Bayer Leverkusen have been a host of fantastic young talent, with the club being essential in the development of Leon Bailey, Kai Havertz, Karim Bellerabi, Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Hendrichs. However with the side continuing to play an attractive style of football, they seem unable to find a coach who is able to succeed while using the host of attacking talent. Roger Schmidt, Sami Hyypia and now Peter Bosz failing to make this side the Champions League club it could be. It’s given the chance for big clubs to take some of their talents, including German talent Julian Brandt. He’s been attracting a lot of attention with Brandt looking to move on from Leverkusen, with Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur both looking to get his signiture. With Brandt’s current club forseeing this sale, they have already acted swiftly in finding his replacement, Hoffenheim playmaker Kerem Demirbay. Let’s look to see if he will be able to replace what Brandt offers.
Demirbay was signed from Fortuna Dusseldorf in the summer of 2016, and has been involved in the transformation of Hoffenheim under Julian Nagelsmann. He had a fantastic debut season under young tactician, scoring 6 and assisting 8 for a side who successfully finished in the top 4 after only narrowly surviving relegation. While his second season was halted by injuries, he has returned to his best this season. The midfielder has contributed to 13 goals in 26 appearances. An impressive tally that shows how he is continuing to grow as a player, and has shown the best numbers in his career. His xA per 90 is at 0.40, the highest during his time in Hoffenheim, showing how influencial he has been to Nagelsmann’s side. While he is one of the best creators in the league, it’s his dribbling that is arguably his biggest strength. His technical ability and skill make him great when facing opposition players. He attempts 2.9 dribbles per game, with a very impressive 75% success rate. These are the numbers that Moussa Dembele was showing during his best years at Tottenham, when he transformed what a midfielder can do. He is important in moving the ball for a side who have had arguably the best attack in the league. He is the representation of what Nagelsamnn was trying to do on the pitch. Demirbay shows the aggression, speed and pressure that his manager is aiming for. One other interesting part of his game is his shooting. Demirbay epitimises a distance shooter. Out of his 2.3 shots per game, 1.8 are taken from outside the box. It shows when Hoffenheim attack. With their focus being attacking down the wide areas, it can leave space for Demirbay outside of the box, and gift an opportunity for a slightly more riskier attempt at goal. Usually I would criticise a player for this, but he’s taking these shots in better positions than when you see from someone like James Maddison or Andros Townsend. Demirbay shows himself to be a well rounded attacker, who has an element of unpredictability to him that have made him such a threat.
Now knowing what kind of player the Hoffenheim playmaker is, how does he compare to Brandt? If Brandt did depart his club, it would leave Demirbay to fill the same position. Leverkusen set out their team in a 4-3-3, which Brandt occupying the left side of the midfield three. He will constantly find positions inbetween the opposition midfield and defence, to help transition the ball to the attackers. This is similar to what Demirbay does for his side, with his high dribbling numbers help move his side into the attacking third. The former Dusseldorf midfielder also is left footed, enabling him to fit in even more comfortably on that left side. With Leverkusen also trying to attack through the wide areas, it gives Brandt the chance to find space just outside of the box. This is shown with his excellent finish against Hertha Berlin. Brandt found space outside of box, and thanks to a brilliant ball from Aranguiz, he was able to shoot with calmness into the top corner. Both players are intelligent and can find space in the final third, but also offer a work rate to help recover the ball. They are both difficult to dispossess, and are vital in how their sides attack.
Demirbay would offer a very similar skillset to Brandt, but adds an element of aggression to his game. While Brandt offers a calmer figure on the ball, Demirbay is more erratic. While he does lose possession more than his German counterpart, it’s usually in the attempt to help his side score. He’s a player who is ready to take risks. While Brandt has contributed to more goals, Hoffenheim have not been nearly as prolific as Leverkusen. They have arguably been one of the unluckiest side in the division, with the side being denied constantly by the woodwork and good chances being missed that are expected to be scored. If looking at xPTS, they would be in 3rd, ahead of Leverkusen, Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund. If better finishers were placed in front of Demirbay, there is a good chance he would have ended the season with a better return.
I do think that Demirbay is an improvement over Brandt. He’s consistently shown to be one of the best playmakers in the league. Taking a team’s best player is showing a real state of intent from Leverkusen. They aren’t going to sell one of their best players and allow themselves to fall behind the competition. I like Brandt a lot and they might miss his versatility, but Demirbay isn’t a prospect, he is ready made and will keep Leverkusen competitive in a league that will see other sides improve, like RB Leipzig and Dortmund. It is already one of the best signings of the summer.