German? Check. Wide forward? Check. Young wonderkind? Check. Julian Brandt hasn't been linked with Liverpool since last year, but that doesn't make him any less of an exciting prospect.
An exciting prospect that may be on the verge of exploding onto the international scene. An exciting prospect who is playing for a club Liverpool have a favorable transfer negotiation history with. So, who is he, and why should you care?
Wide Forward | Bayer Leverkusen
DOB: 5/2/96 (19) | Height: 6’0" (1.83 meters)
2015-16: 32 appearances | 5 goals | 1 assists
Strengths: First thing that is going to jump out at you with this kid is size. 19 years old, not quite grown into his frame, but the guy is consistently one of the bigger bodies on the field outside of goalkeepers and centerbacks.
This matters because, as a wide forward, the players charged with marking the lad are some of the smaller bodies on the pitch. That makes a difference as Brandt finds that late arriving, far post run, or as he develops his all around game. A game that could quickly become more about central areas and battling centerbacks.
The second thing that draws the eye is the relative quickness of the feet considering that frame. Specifically, how easily he's shifting weight as he changes direction. This is a holy grail trait for wide attackers--fluid hips. Easy feet. You can be as pacy as you want, but if you cannot cut fluidly and turn your man, you become predictable. Predictable attackers are easy to track for a well organized defense.
Riyad Mahrez is a wonderful example of how the ability to change direction faster than the man marking you makes up for any other physical mismatch. Make no mistake about it, pairing that easy change of direction with Brandt's big body is a special combination that will have every big club in the world sending scouts to keep tabs on the player.
The next exciting bit? The brain. Even as a 19 year old, the guy demonstrates a clear understanding of how to manipulate space, how to work an angle to overcome a pacier mark, how to anticipate the final ball, and how to move across the face of a backline on the ball or off it. It's heady stuff for a young player, and combined with his other skills it should be making you salivate.
But the thing you should really care about if you are thinking, "We don't need another exciting project at this position group. We need Reus," is this: Julian Brandt has a habit of showing up in big games.
He plays a creative floated assist for the go ahead goal against Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. He gives Bellarabi a transitional target with a wide run, and then thumps his chance home against Guardiola's Bayern. He collects possession wide left and is the catalyst and finisher for a wonderful goalscoring 1-2 with Calhanoglu for the lead against his boyhood club Wolfsburg. A big body with big performances in big games.
You start there, with the right attitude, and it's not long before you're a reliable week in/week out producer. It's the other way around that should make you weary when considering a forward prospect's chances for the upper echelon of this game.
Weaknesses: Those smooth feet? They may change directions incredibly well for a lad his size, but they take quite some time to get churning. Long legs allow Brandt to cover ground once he gets up to speed, but he's not explosive. He's not in the same galaxy as burners like Mo Salah or Bellarabi. That may or may not be a concern for a wide forward, but generally speaking, you would like a bit of street heat at that position.
For one so young, and with plenty of energy to burn, the lad does very limited work on the press. It's almost reprehensible. Like half a tackle per 90 reprehensible. It's all sort of ugh.
He'll do the face-saving pressing after losing possession, or he'll do the nominal pressing at the beginning of games or halves, but Julian would need to become almost 100% better at the defensive components of his game to be a trusted agent in a Klopp system.
We're sure you've noticed it, but the numbers. The guy is barely scraping double digits in goals over the last two seasons combined. Two seasons in which he's playing over 30 games each time. He's a trusted agent for Bayer, hell he's a key figure for them. But the bottom line production just isn't there. Yet.
The yet is a huge caveat, but if you have eyes only for the finished product, this isn't your guy.
Summation: And yet, was Philippe Coutinho the finished product when he came into the Liverpool side and tore off the better part of a dozen stardust performances for Brendan Rodgers? Was Emre Can the finished product when Liverpool stole him for 10m quid from this very same Leverkusen side, before turning into a critical tactical piece for Rodgers' fluctuations between 3-5-2's, 4-3-3's, and 4-5-1's? Were N'Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy, or Riyad Mahrez sure-fire transfer targets when Leicester picked them up at a pittance?
The truth is the wildcard component of the transfer market is still the most important component. That X factor. An individual coming into a collective, and all of the real human components that entails.
You can drop 40m quid on Angel Di Maria and have it not work out. There are no guarantees in this sport. Context matters. A player can come into a collective, and the particular traits of that individual, combined with the particular traits of that team unlock a level hitherto unseen in either that player or that team. Happens every year; you bet your ass it does.
Julian Brandt's not coming into any side like a Marco Reus, who has proved so much, and has filled so many column inches. But that doesn't mean he couldn't come in and set the Premier League on fire.
That body, that understanding of space, and that backbone for the big game are three very special traits. And in combination? Fuhgettaboudit. Pressing, counterpressing, battling CBs, gaining confidence in your abilities, stretching yourself--these are things that can be coached. And it just so happens Liverpool currently employ a coaching staff that prides itself in honing these aspects of a player's game.
Brandt is a rare prospect because he comes with a streak for a lot of the things that are tough to coach, along with weaknesses that are relatively easy to work on. Blinding skills, but flaws that will give him the humility to improve. It's a potent combination of factors.
We're not saying Liverpool could sign Brandt, nor that they are even linked to it. But Julian Brandt's going to be one hell of a football player for a long, long time. Wouldn't it be fun if we caught him just as he took that firestarting step?