The Biggest Disappointment of the Hinrunde: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

There has been a lot of upheaval in the first half of this Bundesliga season. While many clubs with big reputations and big wage bills have struggled this season including Schalke, Wolfsburg, Mönchengladbach and Bremen, there is no club that has been a bigger disappointment than Bayer Leverkusen.

In 2015/16 only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had more points as Bayer finished 3rd in the league and qualified for the Champion’s League. This season, they have not been able to replicate that form at any point in the season and sit in 9th as the league takes its winter break.

On paper, Bayer may have the best team outside of Bayern Munich. On the field it has been a different story.

Almost the entire Werkself squad has struggled with consistency, starting with the club’s talismanic striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez.

In his first campaign with Bayer last season, the Mexican striker set the Bundesliga ablaze as he netted 17 league goals. Halfway through this season, he has only five goals and has at times found himself out of Roger Schmidt’s starting XI.  He did, however, score a headed goal in the Florida Cup during winter break, so hopefully that will renew his confidence.

His supporting cast has also struggled to score. Chicharito’s running partner last season, Stefan Kießling, has struggled to get on the field due to injury problems. The same can be said of the club’s biggest summer acquisition, Kevin Volland. The combo have totaled just one goal in the league so far.  And injuries to Joel Pohjanpalo, who had four early season goals as a substitute, along with Karim Bellarabi, hurt the club’s attack, too, although both are healthy for the season’s second half.

There are some bright spots in the attack as youngsters Hakan Calhanoglu and Julian Brandt have developed into two of the club’s and the league’s most vibrant threats to score. However, those two bright spots have not been able to keep goals consistently going in at the BayArena.

Injuries have also affected the midfield. Club captain Lars Bender has only appeared in five Bundesliga games this campaign. When paired with Kevin Kampl, Bender has formed an effective pivot in front of the Bayer defense, but without him Bayer have appeared disorganized and inept in the center of the park. Bender, though, has just returned to practice

That has contributed to Leverkusen’s biggest issue this season, they cannot keep opponents from scoring on them. Through 16 games played, Bayer has already allowed 24 goals in the league this season.

SC Freiburg is the only club of the eight that currently sit above Leverkusen who have allowed more and Leverkusen is currently allowing almost a full goal more per game than first place Bayern Munich, who have only allowed nine goals this season.

On paper, Leverkusen should not be having this issue. They boast one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga in Bernd Leno and in front of him is the formidable combo of Jonathan Tah and Ömer Toprak, who looks to leave this summer.

With the same trio in place last season, Bayer only allowed 40 goals in the league in 2015/16. Only the two teams that bettered Leverkusen in the standings, Bayern and BVB, allowed fewer.

The defense will surely have to tighten up if Leverkusen are looking to get back into the European places, but clearly the entire team needs some refocusing over the winter break to get things moving in the right direction.

Something needs to change if the team wishes to cease being such a disappointment as we roll into 2017. Hopefully, a healthier squad going into the Ruckrunde will see Die Werkself move up the table.

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A tight knit family from the small Bavarian village of Kirchzell sparked an interest in the Bundesliga and German culture, even though Chris was born half a world away in New Jersey. A video producer and editor by profession, I talk soccer all day and decided to write it down. @ChrisBrase22

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