The downfall of Bayer Leverkusen and why they need a big-name manager
When people think of Bayer Leverkusen, they think of one of the most popular teams behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but the illustrious club who finished runners-up in the 2002 Champions League final now look set to miss out on Europe altogether next season.
It’s been five years since the Bundesliga club last failed to qualify for the Champions League, but they had the Europa League to fall back on. After going through one manager this season, Leverkusen now find themselves six points behind a European place, whilst they are just as close to the fateful relegation play-off. Whilst it’s doable, qualifying for Europe is a huge task for Tayfun Korkut in a team who have been inconsistent in 2017.
Heading into the 2016/17 season, their potential campaign looked to be a promising one for Leverkusen and their fans. Schmidt had just guided the club to their first top three finish since 2012 whilst implementing a high pressing style of play, like that of Borussia Dortmund’s famous ‘Gegenpressing’ under Jürgen Klopp.
With just five away wins this season, you really would expect more from this Leverkusen side, even though they boast one of the youngest average ages in the Bundesliga this year. 42 goals in 28 league games suggest they can score plenty of goals this season, but it’s at the back where the problems lay.
Arriving from Dynamo Kyiv was Aleksandar Dragović for an €18 million fee. A steep fee, but a player with plenty of potential although a central defender that has looked out of his depth this season. With Jonathan Tah injured, the Austria international has often partnered Ömer Toprak and whilst a good defence on paper, it just hasn’t worked for Leverkusen.
Likewise, with Benjamin Henrichs and Wendell in the full-back positions. Whilst both are great going forward, perhaps they’d make better wingers than they do full-backs – the duo have often been caught napping, allowing opposition teams to play through the channels.
Prior to the Christmas break, Javier Hernandez failed to recreate the form he did in his first season, whilst Leverkusen are in dire need of a prolific striker, given Stefan Kießling isn’t getting any younger.
What needs to happen
Tayfun Korkut has a contract until the end of season, whilst it’s looking likely that he won’t be extending that stay. And rightly so. The former Hannover and Kaiserslautern head coach was just a stop-gap for the remaining fixtures, whilst he hasn’t really got Leverkusen performing to a level that he deserves a new contract.
Leverkusen arguably haven’t had a ‘world class’ coach since Jupp Heynckes back in 2009. Ironically, the 2009/10 season saw Leverkusen finish runners-up in the Bundesliga behind Borussia Dortmund. Since his departure for a return to Bayern in 2011, Leverkusen have gone through Robin Dutt, Sami Hyypiä, Sascha Lewandowski and Roger Schmidt in six years. Now, it’s key that sporting director and club legend Völler brings in a manager that can also bring stability into the club – something with ideas and a track record.
We’ve seen what a change in manager can do to Borussia Mönchengladbach under Dieter Hecking, but ideally, they need someone with a higher reputation. Leverkusen once were Germany’s European club, reaching the 2002 Champions League final whilst they had the likes of Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville & Co. playing for them. Once again, they need to find that core spine at the club.
Could they compete next season?
If they bring in a manager of Louis van Gaal’s stature, then perhaps. Firstly, they need to make sure they keep hold of Julian Brandt, whom Bayern Munich have been sniffing around. The youngster broke Dieter Müller’s record of scoring in six consecutive Bundesliga fixtures last season, whilst he is the lynchpin in the current Leverkusen setup.
Rudi Völler and his youth coaches have also done a good job in bringing in young players, whilst bringing ones through already in the academy. This season we’ve seen 17-year-old Kai Havertz make his debut, whilst he’s already played in the Champions League gaining plaudits from fans and coaches from various teams.
In the Leverkusen squad are Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Henrichs – two players who could arguably form two of Germany’s back four in years to come. If Völler can keep those four players whilst adding experience to the starting XI over summer, then there’s no reason as to why they couldn’t finish in the top three once again – something they managed to do last season under Schmidt.