The German Football Weekly: Issue #8
Free weekly newsletter highlighting some the biggest news, and headlines, from the beautiful game on German soil
by Adam Khan on October 15
Bayer 04’s 29-year Title Drought is Ready to End
After 7 matchdays Bayer Leverkusen miraculously sit level on points with FC Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga. In today’s newsletter we look into 3 of the reasons why Die Werkself could be on course for their first trophy since 1993.
Bullseye in the Transfer Market
In Issue #7 of the German Football Newsletter we delved into Fredi Bobic’s misfiring summer at Hertha BSC. It’s safe to say, that hasn’t been the case at the BayArena.
Die Werkself spent roughly €53.00m on 7 new signings with an average age of 21,5. It’s a youthful trend which is reflected in the side’s departures as well. The 32-year old Bender twins retiring into the German 8th tier, 30-year old Aleksandar Dragović departed on a free for Red Star Belgrade, and long-time servant Wendell opted for a new beginning at FC Porto.
All four of these defenders were considered integral leaders in the dressing room, however any worries of a decline in their absence have been put to rest with the impressive performances of Simon Rolfes’ new recruits.
Odilon Koussouni and Mitchell Bakker have been ever-present in the Bayer backline, whilst Amin Adli and Piero Hincapié continue to grow in confidence with cameos in the Bundesliga and Europa League.
Robert Andrich showed all of his expertise in his Bundesliga debut - scoring a goal, and receiving a red card in just 32 minutes - but the 27-year olds leadership and tenacity is a welcome addition in central midfield.
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention Jeremie Frimpong, a €11.00m January signing from Celtic who has probably been the best rightback in the league after 7 matchdays. The Dutch youth international hasn’t missed a game, leads all Bundesliga defenders in assists (3), and sits behind only Alphonso Davies for progressive carries into the final third.
Just don’t mention him in any Glaswegian bars, as you’ll instantly be hit with eyes yearning for ‘the one that got away’.
Gerard Seaone & Bayer’s Fluid Tactics
Leverkusen clearly have bought the right pieces over the summer, but putting the puzzle together has required an astute managerial addition in Gerardo Seaone.
Whereas Peter Bosz’s tenure would erratically flip between sensational and sterile, Seaone’s has brought a more flexible, and measured, tactical plan which the squad has profited from.
With a front 4 built to attack with pace and precision, Leverkusen have the hallmarks of a side capable of absorbing opposition pressure and pouncing on mistakes. Die Werkself have held just the 8th most possession of any Bundesliga side, but their lethal ability on the break has seen them score a club-record 20 goals after 7 matchdays.
This isn’t to say that Leverkusen isn’t capable of unlocking deep blocks though. Charles Aránguiz, Jonathan Tah, or Exequiel Palacios are adept at patiently circulating possession to probe for gaps in an opposition backline, whilst the 28-year old Kerem Demirbay is beginning to pay back his record-breaking fee of €32.00m with talismanic performances in the heart of midfield.
In the 1:0 victory over Mainz 05 earlier this season, the 2-time German international completed 103 touches, a tally exactly equal to that which all 3 of Mainz’s central midfielders achieved in the entire match! Just a week later Demirbay was at it again, completing twice as many touches (109 in total) as any opposition player in a 4:0 victory over Arminia Bielefeld.
Some would say that Seaone’s flip-flop between possession-based football and reactive counter attacking is the sign of a side lacking identity, but I consider it the hallmark of a balanced squad which is capable of thriving in a variety of systems.
Young, Wild, & Free
We mentioned earlier how a lack of experience in the squad was the major concern following the summer transfer window, but it could in fact be this youthful exuberance which allows Leverkusen to end their 29-year drought for a domestic title.
One can see it on the pitch in the performances of Die Werkself’s youthful core. Seaone has given the likes of Adli, Wirtz, Diaby and Paulino the freedom to make errors in the final third. He has created an environment where they can show the full depths of their creative abilities, by liberating them from the fear of making a mistake.
Florian Wirtz is perhaps the best example, on average completing just 79.6% of his passes, and producing the second most unsuccessful touches per 90 in the squad. Nevertheless, the 18-year old has been on fire this season, leading all of Europe’s top five leagues in goals + assists per 90, and cementing his place in Hansi Flick’s national team squad.
This same carefree, unimposing, attitude extends itself to the club identity. Bayer Leverkusen recorded the 3rd smallest average attendance in the last full-capacity Bundesliga season, and have failed to win a Bundesliga title despite spending 42 uninterrupted seasons in the German topflight.
In fact, a stretch of 4 second place finishes from 1997-2002 earned Bayer 04 the nickname Neverkusen for their perpetual ability to implode in the final moments of the season. This history, the growing financial gap between FC Bayern, and an inexperienced roster are all the more reasons why Leverkusen can quietly operate in the shadows before ending their barren stretch and lifting silverware this season.
The Bundesliga would obviously be the crowning achievement, but even a DFB-Pokal triumph after 3 consecutive final defeats would be more than enough for Rudi Völler to leave on a high note 27-years after making his Werkself debut!
I’d be most confident though in the Europa League, a competition which Gerardo Seaone knows well after eliminating his new employers last season. Leverkusen have taken 6-points from their opening two groupstage fixtures, and with the competition reduced from 48 to 32 teams this season, topping their Group would take them directly to the round of 16.
From there it will be anything but a cakewalk with some heavyweights dropping down from the Champions League: Barcelona? Real Madrid?. But, it won’t be easy to write off Bayer 04 if the squad continues to play with the refreshing attacking freedom they have displayed thus far!
Will Bayer Leverkusen end their title-drought this season? And if so, which competition do you think will be the most achievable for Die Werkself? Let me know on Twitter using #BUNDESLETTER
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Sunday 15:30 (CEST): Bayer Leverkusen v FC Bayern
It feels like a bit of a Bayer 04 special this week, but it’s impossible to pass up on Sunday’s top of the table clash!
After 7 matchdays, both Bayern and Leverkusen sit top of the table with 16 points and an identical record of 5 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss. Der Rekordmeister has taken victories from the last 4 meetings in all competitions, however Leverkusen should take confidence from the fact that in the last 6 times the two clubs faced off with fans present at the Bay-Arena, Bayern have won just twice.
The recently elapsed international break will also add another element to this matchday 8 encounter. Julian Nagelsmann was able to welcome Corentin Tolisso back to training following a calf injury, but only 5 other fit members of the first team squad weren’t called up for international football (Kingsley Coman, Marc Roca, Omar Richards, Michaël Cuisance, and Christian Früchtl).
For Leverkusen, it isn’t just the number of international absentees, but the long travel, and mounting injury list which has provided Gerardo Seaone with an undue selection headache.
Whilst Die Werkself only had to say goodbye to 14 of their first team compared to Bayern’s 18 absentees, 4 of these embarked on long trips to South America.
The likes of Exequiel Palacios, Lucas Alario, and Piero Hincapié are all potential starters who were in action on Thursday (*local time) for their respective national sides.
Besides Alphonso Davies’ involvement for the Canadian national team yesterday, the rest of Bayern’s squad returned to Munich 5 days before Sunday's kickoff.
Discounting the jet lag and limited preparation time, there is no reason why we won’t be in for a fascinating matchup this weekend. With a combined 44 goals across the first 7 matchdays, one can expect an end to end affair decided by the individual genius in either side’s ranks.
Will Florian Wirtz add to his league-high 5 assists, or will Robert Lewandowski add to his league-high 7 goals? Can Moussa Diaby carry over the momentum from his second consecutive France call up? Or will Dayot Upamecano bounce back from his disappointing performance against Frankfurt with a display akin to that which he showed off the bench in the Nations League final?
One can only wait and see what this Bundesliga classic has in store!
2. Bundesliga GOTW: Friday 18:30 (CEST): SC Paderborn v Jahn Regensburg
3. Bundesliga GOTW: Sunday 14:00 (CEST): Viktoria Köln v Würzburger Kickers