A little bit more than a month ago, Bayer Leverkusen hosted Bayern Munich in what appeared to be an enthralling top four matchup at the BayArena. And while the 0-0 draw that ensued wasn’t the most entertaining game for most of the fans who tuned in, it seemed like Leverkusen were destined for a top 4 finish after that showing. But ever since that scrappy encounter, Leverkusen’s form has dipped as well as their position in the table. With a five-point gap between Bayer and the fourth place Schalke going into Sunday’s match with a much-improved VfB Stuttgart, the chances that Leverkusen qualify for the Champions League this season are dwindling down as the games go by. And there are many reasons for Leverkusen’s downfall, some of which include injuries to key players, the Europa League, and Roger Schmidt’s suspension.
Injuries to Key Players
With the 34 matches in the Bundesliga, along with European and cup competitions, as we all know the football season is a 9-month grind. Since the season is so long, injuries are bound to happen — whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months, most players miss some games due to injury. The Bundesliga this season has been filled with Injuries, with Bayern and Wolfsburg and other top clubs being hampered by injuries along with Leverkusen. And while injuries are inevitable, Bayer have been unfortunate to get the injuries that they’ve had, with the players who got injured and the timing of the injuries.
The first big injury blow for Leverkusen was when Javier Hernandez suffered an injury against Werder Bremen in the DFB-Pokal. Chicharito was ruled out for multiple weeks, and despite returning to face Dortmund, he was far from his best in that game and Bayer didn’t score a goal as a result. They also missed Hernandez when they traveled to Lisbon to face Sporting CP in the Europa League, as they managed to win 1-0 without being very convincing.
But since they still needed to take care of business at home after they missed Hernandez, they’re players weren’t at their best in the Bundesliga match that followed, as Bayer lost 3-1 to Mainz. After Hernandez got hurt, Bayer suffered a very unfortunate injury blow in the Dortmund game. That saw in form midfielder Kevin Kampl ruled out for the season with a fractured tibia, and Ömer Toprak ruled out for multiple weeks at the same time. Toprak missed three games, which included the Mainz game and the 4-1 loss to Bremen. His stability and leadership in defense was absent during the two losses, and that explains why Bayer conceded the goals that they did in that time frame. And while Toprak is a key player, Kampl was Leverkusen’s best player outside of Chicharito for most of the season before his injury. He was pulling the strings for Leverkusen while filling up the deep-lying playmaker role for Roger Schmidt’s men as well. Kampl was vital to Schmidt’s gameplan, and he looked like one of the best signings in the league up until that point. With his ability to make carry the ball foward into attack, his 82% success rate with his passes and with him winning almost 60% of his challenges, Kampl has been a force both in attack and defensively.
In addition to the absences of Toprak and Kampl, the Werkself’s injury list continues on, as Kyriakos Papadopoulos missed those two losses with injury as did in form striker Stefan Kießling. The losses of those players also helps explain why Bayer struggled so much against a side in Bremen who are in the relegation fight. Kiessling’s absence made it much easier to stop Chicharito, and Papadopoulos wasn’t able to fill the void left byToprak. And lately, both fullback Roberto Hilbert and midfielder Christoph Kramer have been sidelined. Kramer suffered a gruesome concussion but missed only one game, fortunately as he was the one carrying the load for Leverkusen. Without him to provide the thump in the center of the park, it’s tough for Leverkusen to stop their opponents on the counter attack.
Although Kramer was back for their EL encounter Thursday with Villarreal, Leverkusen had so many players missing, and Tin Jedvaj unavailable from a card suspension, that Die Werkself started youngster Marlon Frey in the big second leg and, already done 2-0 in aggregate, had inexperienced youngsters Benjamin Henrichs, Joel Abu Hanna and Vladlen Yurchenko as reserves. Leverkusen held the yellow submarine scoreless in the home leg but were eliminated from the Europa League because they couldn’t find goals.
Even though the injuries have been piling up more for Leverkusen, the reality is they’ve been hit with injuries all season. It started back in the summer with Charles Aranguiz, who was a marquee signing for Leverkusen in the summer. The Chilean has been out injured since August and he doesn’t appear to be back anytime soon. Then other key players Tin Jedvaj and Toprak suffered injuries before the season started as well, and while they are both back now, being injured to start the season hurt them both. For Jedvaj, he’s yet to fit in completely with Bayer’s defensive structure because of his injury, which helps explain why he’s been so reckless in recent game.
After those two got injured, Lars Bender suffered a knock after a few games, and he is still injured as well. Bender is the captain of the club, as well as the best player for Schmidt’s side last season who has been missed a lot. He brings leadership and the ability to defend in the midfield while also having an eye for the goal. The void left by his absence has been visible all season long, and the losses to Dortmund, Mainz and Bremen might have been prevented if he was fit and controlling the midfield. The injuries have been so bad, that only three first team players have been fit all season. Karim Bellarabi, Wendell and the goalkeeper Bernd Leno have started almost every game so far, and despite having them fit, the injuries have derailed Leverkusen’s season in a big way. And since a lot of these players are still injured or were re-injured recently, Leverkusen’s form won’t come back anytime soon with stars like Kießling, Kampl and Bender on the sideline.
Europa League and Schmidt Ban
One of the main reasons why Leverkusen have had so many injuries is that they’ve played in the Europa league and Champions League along with the Bundesliga. But since they’ve been out of the Champions League since December, the Europa league has been the competition causing their extra injuries in recent weeks. Bayer’s most recent injury, Christoph Kramer’s concussion, occurred in Lisbon during Europa League action. The increase in games as a result of the Europa League has certainly hurt Leverkusen in more ways than just the injuries, as the travel combined with the tough games abroad takes a physical toll on the players. And for a side like Leverkusen that run and press the opposition, the fatigue that the Europa league brings can certainly impact form. Part of the reason why the goals have dried up during this poor run of form has been because the pressing of Leverkusen hasn’t been as quick and sharp as before. This can be attributed to the fatigue from the Europa League coming almost every other week.
Besides the Europa league being a factor, the ban of the manager Schmidt has had a huge impact on the form of Bayer as well. After getting suspended for multiple games due to his actions during the tight matchup with Dortmund, Leverkusen lost to Mainz and Bremen while dropping points against Augsburg. Even though Schmidt definitely was pulling the string with regards to the lineups for Leverkusen, his absence was clearly felt by the Bayer owned club. Managers like the former Salzburg boss have to decide when to make substitutions and they have to make tactical adjustments throughout the game. Without Schmidt, Bayer weren’t able to adjust to their opposition’s tactics the way that they do under their skipper, and the substitutions were later in the game as well. But in the former Salzburg manager’s first game back, Leverkusen got their first win in their last 3 domestic games with a 1-0 victory over Hamburg. Their defensive organization was much better with their skipper back, and Leverkusen appeared to have their confidence back as well. Schmidt’s impact on Bayer was on display in their latest performance, and with him on the sideline they probably would’ve beaten Werder Bremen and Augsburg.
Bayer Leverkusen have certainly have been a frustrating club this season, with promising performances against FC Barcelona, Roma, Lazio and Sporting Lisbon in Europe and a comprehensive 5-0 drubbing of Borussia Mönchengladbach in December hinting at possible glory that’s now gone adrift. With Schmidt back at the helm once again, things should begin to improve. The injuries and stars that are out, however, may see Leverkusen lose too many upcoming matches, and not only miss Champions League play next season, but the Europa League, too.
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