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09 Countdown #6: Is Bayer Leverkusen a Bundesliga Dark Horse?

As usual, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig have been getting the hype this offseason. But what about Bayer Leverkusen?

Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Team Presentation Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Note: This article was almost entirely written before Bayer Leverkusen’s 4-3 defeat against SV Elvensberg in the DFB Pokal. Losing to a 3. Liga side will certainly raise doubts about Leverkusen’s ability to make noise in the Bundesliga this season, and will conjure up typical images of ‘Neverkusen’, the Bundesliga’s perpetual under-performers who are destined to trail behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund forever. At the end of the day, though, it was just one match, and they are not the only major Bundesliga club to lose to an opponent from a lower tier (Holstein Kiel? St. Pauli? Anyone?). I don’t think it changes a thing in my assessment of Leverkusen’s squad and their position going into the season.

Some will say the Bundesliga is a one-team league. Others will say it’s a two-team league, with the Bayern-Dortmund duopoly at the top. Others will say it’s a three-team league, now that RB Leipzig have joined the Bundesliga elite. After that, though, the picture becomes much less clear.

Under the leadership of Bundesliga newcomer Gerardo Seoane, Bayer Leverkusen were an elite team last season, by any metric. Despite some struggles in the second half of the season, Leverkusen managed to hold off RB Leipzig and finish in third place, their highest ranked finish since the 2015-16 season, and with their highest overall points total since 2012-13. They were tied for third (with BVB) in the Bundesliga in goal differential, and also finished third in expected goal differential.

Leverkusen were not the only member of the last decade’s best-of-the-rest club to have a strong season. What makes them somewhat unique, in my opinion, is that I think they’re well positioned to do it again.

This is because Bayer Leverkusen have managed to do what so many Bundesliga clubs, even the largest and richest, have frequently failed to do over the last decade: they’ve managed to go a full summer without losing any of their core players. Sure, they’ve lost a few squad players like Mitchell Weiser and Lucas Alario, but by and large, the heavy hitters that pushed them to third place in the Bundesliga remain. Despite numerous transfer rumors surrounding Florian Wirtz, Moussa Diaby, Patrik Schick, Edmond Tapsoba, and others, Bayer Leverkusen have so far retained each and every one of them. They even extended Florian Wirtz by another season to 2027, ensuring that they will keep the young German phenom under their control as he enters his prime.

Aside from Adam Hlozek, a promising striker from the Czech league who was also on BVB’s shortlist, Leverkusen haven’t made any major acquisitions this summer. Normally, that would be considered a bad thing. However, I don’t think they needed too many new arrivals to continue their trend of improvement. They just needed to keep their core of talented young player intact, allowing them all to take another step towards the primes of their careers. Despite more than a few transfer motions from within Germany and abroad, they appear to have done that.

As a result, Seoane has a fairly deep pool of talent at his disposal. This is a rough approximation of the club’s depth chart, which I present with the caveat that the lineup’s exact positioning will vary depending upon which players take to the pitch on any given match day, and upon which formation Seoane eventually chooses:

That’s a pretty solid lineup! Patrik Schick and Moussa Diaby were some of the best offensive players in the Bundesliga last year. Florian Wirtz had a massive breakout season last year and is poised to be one of the best midfielders in the league this year. Seoane also has a plethora of options in central midfield between Aranguiz, Palacios, Andrich, and Demirbay, and he has three very capable center backs with Tapsoba, Tah, and Kossounou.

As strong as the above lineup appears to be, if I were a betting man, I would still be very hesitant to place money on any club other than Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund to win the Bundesliga this season. However, I think Die Werkself will be a very dangerous opponent this season. I could absolutely see them beating either Bayern or BVB in a one-off Bundesliga match, and I would not be surprised to see them beat out Leipzig to third place once again.