Season Preview – Bayer Leverkusen: Die Werkself in the Age of Bayern and BVB

Last season, the managing duo of Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandwoski had their first full season in charge of die Werkself after replacing Robin Dutt the ineffective a year before. Despite being rather inexperienced, they managed to secure a 3rd place finish, highlighting a season containing a tough 3rd round exit in the DFB Pokal (against company-compagnons, VfL Wolfsburg) and a slightly premature exit from Europa League (in the first knockout stage), after successful group stage play.

With five victories during the last five rounds of the Bundesliga, Leverkusen were able to put pressure on Borussia Dortmund and finish just one point behind the former consecutive champions. Torjäger Stefan Kießling naturally played a big part with his 25 goals, but the playing style Hyypia and Lewandowski deployed were of similar importance. While averaging a possession below 50%, the team managed to generate the league’s 2nd highest shot rate and scoring 25 times after the opponent lost the ball. In other words, Bayer Leverkusen were a lean, mean counter-attacking machine.

Transfers

The headline of Leverkusen’s transfer window naturally has been the departure of André Schürrle. However, it was very much anticipated and happened pretty early on, so the club have had time to consider their options for a replacement. After missing out on Kevin de Bruyne, they turned to Hamburger SV’s Heung-Min Son, who scored 12 times in the Bundesliga last season. The South Korean has already impressed Hyypiä and the fans, so much is expected of him, and considering that he cost the club less than half of what they received for Schürrle, it could turn out to be a pretty decent deal.

Additionally for the attacking spots, Leverkusen have brought in Robbie Kruse (Fortuna Düsseldorf) who is capable of playing every position in the front three (or four).

A loss that might hurt just as much (if not more), however, is the deal that took right back Dani Carvajal back to Real Madrid. He made a name for himself in his first season in the Leverkusen-shirt and will be very hard to replace. The club have tried to do so by bringing in the Italian Under 21 Giulio Donati and the former Stuttgart player Roberto Hilbert, who was snapped up in a matter of days after scouting software was used to review him.

On the other side of the back four, Michael Kadlec has left the club, whilst the 19-year-old Greek Konstantinos Stafylidis has been brought in. He was a regular during the Under 20 World Cup, but took part in a Leverkusen reserve game on the same day Sebastian Boenisch played in the Pokal. However, with a reported fee of €1.500.000 he is set to compete for a spot in the first team.

The signing of Emre Can from Bayern München is also noteworthy. The young midfielder should provide solid backup/competition to the 3-man-midfield of Bender, Reinartz and Rolfes.

Most of the buys have been for young and talented players, but Leverkusen made sure there’s some experience too. Former Sevilla duo, goalkeeper Andrés Palop and Bosnian central defender Emir Spahic, were brought in to provide backup and leadership.

All in all, Bayer Leverkusen look a bit stronger this season – maybe not in terms of players profiles, but at least on squad depth.

This Season

There’s no doubt that yet another top 4 finish and Champions League qualification is the goal for the coming season. Question is if Leverkusen can better their 3rd place spot. Judging by Rudi Völler’s comments, it seems like the club already have given up on challenging for the title – now it remains to be seen how the squad will react to a statement like this.

It will be interesting to see how Hyypiä manages to compete in 3 competitions at once. Last year, he and Lewandowski experimented in the Europa League, but this will obviously be too costly to do in the Champions League with more money on the line.

Bayer Leverkusen are one of the few clubs deploying a regular 4-3-3 formation, but with the additions of Kruse and Son, there now are other tactical options available. For example, Hyypiä could switch to the well-known 4-2-3-1 or even a 4-4-2 with Son and Kießling on top.

I will leave you with the last words from the guys at the Neverkusen podcast and their expectations for the season:

“Sami Hyypiä looks to continue where he and Lewandowski left off last season with the odd tweak here and there. Our new signings look very exciting with Son being a more than adequate replacement for Schürrle. Still, we are left praying that – touch wood – Kießling stays fit. Overall, we are optimistic and hopeful of seeing a similarly cohesive team that plays some great football and can fight back in the face of adversity.”

Potential Lineup

Bayer Leverkusen's potential starting XI.
Bayer Leverkusen’s potential starting XI.
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Martin Krag is a football writer and analyst living in Denmark. He covers German football for BetXpert.com and runs the Danish language Bundesliga blog www.bulibold.dk Follow Martin on twitter @martinkrag

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