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2018-19 Bundesliga Preview: Bayer Leverkusen

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Will Leverkusen take the next big step in Heiko Herrlich’s second season in charge?

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

After an impressive jump up the table from 12th to 5th last season, Bayer Leverkusen will be eager to take the next step and finish in the top four this year. Heiko Herrlich is entering his second season at Leverkusen and should continue to put pressure on the likes of Schalke, Hoffenheim, and Dortmund for the Champions League Spots.

Last Season

Bundesliga: 5th - 55 points (15-10-9)

DFB Cup: Semifinals 6-2 loss to Bayern Munich

As mentioned, Leverkusen made a great leap in their first year under Herrlich and went down to the wire for the fourth and final Champions League spot with Dortmund. They were relatively consistent throughout the year but had their high and low points in the second half of the season. An impressive 4-1 win against Hoffenheim in January seemed to bode well for the final stretch, but their 4-0 loss to Dortmund in April ended up being the exact difference between 4th and 5th.

In the DFB cup, Leverkusen made an impressive run to the semifinals before, like several other top teams, falling to Bayern in a 6-2 blowout. Because both campaigns came up just short, it is easy to forget how much of an improvement the team made last season.

Transfers

Transfers in:

  • Paulinho (LW) - Vasco da Gama - 18.63€ million
  • Mitchell Weiser (RB) - Hertha BSC - 12.08€ million
  • Isaac Kiese Thelin (ST) - RSC Anderlecht- Loan
  • Thorsten Kirschbaum (GK) - FC Nurnberg - Free
  • Lukas Hradecky (GK) - Eintracht Frankfurt - Free
  • Aleksandar Dragovic (CB) - Leicester City - End of loan

Transfers out:

  • Bernd Leno (GK) - Arsenal - 25.17€ million
  • Niklas Lomb (GK) - SV Sandhausen - Loan
  • Stefan Kiessling (ST) - Retired

The summer transfer window was relatively calm for Leverkusen with the biggest shift coming at keeper. The loss of Bernd Leno is rough but should be survivable, and Lukas Hradecky will be the most important new face as he tries to live up to his predecessor. The club added a player for the future in Paulinho and fortified the defense with Weiser, but stayed relatively firm on their roster.

What to expect in 2018/19

Leverkusen are bringing back a very similar team as last season and will likely get very similar results. They will need to adjust to the absence of Leno in net, but the continuity of the rest of the roster should mean better chemistry and results in the second season under a new manager.

They will be fighting for a Champions League spot, and similar to Leipzig, development within the roster will decide where they finish. The young stars Leon Bailey and Julian Brandt combined for 18 goals and nine assists last season and in a race that came down to goal differential, even the slightest improvement from these two could push the team over the top.

Prediction: Top 6

With Dortmund beginning to right the ship under Favre and making strong additions in the transfer window, the open sports for Leverkusen to fight for will hopefully shrink by one.

They should safely finish top 6 again this season and I think there will be a four way race for the last two Champions League spots.

Yesterday I went with Leipzig taking one of those spots, and I don’t see both Hoffenheim and Schalke dropping out of the top four so I’m leaning towards Leverkusen just missing out yet again. However, to be fair to Leverkusen and to hedge my bets a little, those spots really are up for grabs, and even Dortmund has yet to prove anything. It could come down to the final week again this season.