September 23, 2017

Season Preview 2014-2015: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Nicknames: Die Werkself, Vizekusen
Founded: 1904
Club colors: Red and black
Primary Rivals: 1. FC Köln, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Fan Friendship: Kickers Offenbach, Arminia Bielefeld, Standard Liège
Honours: 

– DFB Pokal: 1993

– UEFA Cup: 1988

Stadium: BayArena (30,210) Inaugurated 1958 – renovated 2009. Formerly Ulrich-Haberland Stadion.
2013-14 Finishes:

  • Bundesliga: 4th
  • DFB Pokal: Quarter-Finals (knocked out by Kaiserslautern 0-1 AET)
  • UEFA Champions League: Second Round (knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 on agg.)

Top Goal Scorer: Stefan Kießling (19 – all competitions)

2013-14 Season Summary:

Very much a season of two halves for Bayer Leverkusen, as a very strong second-placed finish in the Hinrunde, four points ahead of third-placed Gladbach (despite losing their last two games) and going through in the Champions League group stage, was a stark contrast to their end of season results. A somewhat disappointing fourth-placed finish in the Bundesliga (considering the early-season form; otherwise an achievement), a 6-1 drubbing by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions Knockout Phase and defeat to second-division Kaiserslautern in the DFB Pokal, as well as the sacking of manager Sami Hyypiä in April didn’t make for a pretty beginning to 2014 for the club and their fans.

Come April, just three Rückrunde wins and twelve defeats in all competitions under Sami Hyypiä were enough for the club board to sack the Finnish manager. His replacement, Hyypiä’s former co-manager Sascha Lewandowski, sparked a revival with four wins and one draw in the last five matches of the season, which saw the club secure a Champions League qualifying spot, a spot which seemed all but secure four months earlier but that could have so easily slipped away had the previous form continued.

Highlights of the season included holding champions Bayern München to a draw in the Hinrunde and, of course, Stefan Kießling’s Phantomtor against Hoffenheim, a ‘goal’ that ended up being very important since it was the difference between finishing 4th or 5th.

New star signing Son Heung-min enjoyed a decent season and was second top scorer behind Kießling.  Sidney Sam was fantastic until his signing for Schalke was announced in January, after which his form dipped proportionally to Hyypiä’s confidence in him. However, Leverkusen’s best player was arguably goalkeeper Bernd Leno, ever-present all season and who did a fantastic job considering the average defence in front of him, arguably the club’s weakest link.

Club Reputation 

Bayer Leverkusen is one of the two company-owned Bundesliga clubs alongside VfL Wolfsburg, owned by Bayer and Volkswagen respectively. Therefore, their popularity suffers as a consequence of this but this has not stopped them enjoying relative success in the last few decades. They made their mark in Europe in 1988 with a UEFA Cup victory over RCD Espanyol and fourteen years later they were Europe’s revelation club once again. This time, in the 2001/2002 season, Leverkusen ‘won’ the runners-up treble after losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid, the DFB Pokal Final to Schalke and the Bundesliga title with two games to go, giving up a five-point gap to Borussia Dortmund in the last four matches. However, that team was probably the best the club has ever had and one of the best in Europe in the last quarter century, boasting players like Michael Ballack, Zé Roberto, Lúcio, Hans-Jörg Butt, Bernd Schneider and Olivier Neuville among many others. The first two painfully signed for Bayern München the following season and manager Klaus Toppmöller was not able to replicate the feat and finished the season 15th, but that season put Bayer Leverkusen on the European football map for good.

Reality

Despite having one of the smallest fanbases and average capacities in the league (14th best in the Bundesliga), Leverkusen have been regular top-5 finishers in the last few years and this is not expected to change for the foreseeable future. New manager Roger Schmidt has arrived from RB Salzburg and is expected to play attacking and attractive football, something which hasn’t been the case in recent years at the BayArena. With some exciting summer signings, Leverkusen have definitely improved and should be pushing for a better season than the last.

Philosophy

Without being the most entertaining side to watch, Leverkusen honour their roots and always have a hard-working side with effectiveness up front, good work-rate in midfield and stability at the back. In recent years, been the type of club who signs promising young players from mid-to-lower table Bundesliga sides, therefore, young and talented players are abundant in their squad and a pattern that doesn’t seem that will stop any time soon.

Plan B

There was quite a gap between the pitch and the bench at Leverkusen last season, which meant that there was little for Hyypiä to choose from to re-shuffle when things weren’t going their way. A 4-2-3-1 formation could transform into a 4-3-3 if Simon Rolfes entered the team, but that was hardly a game changer. This season, Schmidt is looking likely to play a 4-2-2-2 system which will be much more attack-minded and will give him more options to change things around tactically thanks to the new forward signings.

Strengths and Weaknesses

A good football cliché says that you cannot build a successful team if you do not have a good goalkeeper. Leverkusen don’t have to worry about that because Bernd Leno is one of Germany’s finest. Having strengthened themselves significantly up front with the arrivals of Josip Drmić and Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Leverkusen will have one of the most powerful attacking formations in the league along with Son Heung-min, Stefan Kießling and the up-and-coming Julian Brandt.

However, their recent Champions League qualifying match against FC København (2-3) proved that there are still defensive issues to be addressed within the squad. The central-defensive duo of Emir Spahić and Ömer Töprak did not enjoy their finest of evenings and will not have filled their fans with confidence, while full-backs Sebastian Boenisch and Giulio Donati are dependable if just that. New loan signing from Schalke, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, when fit, is a much better option at centre-back than Spahić or Töprak so if he can keep fit he should make that spot his, whereas his promising Croatian counterpart Tin Jedvaj, also on loan from AS Roma, could also make it into the team if his promise is to be believed. However, for now, Leverkusen have a serious weakness at the back, especially at the centre-back position.

Takeaway from 2013-14

If Leverkusen can replicate their early-season form from last season throughout the whole season, they should be able to comfortably finish in the top 3. Bernd Leno’s form was nothing short of superb and Leverkusen fans will be expecting more of the same from the young goalkeeper, which should be a good foundation to go on to bigger and better things this season.  With better quality around him, Son Heung-min should also improve on a good first season.

Trivia

Despite the fact that 1904 (or ’04’) is in their name, Bayer Leverkusen did not field a footballing side until 1907.

Verdict

Their summer signings are very encouraging, as is the fact that Roger Schmidt is their new manager, a man whose tactical ideology is based on one word: attack. The squad is arguably stronger than last season’s and this should make for an interesting battle behind Bayern München, a batttle that could even include Borussia Dortmund. A top 3 finish should be within reach but it will all depend on how well the players adapt to the new system and maintain their fitness levels in the crucial months of February and March.

The Boss

Roger Schmidt arrived from RB Salzburg this summer after routing the Austrian league with his previous club. His aforementioned attacking mentality should suit his players well and bring out the best of his forward players. The only concern is whether he can patch up a defence that’s not impressed so far. However, exciting times are ahead at the club and Schmidt is one of the main reasons behind that sentiment.

Odds to win league: 33/1 (bet365)

60-second dossier:

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 10
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 9
Number of Matches drawn: 4
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 9
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 2
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 1
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 2
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 2
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 3

Top Scorers in 2013-14:

15 – Stefan Kießling

10 – Son Heung-min

8 – Sidney Sam

Five-Year Record:

2013/2014: 4th

2012/2013: 3rd

2011/2012: 5th

2010/2011: 2nd

2009/2010: 4th

Q & A with a club fan: @neverkusenpod

“Keep an eye out for “ : 

Hakan Çalhanoğlu of course. Bayer’s most expensive signing ever who will hopefully provide the creative impulse we’ve been missing in recent years.

“Terrace favourite “ :

Julian Brandt – the youngster became a crowd favorite pretty quickly after he was the only bright spot on the team during a dismal (seemingly winless) patch last season.

“Player you’d happily drive to another club . . .” :

None of us would want to drive any of the current players away to another club, but if there is one player who probably deserves another shot somewhere else, it’s Roberto Hilbert.

“Advice you’d give the manager” :  

Rotate, rotate, rotate!  Because Schmidt’s style of play is going to take an eventual toll on the players.

“Opposition player you secretly admire”:

Christoph Kramer…it’s not much of a secret either.

“Opposition player you despise.” :

Despise is too strong a word, but it’s telling that none of us has picked up Patrick Helmes in our manager league. Pretty much anyone on Effzeh could win this category.

“Where will you finish” :

At the end.

“Often overlooked strength”:

Bernd Leno.

Fixture list:

August
23 – Borussia Dortmund (A)
30 – Hertha Berlin (H)

September
12 – Werder Bremen (H)
21 – Wolfsburg (A)
24 – Augsburg (H)
27 – Freiburg (A)

October
3 – Paderborn (H)
17 – Stuttgart (A)
24 – Schalke 04 (H)
31 – HSV (A)

November
7 – Mainz 05 (H)
21 – Hannover 96 (A)
28 – 1. FC Köln (H)

December
5 – Bayern München (A)
12 – B. Mönchengladbach (H)
16 – Hoffenheim (A)
19 – Eintracht Frankfurt (H)

January
30 – Borussia Dortmund (H)

February
3 – Hertha Berlin (A)
6 – Werder Bremen (A)
13 – Wolfsburg (H)
20 – Augsburg (A)
27 – Freiburg (H)

March
6 – Paderborn (A)
13 – Stuttgart (H)
20 – Schalke 04 (A)

April
4 – HSV (H)
10 – Mainz 05 (A)
17 – Hannover 96 (H)
24 – 1. FC Köln (A)

May
2 – Bayern München (H)
8 –  B. Mönchengladbach (A)
16 – Hoffenheim (H)
23 – Eintracht Frankfurt (A)

Crucial Five Game Stretch:

February will be a crucial month for Leverkusen’s fortunes. Tricky away trips to Berlin and Augsburg as well not-so-easy one to Bremen added to a home game against potential direct rivals Wolfsburg will combine with the Champions League Knockout Phase (if Leverkusen make it there). Seven games in a month is a lot for any squad, especially this one that will physically be pushed to the limit, and what should be an easy three points home against Freiburg has potential slip-up written all over it, because every point is crucial when it comes to Leverkusen as we’ve seen in recent years. This month will most likely shape their season outcome.

The following two tabs change content below.

Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

Latest posts by Aleix Gwilliam (see all)

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply