2015/16 Season Preview: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Bayer 04 Leverkusen

  • Nickname: Die Pillendreher, Die Werkself, Vize-kusen.
  • Founding: 1 July, 1904.
  • Ground: BayArena.
  • Colors: Black and Red.
  • Rivals: FC K*ln, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Uli Hoeness.

2014-15 Finishes

  • Bundesliga: 4th place.
  • DFB Pokal: Quarter-final exit (so bitter).
  • UEFA Champions: Round of 16 exit vs. Atletico Madrid (also bitter).
  • Top Goal Scorer: Karim Bellarabi (12).

60-second dossier”

  • Number of Matches (all competitions 2014/2015) won by 2 or more goals: 15 matches.
  • Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 10 matches.
  • Number of Matches drawn: 11 matches.
  • Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 7 matches.
  • Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 2 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 0 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 4 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 3 matches.
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 2 matches.

2014-15 Season Summary

In 2014/2015, Bayer Leverkusen again cemented its status as one of the top clubs in the German Bundesliga, finishing in fourth place to qualify for the Champions League play-off and losing a heartbreaker against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal of the DFB Pokal. What set this season apart from previous ones in the last decade, however, was the international success that Leverkusen enjoyed in the Champions League. Although they would be disappointed not to win the group end enjoy the easier opponent (in this case, Arsenal), Bayer exited the tournament with their collective heads held high after losing to the Champions League finalists from the previous year, Atletico Madrid, on penalties.

The season wasn’t without its growing pains, however, and even though Bayer found themselves in third place at the winter break, it was with a lower point total than any previous third-place finisher at that point in the season.

The second half started slowly as well and was highlighted by a barn burning 4-5 loss to Wolfsburg in which you saw both the good and the bad of Roger Schmidt’s philosophy. Having gone down 0-3 at halftime and playing like a second division side, one has to assume that the words that came out of Roger Schmidt’s mouth at halftime included a lot of the four-letter variety. Whatever he said seems to have had an effect, because while they still lost, the team that came out in the second half to score four goals was the one on display for the rest of the season. Things had finally clicked.

This season promises to be more of the same, and, if we can take him at his word, Schmidt’s playing style is going to take advantage of the new additions to the team to become even more intense in terms of pressure and pace. Bayer will need to improve their attack in the final third of the opponent’s half, because last season too many chances were wasted as players seemed caught between two minds of whether to go it alone or lay the ball off to a teammate.

The addition of Admir Mehmedi from Freiburg, should provide Stefan Kiessling with some direct offensive support when both are on the pitch, and the Macedonian-born Swiss international has already shown in the preseason that his versatility plays.

Besides the aforementioned Mehmedi, a number of other new signings will strengthen the team in several important areas. This group is highlighted by the return of Christoph Kramer to his parent team after several years on loan at Bochum and Moenchengladbach. The “World Cup Winner” will anchor the defensive central midfield, presumably with Lars Bender or Leverkusen’s newest arrival, Charles Aranguiz. This most recent signing was Leverkusen’s big coup over the summer, and he couldn’t have come at a better time. With Ömer Toprak looking as though he might miss the entire first half with a torn thigh ligament, Roger Schmidt has toyed with the idea of putting the Bayer captain, Bender, at center-half alongside another summer signing from Schalke, Kyriakos Papadopoulos. Papa, as he’s affectionately called by fans and, presumably any future children, is himself prone to injury, so the signing of Andre Ramalho Silva from Schmidt’s old club, RB Salzburg, may prove to be even more important than first thought. He, along with new signing and boy-giant Jonathan Tah, may be looked to very early and often to help stabilize a central defense that took a big hit when it lost Toprak.

The offense…well, what can you say about the offense? With Karim Bellarabi, Heung-Min Son, Hakan “Messi who?” Calhanoglu, Julian Brandt, Mehmedi, Stefan Kiessling, and maybe even Robbie Kruse, the firepower is certainly there. Add to that the fact that many of these players are going into their second season with Roger Schmidt, and there is no question that Bayer Leverkusen could be one of the top scoring teams in the Bundesliga.

Last year the offense proved dangerous as well, but too often opportunities went begging when they should have been more clinically finished. If they can sort that problem out, the sky’s the limit. A top three finish is certainly in the cards, and this fan-boy happens to think they’ll challenge for a top-two spot by the end of the season. Hope dies last, after all.

2014-15 Trivia

  • The team took a while to adapt to Roger Schmidt’s intense style of football, but once it took hold in the Rueckrunde they became increasingly difficult to beat. In the Bundesliga, Schmidt’s charges were able to parlay that new-found confidence into a seven-game winning streak, a streak that had only previously been achieved by the legendary 2001/2002 team.
  • Individual accolades included Stefan Kiessling moving into the top 20 of all-time Bundesliga goal-scorers, and needing only six goals this year to move into the top 15.
  • Heung-Min Son continued his Bundesliga growth and strong international play and was rewarded with the 2014 Asian Player of the Year award.
  • Emir Spahic was awarded the Bosnian Middleweight Title Belt for Boxing (unconfirmed).

Money Matters

One of the great holdover myths from the 1990s/early 2000s is that Bayer Leverkusen is, not unlike Wolfsburg, RB Leipzig, or even Bayern Munich, so heavily sponsored by their parent company that money is never an issue with them.

Wrong.

While the pharmaceutical giant has paid out what amounts to 75m Euro over three years to the football club (not a paltry sum, I know), Leverkusen have become more self-reliant counting on money from European competitions (usually, but not always, the Champions League) and income in the form of selling players.

This summer, for example, the sales of Josep Drmic and the *cough, cough* traitor Gonzalo Castro proved very profitable, and with the money from last year’s deep(ish) Champions League run, Bayer were able to afford the relative expensive signings of Aranguiz and Tah, while still being able to afford several reasonably priced signings (Papa, Mehmedi, etc.).

Perhaps the best indicator of the team’s strong desire to keep their payouts in check, was the lengthy haggling that Voeller, Boldt, and Co. engaged in to bring Aranguiz to Germany. The couple of million euro that they saved in the negotiations are as much a victory as the signing of the Copa America champion himself.

The Boss

Roger Schmidt’s first year as Bayer Leverkusen trainer has to be considered a success on several fronts. On his own personal front, the results that he was able to tease out of a team adopting and adapting to a whole new style of play led to a contract extension in May after less than a year of being in charge.

Much of his and the team’s success has everything to do with his aggressive, pressing style of play that is designed to put opponents on the back foot whenever they have the ball. This style of play ensured that even when results weren’t always optimal, fans and the powers that be at Leverkusen were generally entertained by Schmidt’s up-tempo philosophy (contrast that to 2013/2014, when Sami Hyypia’s Bayer team looked like they were stuck in second gear).

Perhaps most importantly the man isn’t easily intimidated, as shown by his tete-a-tete with Diego Simeone and German Burgos during Bayer’s Champions League matches against Atletico Madrid. That toughness seems to have rubbed off on his charges, who displayed a mental resilience and tenacity that hasn’t been seen in Leverkusen for over a decade.

Odds to win league

Hahahahahahahahahahaha! Oh, you’re serious?!

  • 33/1 – PaddyPower; 40/1 – Bet365; 40/1 – William Hill
  • F*ck it, throw a tenner on ‘em.

Five-Year Record

  • 2nd place (2010/2011)
  • 5th place (2011/2012)
  • 3rd place (2012/2013)
  • 4th place (2013/2014)
  • 4th place (2014/2015)

Questions with a club fan:

Eliano Lussem, part-time kicker reporter and full-time Bayer 04 fan:

  • Keep an eye out for . . . “Charles Aranguiz who will make a big impact on Bayer Leverkusen’s style of play.”
  • Terrace favorite . . . “Julian Brandt.”
  • Player you’d happily drive to another club . . . “Robbie Kruse, he’s just been injured all the time and is too weak. An aussie-team would be ideal for him.”
  • Advice you’d give your manager . . . “Don’t play the aggressive style like at the beginning of last year, play like we did after Wolfsburg’s 4-5 defeat of Bayer.”
  • Opposition player you secretly admire . . . “This has got to be Kevin De Bruyne!”
  • Opposition player you despise . . . “This has got to be any player of HSV!”
  • Tip you’d give away fans . . . “Don’t come, you’ll lose anyway 😉 “
  • Where will you finish . . . “If we play like we did after the second Wolfsburg match last season, we can come in 3rd, if not, 6th.”

Crucial Fixtures Stretch

The first stretch of crucial fixtures STARTS RIGHT NOW! Bayer Leverkusen travel to Rome next week for the first of two matches to decide if Bayer or Lazio is going to play in the Champions League this year, so the pressure is on from the very beginning. Missing out on the Champions League would hurt financially as well mentally and the margin of error here is paper-thin.

Gah…I don’t even want to think about it, so let me also highlight the matches against Bayern and Dortmund, which are separated by a palette cleanser of a game against Darmstadt. As these three matches take place at the beginning of the first and second halves of the season, they are going to set the tone for what follows and Bayer need to come away with at least two victories from these three matches in order to be taken seriously.

Verdict

If Bayer Leverkusen stay relatively injury-free and the new additions to the team continue the strong growth that they’ve shown during the offseason and preseason, this team will compete for a top-three, top-two finish and surprise some people along the way.

I’m looking at you, Marcel Reif.

The following two tabs change content below.

Latest posts by Eric Bruehl (see all)

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. #Link11: Schluss mit Fußball-Methadon | Fokus Fussball

Comments are closed.