Starting out the season with a young squad and an inexperienced managerial duo Bayer Leverkusen have defied expectations thus far in the 2012-2013 Bundesliga season, sitting second in the league table above the likes of Dortmund and Schalke and just three wins away from equaling Bayern at the top. THT analyzes the success behind their phenomenal campaign thus far.

Patrons at the Bay Arena expected much from their beloved team in the 2010-2011 campaign considering they had the services of Ballack, Adler, Friedrich, Vidal and the strike force of Helmes, Derdiyok and KieAYling under the shrewd guidance of veteran coach Jupp Heynckes. Their excellent campaign that season was overshadowed by Jurgen Kloppai??i??s Dortmund who took the league by storm with his young enterprising squad. Leverkusen finished runners-up that season giving their fans new hope and a pathway to forget the ghosts of 2002.

But what fans were treated to the following season was a frustrating start which saw Leverkusen struggle to live up to the expectations and which eventually resulted in newly installed manager Robin Dutt getting the sack and the loss of some key players . Out went Dutt and in his place came in youth coach Sascha Lewandowski and ex-player Sami HyypiAi??, the duo seen as caretakers until the end of the season. However a run of 6 games undefeated under the ai???odd coupleai??i?? towards the end of the season saw Leverkusen leap frog to the automatic Europa League qualification spot as they finished a respectable fifth in the league table.

The remarkable turnaround orchestrated by HyypiAi?? and Lewandowski at the end of last season earned them permanent contracts and the very first task they had to handle, even before the campaign began was to keep hold of their stars. The club lost their captain in Adler to Hamburg and ex-National team captain Michael Ballack decided to call it a day. Swiss duo of midfielder Barnetta and forward Derdiyok decided to ply their trades at domestic rivals and defender Corluka could not be convinced to extend his stay. The club though did well to hold on to emerging wingers AndrAi?? SchA?rrle and Sidney Sam and young influential midfielder Lars Bender who had impressed everyone with his performance at right back for Germany in the Euroai??i??s. Fresh replacements brought in were in the form of talent rather than experience giving everyone the impression that this was a season of rebuilding, a transition period and there was much work to be done yet.

The Tactics

Jupp Heynckes when he took over in the summer of 2010 was blessed with a squad which had three excellent forwards in Helmes, Derdiyok and long serving KieAYling. The arrival of Ballack strengthened the midfield and in the company of Rolfes and Vidal made up a midfield which had a perfect balance in creativity, attack and defense. Heynckes opted for a 4-4-2 or what can be called a variation of 4-2-3-1 with Helmes/Derdiyok and KieAYling leading the attack flanked by Barnetta/Augusto and Sam. The brilliance of Vidal, Ballack, Rolfes and the then emerging Bender were well complemented by the wingers and forwards in their successful 2010-2011 campaign.

Injuries in the middle of the park and the sale of Vidal and Helmes forced Heynckes and then Dutt, the following season, to opt for a rigid 4-2-3-1 with KieAYling/Derdiyok leading the attack supported by Augusto, Sam, right back Castro and later SchA?rrle. The move didnai??i??t really click for Duttai??i??s team and even though Leverkusen had SchA?rrle and Sam to thank for some excellent wing play, the lack of penetration and creativity and an overall stability from the middle was quite evident from the midfield of Augusto, the ageing Ballack, young Bender and defense minded Rolfes. Leverkusenai??i??s problems were further compounded by HyypiAi??ai??i??s retirement and the back four of Friedrich, Toprak, Schwaab, Castro and Reinartz struggled to come to terms with this loss. The 4-2-3-1 system requires the full backs to play a big role in building attacks and Castro, Kadlec and co did so handsomely for Duttai??i??s team. But in doing so left their relatively slow center backs vulnerable to counters.

The HyypiAi??-Lewandowski combo when handed over the reins hit the nail on the problem by adapting to playing styles of their squad.

The 4-3-3 and unlocking Castro

HyypiAi?? and Lewandowski shifted to a 4-3-3 which during the course of a game really turns to a 4-3-2-1. Gonzalo Castro, a full back by nature who over the years has turned up at both right and left back for Leverkusen is more known for his blistering pace and dribbling qualities. His ability to pick out players and to simply be at the right place at the right time was noted by Dutt who used him as a midfielder or a wing-back during his time. The managerial duo took his abilities one step further by starting Castro higher up the pitch as a winger/attacking midfielder. The creativity and vision brought about by Castro/Sam and SchA?rrle playing behind the goal hungry KieAYling has proved to be the driving force for much of Leverkusenai??i??s success this season. Castro has notched up 8 goals this season in 21 appearances while his partner in crime, Schurrle, has 5 in 23 appearances. Most importantly both have had assists in KieAYlingai??i??s 13 goals so far.

The midfield trio of Rolfes, Bender and Reinartz/Hegeler playing behind the attacking three hold themselves back, supporting the attack, cleaning up loose balls and keeping the opposition playmakers busy, thereby allowing fullbacks Daniel Carvajal and Hajime Hosogai to gallop up the pitch.

When on the offensive, either Bender or Rolfes move back to one of the full back positions and the other midfielder slots himself between the center backs. The front three tend to be close together when not in possession thus giving a flat 4-3-3 and more importantly a sense of stability and compactness. The addition of young Philipp Wollscheid at the heart of the defense partnering Toprak has also led to much more pace at the back.

Leverkusen

HyypiAi?? and Lewandowski have in their own ingenious way transformed this young and talented team into an exciting if not title challenging one. Given more resources and maybe the addition of a playmaker in midfield, Bayer Leverkusen arenai??i??t very far away from changing that irksome title of Neverkusen.

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2 Responses to “Bayer Leverkusen – No More Neverkusen”

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  1. Jimson says:

    Wow, you got quite a few facts completely wrong.

    But you get the main message across.