The German midfielders were at their personal best in the previous season, leading Bayer Leverkusen to UEFA Champions League qualification.
Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz formed a dream duo for Bayer Leverkusen last season, but the two prodigies will find themselves on opposite sides of the ball on Matchday 4 when Borussia Dortmund host Die Werkself on Saturday.
Watching Germany’s UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Northern Ireland in the last week must have brought back great memories for Leverkusen fans: ‘Bravertz’ reunited on the pitch for a common cause.
The pair were stand-out performers for Leverkusen in 2018-19, helping the club make a return to the UEFA Champions League.
Havertz scored a formidable 17 league goals — he had only managed seven in his two previous first-team seasons — to announce himself as a mega-star-in-the-making. No other U20 player had ever scored as many goals in a single Bundesliga season.
Brandt set up three of those record-breaking strikes, and was increasingly influential after being moved from the flank and into a more central role by Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz.
“I’ve seen a lot of games involving Julian,” explained the ex-Ajax and Dortmund boss. “During my time with Dortmund when we played against Bayer, in Leverkusen. Back then he was playing on the wing, but I saw him as a midfielder.”
Havertz: ‘We’re still very good friends’
Bosz was right. As part of a devastatingly effective number 8 tandem with Havertz, Brandt had a team-high 11 league assists, and only Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich teed up more shots on goal than the blonde-haired creator across the league.
But then came the split when Brandt, who calls Havertz his “little brother”, joined Dortmund in the summer. “Of course I miss him. He wasn’t only my teammate, but also a good friend,” explained Havertz. “We’re still very good friends, and of course we stay in contact.”
That contact will be of a physical nature for 90 minutes on Saturday with the pair likely to collide on a number of occasions in the skirmish on the Signal Iduna Park pitch between their clubs, heavyweight contenders for a top-four finish.
Neither player has suffered too much by their on-the-pitch separation though. Both have already found the net in Bundesliga action this season, and Joachim Löw saw enough from the pair to convince him they should be included in his Germany squad for those qualifiers.
Barca and Brandt
Havertz has never looked overawed for either club or country, but perhaps there will be a first in Dortmund when he faces Brandt. If the Leverkusen prodigy had not made the grade, Brandt would probably have been one of the posters on his bedroom wall along with those of the Barcelona stars he worshipped while growing up in Aachen.
“When he made his Bundesliga debut at 17, I was 14,” says Havertz, who turned 20 in June. “His career has been an example for me to follow. I wanted to do things like he did, and I’ve tried to watch what he does.”
The eyes of German football have been riveted on Havertz since he stepped into the limelight on Matchday 7 of the 2016/17 campaign, becoming the youngest-ever Leverkusen debutant and the seventh-youngest in the Bundesliga.
When he scored his first league goal — in the 3-3 draw with Wolfsburg in April 2017 — he actually claimed the honour of being Leverkusen’s youngest-ever Bundesliga scorer from Brandt.
Brandt: “Kai can be a superstar”
Having seen his friend rise through the ranks at the BayArena to join him in the Leverkusen first team and then the Germany squad, Brandt will no doubt be warning his Dortmund teammates about a player who — he believes — can become an all-time great.
“Kai is the biggest talent that we have in Germany right now,” explained Brandt. “He has the talent and potential to be a global superstar.”
By proving his friend right and putting one over on Dortmund on Saturday, Havertz would take another step along that path.