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2017-18 Bundesliga Preview: Bayer Leverkusen try to recover from a frustrating year

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New manager, new players, new result?

Club Atletico de Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

As part of our season preview, we will be profiling all 18 clubs in the Bundesliga, and how we think they will fair during the coming season. Today, we will be focusing on Bayer Leverkusen.

Last Season

Last year was a frustrating one for Leverkusen fans. Two seasons ago, they seemed to be on the upswing, with a young squad that finished 3rd in the Bundesliga. They boasted a strong core composed of youngsters Benjamin Henrichs, Julian Brandt, Hakan Calhonoglu, Tin Jedvaj, and Jonathan Tah, along with seasoned veterans Javier Hernandez and Ome Toprak. Some, including myself, expected Die Werkself to legitimately compete for the title, or at the very minimum make it a non two-horse race.

Instead, the club struggled from the beginning, and finished a very disappointing 12th. Injuries and suspensions played a critical role in their struggles. Nevertheless, the club’s high-pressing manager Roger Schmidt was sacked in March. His replacement, Tayfun Korkut, failed to improve the club’s performances, with the club just winning two of its eleven matches under him. At the end of the season, he was also sacked.

Transfer Summary

Transfers in

  • Sven Bender (€12.5 Million)
  • Dominik Kohl (€2 Million)

Transfers out

  • Hakan Calhonoglu (€22 Million)
  • Javier Hernandez (€17.8 Million)
  • Omer Toprak (€12 Million)
  • Kyriakos Papadopolous (€6.5 Million)
  • Danny Da Costa (€1 Million)

Manager Appointee

  • Heiko Herrlich

As you can see, Leverkusen have mostly been sellers during the summer. The losses of Toprak, Calhonoglu, and Chicharito are going to be incredibly tough on Die Werkself. Calhonoglu was their brightest attacking midfielder. With Hernandez leaving for West Ham United, aging Stephan Kießling and Admir Mehmedi will be left to fill in the gap in scoring, something I doubt they will handle well.

Finally, without Toprak and Papadopolous, their already thin defense has dwindled further. Although the addition of Sven Bender (<3 you, Manni!) helps, his injury troubles are all too known for us Dortmund fans, and he likely cannot be counted on. Center backs Jonathan Tah and Aleksander Dragovic are the only two quality CBs remaining. If one goes down with an injury, they will be in deep trouble.

Outlook

Simply put, Leverkusen have too many problems to have a successful season next year. Their lack of purchases is concerning, especially considering their massive selloff. Injuries and lack of depth hurt them severely last year. Considering they didn’t do anything to prevent that from happening again, I see it being a factor again.

Furthermore, they have a new manager. Heiko Herrlich is a bit of a wildcard. Although he did manage to get a Regionliga side promoted all the way to 2. Liga, his only experience managing in the Bundesliga was in 2010 for Bochum, when he was sacked after a single season. Leverkusen Sporting Director described his playing style: “He favors an attractive, aggressive and active way of playing football and thus a style that is very close to our expectations.”

Indeed it is. Under Roger Schmidt, Leverkusen were known for their relentless, aggressive counterattacking that made Klopp’s gegenpressing look mild in comparison. Herrlich will likely this philosophy, There are natural advantages and disadvantages to such a playing style, but I worry about whether or not they have the squad to handle such a system. Leverkusen’s philosophy relies tremendously on speed, stamina, and an ability to switch from defense to offense quickly. I simply don’t think they’re equipped with the squad necessary to execute it correctly.

Prediction: 12th Place

Although they don’t have to worry about competition in Europe, I expect them to struggle again and repeat their 12th place finish. They have enough talent to keep their heads above water, but I doubt they will be in contention with the rest of the Bundesliga’s elite.