Amidst an exciting week of Champions League action and numerous derby clashes domestically, perhaps lost on non-Werkself devotees in the past week was Bayer Leverkusen’s agreement with Nürnberg to acquire central defender Philipp Wollscheid at season’s end. This marks the second season in a row in which Bayer have reached an agreement with a promising youngster mid-campaign after snatching up André Schürrle from Mainz last September. While the move has slowly passed under the radar it is one that could quite possibly solve Leverkusen’s only remaining issue on the field and pave the way for an even brighter future.
This time though the news comes with quite a bit less fanfare. Next to none, actually. In fact, the only bits of coverage it has received has come in the form of the announcement of the arrangement itself and then comment from Nürnberg manager Dieter Hecking that Bayern and Dortmund had also been interested in Wollscheid’s services. Maybe it is that by nature the moving of a skillful attacking starlet is a bit more glamorous than that of a stalwart centre half; or that Wollscheid is not slowly creeping into the national team setup like Schürrle had been last fall; or merely just the timing of the statement; but this signing could one day prove to be bigger for Leverkusen than that of their No.9 and the move seems not to have fazed anyone.
There is no denying that André Schürrle is an exceptional talent. There is no denying that he ought to be a big part of Bayer Leverkusen’s success in the future. He has the capacity to play in any attacking position, is exceptionally quick, an adroit dribbler, adept at seeing that the ball is no stranger to the back of the net and tracks back to great effect. If Leverkusen are going to win matches, they will need to hit the twine; and undoubtedly, over the course of his current contract and possibly beyond, Schürrle’s match winning qualities will see Bayer corral a few points they may not otherwise stake a claim to with a different pair of boots on patrol near the opposition penalty box.
Philipp Wollscheid in his own right, though is a mouthwatering prospect. He did not finish last season ranked as Kicker’s third best Bundesliga defender—behind only the impeccable Mats Hummels as a centre back—for no reason. [It ought to also be noted that he received such plaudits while only cementing his place in the Nürnberg first XI after the winter break.] Although labeled by many as the next Per Mertesacker due to his imposing height and resulting ability in the air, like the underappreciated Mertesacker himself, there is more to his game than that. The two commanding defenders have superb positional sense and are on the receiving end of more fouls than they dole out. Wollscheid too has managed to create about 1.3 scoring chances per game from the back line of a club that has a bit more than just a little trouble scoring.
It is no secret that to be successful a side needs a creative Swiss Army knife like Schürrle; but the balanced Philipp Wollscheid has the potential to anchor Leverkusen’s back four for a long time, like he does at present in Nürnberg. With Manuel Friedrich on the wrong side of 30 and the majority of his playing career in the rearview mirror, Leverkusen will—possibly as soon as next season—be looking to young Wollscheid to coordinate the Werkself effort to keep scoring chances to a minimum in the near future.
As the old adage goes, „defence wins championships”. And while championship sides often boast players with the net bulging skill of a Schürrle, they often speak to a rock solid partnership at the heart of the defence as the driving force behind a run to silverware. Bayern routinely fight for honours domestically and in Europe with solidity at the back—albeit with fluctuating, yet always impressive results. Dortmund swept the Bundesliga away last season on the shoulders of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotić. And if you take a look at the table right now, the top three sides in points are also the top three in terms of goals allowed by a wide margin.
Philipp Wollscheid has the ability to be one half of a title winning duo, but nobody outside of Leverkusen seems to care.
Image courtesy of gerry
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