Not for the first time, Borussia Dortmund are upsetting the status quo in the Bundesliga, playing an enthralling brand of football that has captured the collective imagination.
Lucien Favre’s side have been a breath of fresh air: ten games played, seven wins, three draws and 30 goals scored. Not only are they top of the table, but they also issued a serious statement of intent in the Champions League by hammering Atlético Madrid 4-0, the heaviest defeat the Spaniards have suffered during Diego Simeone’s seven years in charge.
Just like they did under Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund are challenging Bayern Munich’s grip on the German crown and, while the current Liverpool boss had Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski spearheading that title charge, Favre has been able to call upon a similarly exciting clutch of emerging talent.
Young England international Jadon Sancho has caught the eye with a flurry of assists, while Paco Alcácer’s extraordinary goalscoring surge propelled them to the Bundesliga summit.
But Favre’s well-documented faith in young talent has also provided an opportunity for Jacob Bruun Larsen to shine. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder is expected to be a key figure for Denmark in the years ahead and has been battling to live up to the sometimes dreaded ‘wonderkid’ tag during his time in Germany.
Bruun Larsen joined Dortmund from Lyngby in 2015 as a precocious 16-year-old and generated a great deal of excitement after a string of impressive displays for the club’s under-17 and under-19 sides, helping them clinch the German B Junior Championship and A Junior title in 2015 and 2016.
That summer, he represented Denmark at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, featuring in all four games during the Scandinavian nation’s run to the quarter-finals. Larsen caught the eye for the young Danes, setting up Robert Skov’s winner to down South Africa in the group stage.
With his sights set on breaking into the first team at Dortmund, he enjoyed an outstanding 2016/17 season for the under-19s, scoring 20 goals and notching 13 assists in 17 appearances before a metatarsal injury temporarily hindered his progress.
But Bruun Larsen received a most-welcome visitor while he recovered in hospital. It was Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, who walked into the ward clutching a new contract for the player.
Impressed with the player’s progress, Zorc backed the Dane to follow Pulisic in establishing himself as a first-teamer at Signal Iduna Park.
The 2017/18 UEFA Youth League provided the perfect platform on which to showcase his abilities. He didn’t disappoint, starring in a thrilling 5-3 win over Real Madrid, displaying breathtaking pace and trickery on the wing as he scored twice and set up another two.
His second goal happened to be a nervelessly dispatched ‘Panenka’ penalty, a measure of the Dane’s coolness under pressure.
However, starring displays for Benjamin Hoffman’s side did not lead to a role in the first team. Instead, while Sancho began to feature prominently under Stöger, Bruun Larsen has needed to be patient.
Loaned to Stuttgart in January this year, he was expected to get valuable Bundesliga minutes under his belt for Die Roten but the spell yielded just a single start under Tayfun Korkut before returning to Dortmund.
Reports suggested that he agitated for a move away but, recognising his talent, the club refused to budge.
And it’s just as well, with Favre’s appointment as Peter Stöger’s successor paving the way for his path into the first team. Under the experienced Swiss tactician, the winger has blossomed to form a part of Dortmund’s exciting attacking ensemble.
Having scored four in a friendly win over third-tier Osnabrück, Bruun Larsen made his first competitive appearance under Favre in the 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt and scored his first senior goal two weeks later, netting the opener in the 7-0 demolition of Nürnberg. It was a fine goal, too, darting beyond the back-line to meet Pulisic’s through ball before lifting the ball over the keeper and into the far corner – an impressively controlled finish at such a high speed.
But that’s what makes him such an impressive talent. Youngsters with a turn of pace can often seem raw and reckless with their passing or finishing, but the Dortmund starlet seems to play the game with poise and composure. He relishes situations in which he must use the ball quickly and intelligently, which has made him effective in sequences of intricate interplay with his equally technical teammates.
He has been used by Favre primarily on the left of the three behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1. There, he has been able to cut inside onto his favoured right foot and influence the game from central positions. It has worked, too, with only three players bettering his average of 0.98 ‘big chances’ created in the Bundesliga this season. Drilled in the art of pressing from a young age, one of his best qualities is winning possession high up the pitch. He ranks second for interceptions among players in his position with 1.98 per 90.
The 20-year-old most clearly resembles Dortmund captain Reus. Now 29, the Germany international is one of the elder statesmen in Favre’s line-up and has been someone to whom Bruun Larsen has looked up.
Both versatile technicians with pace, vision and an instinct for sensing goalscoring opportunities, there are certainly similarities between himself and Reus and, while the Scandinavian has a long way to go before he is considered in the same vein as his skipper, he is finally progressing as a valued member of the first team. Nine years Reus’ junior, the young Dortmund prodigy has more than enough ability to emulate the 2012 German Footballer of the Year.
And, as the season wears on, Bruun Larsen’s creativity and scoring instincts will be an asset for Dortmund as they aim to clinch their first championship in seven years and officially end the era of Bayern dominance.