Dortmund and Brandt: A tale of twin frustrations
Hertha Berlin 3 - 2 Borussia Dortmund, Olympiastadion
(Belfodil 51', Richter 57', 69' - Brandt 31', Tigges 83')
In a competitive field, Julian Brandt is a strong contender for the Dortmund player who most mirrors his team. Full of only partially-realized potential, prone to dramatic peaks and troughs of form and rarely able to sustain peak performance.
Saturday's dispiriting defeat in the capital was a case in point. Brandt's first half finish, a composed and classy lift over the goalkeeper from a tight angle, settled down a contest in which the visitors looked nervy, particularly when Hertha had an early goal ruled out for a marginal offside.
Brandt's effort made it three goals and three assists in his last five league games, a rich seam for a player whose season tally for goals was only three in both his previous BVB campaigns. The peak had arrived, potential perhaps turning to production.
But the trough, and the question marks and caveats, were not far behind.
A united front?
Hertha's deserved equalizer saw Axel Witsel, pressed in to uncomfortable service at the back, outstripped by Ishak Belfodil in the left channel, before the Algerian slid home.
But Brandt was culpable for the next two goals, first with a poor header and then a loose pass on the edge of his own box. Both were excellent, powerful finishes from Marco Richter, but neither saw any pressure from Dortmund players, no one keen to bail their teammate out.
Despite Marco Reus's early exit through injury, it was Brandt who was removed with 10 minutes remaining and Dortmund chasing a point that would be some way below expectations against a team who started the day in a relegation scrap. His replacement, Steffen Tigges, gave them hope with a header but it was desperate stuff.
The gap to Bayern Munich as the Bundesliga heads in to its winter break now stands at nine points, with Dortmund closer to Freiburg in seventh than the team often billed as their rivals.
In truth there's little historical animosity between clubs and their stadiums are more than 600 kilometers apart. The gap between them on the pitch might not be quite as wide, but displays like this make a compelling case that it's not far off.
What next for club and player?
It's not so long ago that Brandt, now 25, was the kind of wunderkind that Dortmund have made a business model out of. He was the youngest player since Gerd Müller to score in six consecutive Bundesliga games, the youngest-ever Bayer Leverkusen player to reach 100 Bundesliga appearances and scored 16 times in his last two seasons with the Werkself.
But as time ebbed away in a largely-deserted Olympic Stadium, Brandt had joined Reus in sheltering under Dortmund-branded blankets on the bench. An observer at a time of need.
There's plenty of time for club and player to reflect in the winter break. But recent history suggests it won't be enough.