Bayer Leverkusen's Julian Brandt has been voted the Bundesliga's official February Player of the Month. Created by the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga in cooperation with the Bundesliga's official licensing partner, EA SPORTS FIFA 19, the prize is decided through a two-stage selection process that considers both the players' individual performance data and a vote by fans and experts.
Julian Brandt (22, LM, Bayer Leverkusen)
It's no secret that Julian Brandt is one of the most talented young players in Germany, although the 22-year-old has been known to occasionally lack consistency since making his Bundesliga breakthrough as a teenager in 2013/14. The 23-time Germany international has been thriving under new coach Peter Bosz, though, and no Bundesliga player had a hand in more goals than his six in February. As well as notching a brace in the 5-1 dismissal of Mainz, he provided four assists in four games, another league-high mark for the month.
Bosz's masterstroke has been to reposition Brandt, bringing him in from the wing and into a more central attacking midfielder role in his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Operating in the space behind frontmen Karim Bellarabi, Kevin Volland and Leon Bailey, Brandt has become a key conduit in Leverkusen's attacks and has thus been involved in significantly more goals. "You have to give the ball to your best players as much as possible," justified Bosz, with Brandt adding: "I can now play like a free spirit. I feel really good in the role."
The other candidates
Yannick Gerhardt (24, LB, Wolfsburg)
Having been forced to settle for a place on the bench several times at the start of the season, Yannick Gerhardt is now one of the first names on Bruno Labbadia's teamsheet. An energetic box-to-box midfielder, the 24-year-old has played an important role in Wolfsburg's drive for Europe, and is keen to keep making a difference at the business end of the pitch. "At the start of the season, I set myself the target of helping the team to get goals, and it's been happening since the end of the Hinrunde," he said, after notching the opener in the recent 3-0 win over third-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach.
It was an excellent February for both player and club, with Gerhardt also grabbing an assist against Mainz (3-0) – and not shirking his defensive duties as Wolfsburg kept three clean sheets in four games. With 10 points from a possible 12, Labbadia's side picked up more points than any other Bundesliga side, which moved them up to fifth in the table. Gerhardt, who attempted more shots on goal this month (9) than even top scorer Wout Weghorst (6), has undoubtedly been one of the standout performers for the team of the moment.
Vincenzo Grifo (25, LM, Freiburg)
A change of scenery can sometimes work wonders, especially if you are heading back to familiar surroundings. Vincenzo Grifo looks a man transformed since returning to Freiburg in January on loan from Hoffenheim. Having managed just one goal and two assists for TSG throughout the entire Hinrunde, the 25-year-old had a hand in more goals for the Black Forest club in February alone, with two goals and two assists. He also made more Bundesliga starts last month (4) than during the whole first half of the campaign (3).
It was in Freiburg that the German-born Italy winger made a name for himself in 2016/17, racking up six goals and eight assists to prompt his subsequent moves to Gladbach and Hoffenheim. And it is in Freiburg where he is once again flourishing, with his trademark free-kick in the 5-1 win over Augsburg on Matchday 23 a particular highlight. "As I was lining it up, I could visualise it going in," explained Grifo, who drew praise from SCF captain Mike Frantz: "He has an incredible right foot."
Marcel Halstenberg (27, LB, RB Leipzig)
The last 18 months have been quite the rollercoaster ride for RB Leipzig left-back Marcel Halstenberg. Having made his Germany debut against England in November 2017, the 27-year-old suffered a serious cruciate ligament injury in early 2018, only returning to action on Matchday 4 of the current campaign. Yet it was as if he had never been away. Halstenberg has been a key attacking outlet for Ralf Rangnick's side this term, providing six assists – the second-highest tally for a Bundesliga defender after Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich (10).
In February, Halstenberg teed up no fewer than 12 goalscoring chances, more than any other defender in the division. He provided two assists for captain Willi Orban – one to give Leipzig a 2-0 lead in Hannover, another to rescue a late draw at home to Hoffenheim – and showed that he is not afraid to step up and take responsibility by converting his first Bundesliga penalty against boyhood club H96. No doubt he is giving Germany coach Joachim Löw food for thought before the March international break. "I hope that my good and consistent performances will put me in the frame for a return to the national team," Halstenberg explained. Last month's efforts will certainly have done his prospects no harm.
Willi Orban (26, CB, RB Leipzig)
A perusal of the Bundesliga scoring charts since the turn of the calendar year throws up something of a surprise, because following on the heels of Andrej Kramaric, Yussuf Poulsen, Leon Goretzka and Nils Petersen (4) is none other than Willi Orban (3). For one thing, the Leipzig captain is a centre-back – and for another he had lost his starting place in Rangnick's side towards the end of the Hinrunde, after some strong performances from French duo Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano. But the Kaiserslautern-born Hungary international has made the most of Upamecano's recent injury to reassert himself in the Leipzig line-up.
With three goals in four outings, Orban was even the Bundesliga's most prolific player in February. The 6'1" defender demonstrated his aerial prowess in the 3-0 win at Hannover, nodding in from two second-half corners for his very first Bundesliga brace. He then popped up with a last-minute equaliser against Hoffenheim on Matchday 23, sliding in Halstenberg's low cross for 1-1. In short, the Leipzig captain is a man for opposition defenders to keep an eye on if he is roaming around their penalty area.
Jerome Roussillon (26, LB, Wolfsburg)
Wolfsburg have enjoyed a spectacular renaissance since Labbadia took over at the helm a year ago, and one of his shrewdest moves was to bring ambitious French left-back Jerome Roussillon in from Montpellier over the summer. Making no secret of his desire to become a senior France international, the pacy 26-year-old has been a constant menace, starting all but two Bundesliga games – for which he was ruled out by injury.
He stepped things up a gear during a fine month of February, playing the full 90 minutes in Wolfsburg's four games, conjuring up a goal and two assists, and creating more scoring chances (9) than any of his teammates. Fifteenth at this stage last term, Labbadia's charges are now fifth and targeting a first European campaign since 2015/16, with Roussillon one of the players spearheading the charge. France boss Didier Deschamps is surely taking careful note.
Leon Goretkza (January 2019)
Marco Reus (December 2018)
Marco Reus (November 2018)
Jadon Sancho (October 2018)
Marco Reus (September 2018)