One who have to say that, overall, Bayer 04 Leverkusen had a strong 2015/2016 season. Although they suffered some dry spells, and were sidelined by a massive wave of injuries during part of the Ruckrunde, Die Werkself finished a solid third in the Bundesliga with a 18-6-10 mark, ending the season winning seven of their last eight league matches, with wins over European contenders Schalke, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg and a victory over local rivals 1.FC Koln to guarantee another season of Champions League competition.
But that 3rd place finish disguises the fact that Leverkusen finished 28 points behind champions Bayern Munich and even 18 points behind second-place Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, although Leverkusen had some good moments in the Champions League, and in the Europa League, they could go only so far in Europe and were close, but not close enough, to going further.
The club, though, has quickly taken steps to build a club that can challenge for a Bundesliga title. After landing contract extensions with club icon Stefan Kießling, superb midfielder Karim Bellarabi and national team goalkeeper Bernd Leno, Die Werkself have already added talented fullback Danny Da Costa, defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger and Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland to their roster for the 2016/2017 campaign.
Danny Da Costa Returns Home
Fullback Danny Da Costa, 22, began his career with Die Werkself, joining the club’s youth system in 2001. He made his senior debut team as a 17 year-old in the Europa League against Atletico Madrid but only played in six league matches for the club before being loaned to second division club FC Ingolstadt. The Niess-born back’s contract joined Ingolstadt in July, 2014 on a free transfer and was a frequent member of the club’s starting eleven. He has represented Germany at five youth levels and grew as a player with the Audi club and helped them earn promotion to the Bundesliga. He performed well against first-division competition this season, starting 17 matches and growing as the season went on. He totalled four assists for Ingolstadt, while winning 58% of his challenges. With veteran right back Roberto Hilbert undergoing surgery, Da Costa will have a great opportunity to compete for a starting job after signing with Leverkusen on May 2.
Julian Baumgartlinger Comes Over from Mainz
Austrian international Baumgartlinger was a cornerstone for a Mainz club that challenged for Europe and ended up earning a Europa League spot. Coming to the Bundesliga from Austria Wien in 2011, the defensive midfielder signed a four-year deal with Leverkusen on a four million € transfer fee. The 28 year-old started 30 matches for Mainz this past season, and has featured in 124 Bundesliga contests altogether.
Baumgartlinger, whose praises were sung in a Travis Timmons article recently, had two goals and an assist for the 05ers this past campaign, while completing 83% of his 1407 passing attempts and winning 52% of his tackles. Leverkusen executive Michael Schade referred to Baumgartlinger as “an ideal player in defensive midfield” during a recent interview on Bayer04TV.
Leverkusen Lasso Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland
Roger Schmidt gained another attacking piece to his roster when they signed German international Kevin Volland from Hoffenheim earlier in the week. The 23 year-old has scored 33 goals and assisted 38 times in his 132 matches after joining Hoffe from 1860 Munich before the 2012/2013 season. Volland signed a five-year deal with Leverkusen, reportedly on a record 20 million € transfer fee.
Leverkusen Sporting Director Rudi Voller commented on Volland that “with his speed, his force and his firing power he will enhance our attacking line. We are delighted to have beaten several competitors to his signature.”
Volland is the fourth signing made by Leverkusen in recent weeks. The club also brought back holding midfielder Jonas Meffert, 21, from Karlsruher SC. Like Da Costa, Meffert had a clause in his contract that allowed Leverkusen to buy the player back within a year of his contract ending with his new club. The 6’1″ Meffert earned regular playing time with Karlsruhe since joining that club in May, 2014 on a three-year deal. Like Da Costa, Meffert came up in the Leverkusen youth system, joining the club in 2005.
There’s no doubt that Leverkusen are on a quest to win. They’ve added more talent to the roster and have expressed complete confidence in Coach Roger Schmidt. While the club will say good-bye to backup goalkeepers Dario Kresic and David Yelldell, they’ve brought in FC Ingolstadt keeper Ramazan Özcan as Leno’s backup. Defender Sebastian Boenisch also will not return, but he didn’t play a large part in this year’s campaign.
The lure of Champions League football along with the club’s increased popularity among fans has been a magnet for bringing in new talent to the club while retaining the players that performed so well this past season. With newcomers Javier Hernandez and Kevin Kampl performing so well last season, along with a renewed upswing in Bellarabi’s game and the emergence of youngster Julian Brandt as a legit Bundesliga difference-maker, Die Werkself look loaded going into next season. The club is excited about a new contract with kit manufacturer Jako, and all things look positive at the BayArena. Listening to the latest episode of the excellent Neverkusen Podcast, one can hear and feel the enthusiasm of the podcast team about the upcoming season. At times derailed by the untimely occurrence of as many as nine injuries to first-choice players, the club is building a roster that can compete with the best clubs in Germany, and in Europe. Fun times are ahead.