and play a forward pass on the wing to Jadon Sancho.
In the instance above, Brandt moves into the half-space on the left side. This allows him not only to pick the ball up in space but he can also turn and drive inside with the ball. Ultimately playing a pass out wide to Sancho once again.
The three situations above are examples of the spaces Brandt will occupy during games. Not only do these movements help the progression of the ball; offering a passing option between the opposition’s lines or in the half-spaces, but they also give the Dortmund defenders a clear passing option, so that a longer or more difficult pass is not necessary and will encourage the team to keep the possession.
His passing ability
One of the main reasons that Brandt has been moved into a central role is due to his passing ability. His passing allows him to operate as the progressor of the ball in the midfield.
The midfielder is always looking to play forward passes. This is shown by his 12.44 forward passes per 90; more than his 11.95 average for backwards passes per 90.
He also looks to play passes into space when being pressed. This can break an opposition press and disorganise their defensive shape.
Shown above, Brandt receives the ball and has six opposition players pressing him. The German finds a pass out to his centre-back and breaks the press. This kind of pass is great as his team can then attack the left side, where the opposition will be out of defensive shape because of their high press on Dortmund’s right side. The situation can only occur because of Brandt’s ability to stay composed and pass out of an intense press.
Brandt can also play a great final pass, he has 1.74 key passes per 90 in the Bundesliga this season. The German plays 3.31 passes into the opposition box per 90, a healthy amount for a player who’s spent around half of their games in a two-man midfield.
In the image above, FC Augsburg are in a 5-3-2 defensive shape behind the ball; this is a solid defensive structure and should be difficult to bypass. Brandt is able to showcase his ability to find a defence-splitting pass; as he finds Reus in the only empty pocket of space within the opposition shape. This pass left nine of the opposition players out of the game, but Reus could not capitalise on this and score.
His main asset in this position is through the quick, progressive passes he plays while operating there. In the image above, Brandt moves into a position to receive a pass from Achraf Hakimi. Once receiving the ball Brandt plays a first time ball into Marco Reus’ feet. By playing the pass first time it keeps to the high tempo which Dortmund aim to play like when attacking and it can also catch oppositions off-guard as it did here and Reus could then play Axel Witsel through.
Brandt can also progress the ball with long passes. He attempts them an average of 2.28 times per game and has an impressive 77.3% accuracy. They are often directed to the wide players who are making runs infield.
The image above shows Brandt picking out Sancho with a precise lofted pass over the opposition defence. Although Sancho is flagged for being slightly offside here, Brandt’s pass is still a delightful one and is one that progresses the ball very well.
The German midfielder is very impressive in the build-up phase for Dortmund, his forward-thinking and ability when passing is of great use for the team.
Although his goals and assists have not been as high as previous seasons, the role he plays in the build-up has been prominent for BVB. This is shown by his xGChain90 of 0.90 for the season, this is an impressive statistic when placed next to one of the best midfielders in Europe, Thiago of Bayern Munich’s xGChain90 of 1.04 this campaign.
For clarification, xGChain90 is a statistic which finds the xG of every possession a player is involved in. This gives a better indication of players attacking contributions who aren’t getting the goals or assists in attacks.
Close control and dribbling
Yet, Brandt would not be able to find the space to make progressive passes if he did not have the technical ability to create half a yard with his dribbling. His dribbling also is an asset itself in progressing the ball for the German as he finds himself averaging 1.85 progressive runs per 90 as well as attempting 3.98 dribbles per 90.
The image above is a clear representation of how Brandt can use a progressive run to extreme effect. He picks the ball up from Reus in a deeper position and he drives forward with the ball and then has the composure to play a pass in behind to Sancho, who scores. The pass is an impressive one but is not able to be made without a positive forward run first by the German.
Above is another clear example of how Brandt’s dribbling quality can be a solid way of progression for the team. Raphaël Guerreiro plays the pass to Brandt’s feet and the opposition midfielder is starting to apply pressure. Brandt then smartly allows the ball to come across his body and then bypasses the opposition midfielder, showing his close control and ability to drive with the ball afterwards as he drives into the open space.
The image above is showing the ability that the German midfielder uses to create the space he needs to play a progressive pass. With the three opposition midfielders closing down Brandt, he is able to keep close control of the ball while changing direction; this allows him to enter the highlighted space, avoiding the opposition midfielders and play a progressive pass to Hakami on the right.
Unpredictability when in the final third
Brandt has predominantly been an attacking winger in previous seasons, this means that when he is attacking as a centre midfielder, he is comfortable in the final third. He is skilful and unpredictable in his play when he reaches the box, which is quite often considering he is a midfielder. He averages 3.8 touches in the opposition box per 90.
In this image, the pass is played towards Brandt, yet he steps over the ball to attempt to create space for Sancho to shoot, as he is pulling the defenders towards himself. It is a great idea and shows his awareness but doesn’t quite work as the opposition midfielder drops in and tackles Sancho.
The image above is from Brandt’s goal against RB Leipzig earlier in the season. Although the pass is played behind him inside the box, Brandt’s impressive turn allowed him to get a shot away and score. The defenders would not expect such a turn inside the area and this is why it was successful for the German and ultimately shows how his unpredictability in the final third can be beneficial for himself and the team.
Naturally, moving Brandt into the centre would bring some problems, as it is the most difficult position to play on the pitch. He is involved defensively, with 4.33 defensive duals per 90; yet his success rate is poor, at only 17.9%, this is too low for a midfielder who plays in a midfield-two, as they need to be covering defensive areas when the wingbacks are in attacking areas. As well, Brandt is sometimes not disciplined enough and lacks positional awareness, this can leave spaces for the opposition team to take advantage of.
In this image, Brandt loses the ball and has to cover the right side, he is clearly uncomfortable defending these areas and commits a foul just outside the Dortmund area. He was unable to slow down to make an appropriate challenge when the opposition player cut inside with the ball.
Shown above is an example of Brandt’s poor defensive positional awareness. He gets attracted to the ball and decides to press; this subsequently leaves an opposition player free in a dangerous pocket of space. The ball is played onto this player and the opposition ultimately score from this play but it was given as offside. Yet, it shows how a midfielder needs to be compact and have good positional awareness in their defensive shape to avoid these kind of situations.
Although Julian Brandt has great assets to succeed in a centre-midfield role, his defensive deficiencies make it difficult at times for the team when in defensive shape or transition.
In recent games, Brandt has operated in a higher role, while Emre Can, a more experienced midfielder has played in the midfield. This could be the best role for Brandt for the time being, as he can positively impact the game with his passing, dribbling and link up in the final third. Yet, he will not be relied on as much to be defensively strong.
This season has shown that Brandt is a very impressive player and suits the quick attacking tactics that Lucian Favre implements very well. This analysis shows that Brandt’s dribbling and passing are key aspects in his game which make him an important player. Whether his future is in a deeper role is up for debate, yet, his qualities can be very useful in that position.