The Bundesliga is back this coming weekend and for Borussia Dortmund, it means the small matter of the Revierderby against local rivals Schalke. For Dortmund midfielder Julian Brandt, there couldn't have been a better way to start again.
The Germany international is in his first season at the Signal Iduna Park following his switch from Bayer Leverkusen last summer. Speaking to bundesliga.com ahead of the Bundesliga's restart on 16 May, Brandt discusses the derby, how this will be the hardest title fight ever and his incredible yellow card record...
bundesliga.com: What does your typical day look like?
Julian Brandt: "It's relatively unspectacular right now. We've been here since Saturday evening, are just training every morning after driving over there in three buses. We have multiple tests when we get there, measuring our temperature and apps in which we have to fill in how we feel. These are all provisional, or prophylactic, measures. We head over to training and have lunch. The remainder of the day is relatively dull as everyone is just in their rooms, they may have taken one or two things from home, such as a PlayStation, to keep themselves entertained. That's how each day is passing so that we can start playing on Saturday."
bundesliga.com: Are you looking forward to the restart on Saturday?
Brandt: "Yes I'm really looking forward to it. In the past, there were one or two who weren't too keen to restart but I'm definitely up for it, even in these circumstances. That it starts with such a duel is a crazy coincidence, to have the derby, although, it won't be the same with an empty stadium. However, it's a derby so it'll still be highly charged."
bundesliga.com: Do you think the derby atmosphere will be there?
Brandt: "You have to say that it's the fans who always make it special. If you're a few days before such a game you'll notice that your neighbours are only speaking about the game when they see you. You notice that the media focuses heavily on the game and that creates a certain tension in the air. At the moment, this isn't the case. Although I think the fans still really care about the result of the fixture, you don't notice it, especially in this hotel. The only tension that you could potentially feel is through the media but they have many other topics to cover so I think BVB vs Schalke is at the bottom of their priorities. Therefore, you don't feel the same pressure as you would in normal circumstances, but in the end, this is the situation that we're in. Everyone will be watching us on Saturday, the Dortmund fans will watch us and the Schalke fans will watch their team. The result of the game will be important to them so it's not like we just say that it's irrelevant who wins or loses, it won't be like this. We do recognise that it would be an important tone to set if we win the game."
bundesliga.com: Do you think about the fact that this derby will be a historic one?
Brandt: "Definitely. This game is already historic, regardless of what happens on the pitch, as there has never been something like this. I don't think that many will forget this, for the fans it is the worst scenario. Particularly for the Dortmund fans, to be unable to be present in this match at home, it's painful for them. Therefore we'll have to ensure that we can alleviate their pain."
Watch: The history of the Revierderby
bundesliga.com: Do you feel pressure from the knowledge that this will be a special derby?
Brandt: "Not at all. Of course, the circumstances are unusual, none of us has ever experienced this before so it's a new experience. However, this is also what's great about football, it'll still be football in the game. The only difference may be that the guys are sitting further apart on the bench or a few other rules, but in the end, there will be 11 guys on the pitch who are trying to win the game. Sometimes it's important to just think about that, no matter what the circumstances are. I think, if we can be comfortable with the situation, we may have some sort of advantage as we have already played a match behind closed doors. Maybe we can try and use this experience to benefit our performance on Saturday."
bundesliga.com: With which aims are you approaching the remaining games?
Brandt: "I think it has all remained the same. Of course, the primary target in the league is for us to win the title. We're all involved in this, but, the more important aim, which stands above all our others, is that we have no more positive tests. We don't want to cause any inconvenience which would ruin the current plans. As a club, with only nine games left and only being a few points behind first place, then we'll have to try and get past them with all our might. However, it's difficult to look at the league table and make assumptions because there has been such a long break and the circumstances have completely changed. Typically I would look at this as if we all start with no points and have nine games ahead. There are no more home or away games, you have no advantage or disadvantage anymore. You're on a pitch in a nice stadium and will be playing 11 vs. 11. This doesn't really feel like the Bundesliga anymore, which is made special through the supporters. It's just a game of football, or nine games of football."
bundesliga.com: Will the fighting spirit remain the same?
Brandt: "Definitely, for sure. That'll remain, just like the will to win something will stay. It may not be as nice without all the fans compared to how it would be with them as we would love to share our success. However, we'll still try to win because this is why we're footballers. Otherwise, three quarters of the game would no longer be worth anything."
bundesliga.com: Do you think that no title has ever been this difficult to win?
Brandt: "Yes. In the end, it depends on how strong we are mentally. We've already seen how much quality the team has. I don't know how you would deal with this kind of situation, this is the real question. Who's ready to take everything on? Those who are will be the ones who have the most points at the end. Whoever is still complaining about the fact that there are no fans or anything else, he'll be too focused on himself and won't be able to perform when we get to it. The situation is the same for all 18 teams, it's not like Dortmund are the only club without fans, it's like this everywhere. It'll make it that one bit harder and simultaneously more special. To win like this would be unique. Hopefully, it'll happen for us."
bundesliga.com: How has your time in Dortmund been so far?
Brandt: "I feel good. Of course, it was a change, as it always is after a transfer, after I had been in Leverkusen for a long time. I had a specific routine back then which has, of course, changed now as you have to get used to playing in a new team. It all took some time but I gave myself that time and now I feel like I'm well integrated. I'm learning a lot and many things this season have been good which is why I'm glad that the season will be played until the end. For me, it doesn't feel good to break off the season midway through. To finish off the season feels good and gives us a chance to show what we're worth in these final nine games."
bundesliga.com: Is Bayern, as beforehand, your biggest rival?
Brandt: "Of course. Bayern [Munich] is always the favourite but what Leipzig has done over the past months is really noteworthy; they've consistently played very good football. Even [Borussia] Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen have done so. I think it has been a close title race in the past years, but this year there are many consistent teams that are really upping the pressure. You cannot afford to drop points right now which is why these games will be very interesting. We have Schalke and Bayern, with Wolfsburg in between, so we don't have one or two games to warm up, it'll be full speed right away. It's kind of cool and I'm looking forward to it."
Watch: Brandt's Bundesliga Mixtape!
bundesliga.com: Do you know when you last received a yellow card in the Bundesliga?
Brandt: "That was probably a while ago, right? In the Bundesliga, I don't know. I received one in the Champions League but, I'm not sure about the Bundesliga. I remember one but that can surely not be the last?"
bundesliga.com: April 2014. Against whom?
Brandt: "Against Hamburg, yes that was the only one. That was my first game in the starting 11 and my first yellow card."
bundesliga.com: Do you actively work towards not receiving any cards?
Brandt: "That is just how I am. I'm not an aggressive person, I'm not saying that those who receive yellow cards are aggressive, but I don't have the aggressive style of play in me. This is certainly not my strength and you can, of course, get yellow cards by complaining but I don't do that which is why I hardly get any yellow cards. I think a yellow card here or there wouldn't do me any harm, although you don't want to injure or foul other players. To lay a mark every now and then wouldn't be too bad but I just don't think I'm made for that."
bundesliga.com: You have many players who cannot play in the match against Schalke, what does this mean for your position?
Brandt: "It has worked out well so far, although I cannot say what the decisive factor will be. This season we started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, stuck by it for a while, but then switched to a 5-2-3. Even that is a question, which formation will we play? With Dan-Axel Zagadou injured, we have a player who we will miss dearly, and, for me, he is an incredible player. Now you have to look at the formation, should we stay with the current formation or move on to a back-four formation like 4-3-3 as we've done before. I'm interested to see what we'll do and then I'll think about my own position. I've played everywhere this season, I've played as a striker, a winger, central defensive midfielder, central midfielder or attacking midfielder."
bundesliga.com: What is your favourite position?
Brandt: "So far I feel the most comfortable as a central midfielder or attacking midfielder as it's where I played in Leverkusen with Kai Havertz, which was perfect, although this is where everyone wants to play. If I could choose freely I would play there and I enjoy the formation, 4-3-3 as I enjoy playing like that. However, in the end, I'm the last person to be complaining about this because it's always down to how you interpret the position. If you have someone like Thomas Delaney, who is strong on the defensive side, next to you, then you can take certain liberties in terms of how far forward you can go. However, the centre is my favourite."