Having endured a rather patchy campaign by their own rigorous standards, Bayer 04 Leverkusen are coming on strong down the final straight and no player better embodies their recent about-turn in fortunes than Julian Brandt.
Five wins on the spin have catapulted Bayer into pole position in the race for the third UEFA Champions League group stage ticket and Brandt has been in blistering form over the period, chipping in with four goals – three of them putting his team 1-0 up – and three assists for good measure. All of which makes for quite a contrast with the opening half of the season. The 19-year-old attacking midfield talent hit the ground running on Matchday 1 with the winner off the bench against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim but after that he managed only one more goal, and nary an assist, all the way through to the winter break.
"We're back on track," Brandt affirmed, describing the start of the current winning streak, a 1-0 home success against Hamburger SV on Matchday 26, as "something like the corkscrew. In every game since, the cork's been getting a bit looser and soon it'll be out altogether." The real turning point, however, may well have come the week before at FC Augsburg. Going into it on the back of three straight defeats in the league, Die Werkself found themselves 3-0 down with half an hour remaining but they battled back to earn a 3-3 draw, Brandt laying on their second goal.
They have won every game since, racking up five clean sheets in the process, and Brandt's own barnstorming exploits down the left have even led to speculation that he could be a late candidate for a place in Germany's UEFA EURO 2016 squad. For his own part the Bremen native is "not planning that in" although he happily concedes it "would be awesome" to get a call-up for the side travelling to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"Julian's in excellent form at the moment. If he keeps it up, it's only a matter of time before he makes his senior bow for the national team," said Bayer coach Roger Schmidt, adding the proviso, "Whether that's going to happen in the immediate future, I can't say. He's very young and there's fierce competition in his position." The Champions League is the perfect stage on which to showcase such international aspirations – and Brandt is doing his level best to help Leverkusen claim their place there once again.