It’s not rare to hear coaches mention something along the lines of having “a rather desirable selection headache” problem. Although the football business is never short on competitions, at times you find yourself having to choose between players vying for a place in same position. Although some coaches prefer to work with limited squad depth, others, like Felix Magath (who had no less than 40 players in his Wolfsburg squad) might want multiple options on the substitution bench.
Bayer Leverkusen headman Roger Schmidt insists that he prefers to have a small set of players at his disposal, which helps provide some consistency to the team.
But judging by Schmidt’s recent team selections, he has not yet sorted out his regular starting lineup ahead of the business end of the season. Stefan Kießling, the league’s top-scorer in the calendar year 2013, started the season as the undisputed lone striker, but since the turn of the year, summer signing Josip Drmić has his share of playing time in that role for die Werkself.
Five goals in the first round of the DFB-Pokal at Waldalgesheim, and three more in the preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League, helped Schmidt’s side progress in both competitions, providing a dream start to the season, even by Kießling’s standards. He even opened his league account on the very first matchday at Borussia Dortmund, as he grabbed the second goal in an emphatic win for the visitors. However, Kießling’s goal-getting has turned sour for most of the season’s remainder, as he only found the back of the net on three more occasions.
In general, the first-half of the season was not a memorable one for Bayer’s other striker, Josip Drmić, either. Leverkusen signed the coveted Swiss international in the off-season, but playing time was hard to come by for the youngster in the BayArena.
Drmić played in a wing position for Nürnberg in 2013-14, but quickly found himself as Der Club‘s main goal-getter during his first Bundesliga season. Though Nürnberg was relegated, Drmić produced a fruitful season, as he finished 3rd as the league’s top-scorer with 17 goals. But with players like Son Heung-Min and Karim Bellarabi excelling in wide positions, and Stefan Kießling still leading the front-line, Drmić had mostly sat on the bench after arriving in Leverkusen.
Change of fortunes
Indeed, there was little surprise when Drmić’s name was constantly associated with transfers back in January, as Tottenham Hotspur appeared to be the main target. But there was nothing to show besides the rumors when the transfer market closed in the final day, things began looking better for the striker since February.
While Bas Dost has stolen headlines after spending an identical Hinrunde (as Drmić) with VfL before finding his way into the starting eleven, the Dutch striker has also had a vastly superior Rückrunde than Drmić. Anyhow, for both strikers, the situation in Wolfsburg is more amendable than what has been happening in Leverkusen. In Wolfsburg, regular striker Ivica Olić departed in the winter, but Leverkusen still have two strikers playing as a duo.
In fact, in the absence of play-maker Hakan Çalhanoğlu last weekend, Roger Schmidt opted to start both strikers at Paderborn. Although win looked comfortable by the end, Bayer had to dig deep for the three points with both strikers remaining anonymous throughout. It was Drmić who left the match before the hour mark, as Schmidt returned to his accustomed formation, since he had no promising signs from his duo up front.
The argument whether Kießling should be considered for a role in die Nationalmannschaft is now done and dusted, as Joachim Löw triumphed last summer without the leggy striker. However, Kießling is now struggling to keep even his place at club level – a far cry contrasted to the high standard he set a couple of season ago. Although he still puts out extra effort in the pitch, his goal scoring rate has dropped off considerably.
Yet Drmić is not banging in the goals either. Still, he’s managed to equal Kießling’s Bundesliga goal tally (4) for the season with far fewer appearances. Drmić ‘swell-taken brace in a local derby against Köln stands out, and it should not be forgotten that this is only his second season in the Bundesliga.
At the age of 31, Kießling is not getting any younger, and will certainly find it more difficult to replicate his best times at Leverkusen. With the quality form of Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Son Heung-Min and Karim Bellarabi, die Werkself‘s attacking front is easily one of the best up-and-coming crops in European football today. Perhaps this phenomenon plays into the hands of Drmic, who, at 22, has made a quick impression on German football.
Apart from the seemingly failed pairing of both strikers, Bayer Leverkusen should profit from the competition for places, especially considering the demanding nature of Roger Schmidt’s attacking philosophy. Qualifying for UEFA Champions League for the third season in a row will be the minimum the fans expect from their team, as they are also looking for aPokal upset when they host the mighty Bayern Munich in the quarter-final of the DFB-Pokal next month.
As far as their current European campaign goes, Leverkusen seem to have put the recent shambolic knock-out stage performances behind them, as their chances of qualifying to the quarter-final hang in the balance following a narrow home win in the first-leg over Atlético Madrid, in which Drmić played from the start.
Going by the contrasting character the team has shown throughout the season, anything could happen in the second-leg on Tuesday, but one can be sure there will be no striker partnership this time around for Bayer Leverkusen.ß
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