Hinrunde Reviews: Bayer Leverkusen

The 2017/18 Bundesliga season has reached the halfway stage, giving us here at the Bundesliga Fanatic the opportunity to take stock of each club’s progress so far. Here, we look at how Bayer Leverkusen have fared in the Hinrunde.

The story so far

Have Bayer Leverkusen been the surprise of the Bundesliga in the Hinrunde? Well the Werkself certainly have a very strong claim to that accolade following their fourth place finish at the halfway stage. There was a fair helping of both optimism and pessimism at the start of the season with new coach Heiko Herrlich an untested proposition and a raft of players sold during the summer (Chicharito, Kevin Kampl, Hakan Canhanoglu, Ömer Toprak and Kyriakos Papadopoulos amongst others).

Facing champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena for the season opener was always going to be and they duly lost 3-1. A 2-2 home draw with Hoffenheim was then followed by successive away defeats to Mainz and Hertha Berlin sandwiched by a 4-0 home win over Freiburg.

With five games played, Leverkusen were down in 14th with just four points and the pessimists were growing even more negative in their outlooks. The loss to Hertha at the Olympiastadion was to be the last defeat of the Hinrunde as the players started to gel into Heiko Herrlich’s plan.

Hamburg were beaten while they held both Schalke and Wolfsburg to stalemates. The performance of the season arrived on matchday nine when Leverkusen went on the rampage against Borussia Mönchengladbach scoring five second half goals to stun the Fohlen at the Borussia Park to win 5-1.

They hit another four goals in the DFB Pokal win over Union Berlin and continued to build their unbeaten run inspired by the fine form of Leon Bailey and the goals of Kevin Volland. Heiko Herrlich masterminded wins over Köln, Eintracht Frankfurt, VfB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen and draws against Augsburg, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, and in a stunning match Hannover.

If Leverkusen had not thrown the points away against Hannover in the final game of the Hinrunde, it would have been they and not Schalke finishing as Vizemeister behind Bayern. The pessimists of matchday 5 had faded into the background and been replaced with the Bay-Arena optimists lauding the style of football and the 12-match unbeaten run they had just witnessed. To put the icing on the cake and send the fans into Christmas with even more festive cheer, there was the 1-0 win over Gladbach to send the Werkself into the quarter-final of the DFB Pokal.

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Stat central

P17 W7 D7 L3 F34 A23 Pt28 (4th)

  • Julian Brandt leads the Bundesliga in key passes with 57. He has a 54% success rate and averages 4.3 per 90 minutes.
  • Leverkusen lead the league with goals scored from open play with 27. Ten have come from counter-attacks.
  • Bayer have not been awarded a single penalty this season, but have conceded four (all of which have been converted).

Top Performer: Leon Bailey

It is easy to argue that Leon Bailey has not just been Leverkusen’s best player, but in fact the best player in the entire Bundesliga in the Hinrunde with the Jamaican attacker having taken his game to a different level in the first half of this season.

After arriving from Belgian side Genk at the start of last season, Bailey struggled to make an impact, but thus far this season his impact have been immense. A first Bundesliga goal came on matchday 7 against Schalke and the speedy attacker has scored six in total, while contributing five assists.

His speed, dribbling and ability to beat defenders has been impressive and a key weapon in Leverkusen’s arsenal. Renowned magazine Kicker have him rated as the league’s top player with an average match rating of 2.17 (in a 1-5 scale with one being the best. Instat statistics show him just behind Kingsley Coman as the Bundesliga’s best left-sided midfielder.

Rumours are already emerging that Premier League clubs are looking to prise him away from the Bundesliga with both Chelsea and Arsenal closely linked.

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The summer signings

All the talk coming into the season was about the raft of players to have left the club, rather than those who had arrived.  Sven Bender has been reunited with his brother Lars and made 14 appearances. In eight years at Borussia Dortmund he only scored four goals, but at Leverkusen he already has two having found the back of the net against Köln and Mönchengladbach.

Lucas Alario was the striker brought in to replace Chicharito and the Argentine made an instant impact scoring on his debut in the 3-0 win over Hamburg and adding another in his next home game against Wolfsburg. He scored the winner in the matchday 17 win over Werder.

Greek defender Panagiotis Retsos has settled pretty well following his arrival from Olympiakos making 13 appearances, while midfielder Marlon Frey hasn’t played a minute since returning from his loan spell at Kaiserslautern.

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Hinrunde lowlight

Aside from Heiko Herrlich’s embarrassing theatrical dive in the DFB Pokal against Gladbach, the lowlight for the Werkself came on matchday 3 with a 3-1 defeat away at Mainz. Having lost to Bayern on matchday 1 and been held at home to Hoffenheim in their first home game, it was expected that they would garner their first three points against the Nullfünfer.

It started well with Dominik Kohr opening the scoring in the 22nd minute, but Yoshinori Muto pulled back an equaliser right on the stroke of half-time. Mainz began the second 45 minutes better and when Abdou Diallo headed in a Levin Öztunali free-kick on 57 minutes, it was becoming clear the game had changed well and truly in the home side’s favour.

They created the better chances and one of them was converted with 20 minutes left with Suat Serdar scoring from an Öztunali assist. A second defeat in three games wasn’t the ideal for Heiko Herrlich’s tenure, but as we know, things were about to get better.

Hinrunde highlight

With the score at just 1-0 to Borussia Mönchengladbach at half-time of their matchday nine clash at the Borussia Park, there were still 45 minutes for Bayer Leverkusen to get back into the match.

And how they turned the game on its head! Five second half goals completely blew the Fohlen out of the water and had observers praising Heiko Herrlich for his tactical switch at the break. He brought on Julian Brandt for Lucas Alario, switched Leon Bailey to the left and played Kevin Volland through the middle.

Leverkusen got themselves level just three minutes after the restart with Sven Bender poking home from close range.

A ten-minute spell then saw the visitors bang in three goals to stun Gladbach. Lightning quick counter-attacks and precision passing from Kai Havertz saw goals from Bailey, Brandt and Volland turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead.

Wendell hit the woodwork before substitute Joel Pohjanpalo added a fifth goal to add insult to injury for Dieter Hecking’s side. A stunning 45 minutes of football from Leverkusen and a sign of the attacking talent at Heiko Herrlich’s disposal.

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The forecast

Leverkusen are on a good path at the moment and look a really god bet for a top four finish and a return to the Champions League. In Leon Bailey they have a player who has hit a purple patch of form and looks set to impress even more in the Rückrunde. With Lucas Alario becoming accustomed to the Bundesliga and Kevin Volland looking for a place in Germany’s World Cup squad, there are goals to be had from the strikers.

Defensively Bernd Leno and Jonathan Tah are looking immense and they also have the youthful and exciting talents of Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz in midfield.

There will be many more optimists going into the second half of the season than there were back in August when nobody knew what to expect from Bayer. Their second half against Mönchengladbach was amazing and Leverkusen fans will want to see an amazing second half to the 2017-18 season.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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