With a strong finish to last season and a potentially title winning start this season, many were wondering whether Bayer Leverkusen could finally challenge for the Bundesliga. However, a loss to bottom side TSV Eintracht Braunschweig has firmly brought into focus the problems which will stop them from making a title tilt.

 

Bayer Leverkusen Enter A Period Of Difficulty

KieAYling’s fitness holds the key (Source: wikipedia)

Bayer Leverkusen have never won the German domestic championship in their 109 year old history and it seems that their wait is going to be extended by another year at least. Following the loss to Braunschweig, Sami Hyypiaai??i??s team find themselves 4 points behind table topping Bayern Munich. While this gap is not insurmountable, what will prove to be more difficult for Hyypia is the challenge of competing on multiple fronts.

It must be remembered that when Leverkusen were making that dream run at the end of last season they were already eliminated from the Europa League and the DFB Pokal, and could concentrate all their energies on the Bundesliga. This time however, Hyypia knows that he will have to take Europe more seriously because the Champions League has far more to offer financially than the Europa League.

This brings us to the loss against Braunschweig, which can be partly attributed to Hyypia wanting to rest a few players for the crucial away tie against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek. The former Liverpool legend knows that he cannot afford to lose that game, with a tough test against Manchester United and a tricky away tie against Real Sociedad to follow. Shakhtar meanwhile have a relatively winnable tie against Sociedad on matchday 6.

While clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Bayern can rest a few players and get away with it, Leverkusen cannot afford that kind of a luxury. Die Werkself, as Leverkusen are popularly known, made only one high profile addition in the summer when they acquired Heung-Min Son from Hamburger SV. While Hyypia sounded confident in pre-season about the depth in his squad, he must now be having reservations on whether his side will have enough in their tanks to last out this season.

Against Braunschweig the attacking trio of Stefan Kiessling, Sidney Sam and Son were left on the bench and this had a huge effect on Leverkusenai??i??s potency in the final third. Eren Derdiyok and Robbie Kruse started in their stead and failed to create anything of note in the first half. Even when Kiessling and Sam were brought on they failed to make too much of a difference and watched helplessly as Braunschweig front man Dominick Kumbela scored a comical goal late in the match.

This game highlighted another problem that Hyypia faces ai??i?? Leverkusen still do not have a replacement for Kiessling. While Sam has been immense this season with 11 goals and 6 assists in all competitions, he is primarily a winger and is very similar to Arjen Robben in his style of play. If Kiessling was to get injured at any point during the course of this season Die Werkself would be in serious danger of falling apart. While Son and Kruse are capable understudies, it still remains to be seen whether they can take up the mantle of a lone striker in the absence of Kiessling.

It therefore, makes sense for Hyypia to get atleast one reinforcement during the January transfer window. For that to happen the former Finland international will first and foremost like to change the mentality that exists around his squad – that qualification for Europe is the only aim. If Leverkusen are to shed the tag of Neverkusen then they will have to start winning trophies, something which they have not done since 1993, when they won the DFB-Pokal. He has to drive this point across to the board of directors and hope that they realize, that the only way by which Leverkusen can consistently qualify for the knock out rounds of the Champions League is through investment in the squad.

The one thing though that Leverkusen have in their favour is the winter break and Hyypia will hope that they do not lose further ground until then. But that is easier said than done, as in addition to the tough Champions League fixtures, they also have to go to Bremen and Dortmund. The Finn will now want his players to display the same tenacity which they showed against the mighty Bayern earlier in the season. Anything less than that will again force Die Werkself to fend off challengers for the Champions League places.

The important thing for Hyypia is to find the right balance between resting players and not losing form and concentration as this season enters the crucial middle period. If he is successful then the possibility of a favourable knock out draw in the Champions League and a late run in the Bundesliga awaits. If however, the stability is not found, then another season of disappointment is staring in the face of this team from West Germany.

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