In a two-horse race, one horse is going to finish with its nose ahead, while the other will have run a good race but leave disappointed. Using that analogy in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen were the racehorse that lost out. In the race for fourth spot and a Champions League spot, it was the Foals from Mönchengladbach, who were smiling at the finishing post.
Leverkusen were very much the bridesmaid this season missing out on a top four finish and losing in the DFB Pokal final to Bayern. At the time of writing they are still in the Europa League, but the underlying feeling at the end of the regular Bundesliga season is one of disappointment at the Bay Arena.
In the end the Werkself fell short by three points, but the root cause of their ultimate frustration can be found in the Hinrunde where several key players were playing below their potential and silly points were dropped. It all began brightly with opening wins over Paderborn and Fortuna Düsseldorf, while a point was gained against Hoffenheim. Matchday 4 however saw the team dismantled by Borussia Dortmund and the first blow was delivered. It also wasn’t the happiest of returns for Peter Bosz to his ex-club.
The pattern then repeated itself with successive wins over Union Berlin and Augsburg, a point against RB Leipzig before suffering a second defeat away to Eintracht Frankfurt. Leverkusen didn’t look the same team that had been so brilliant at the end of the 2018-29 Rückrunde. Kai Havertz wasn’t reaching the levels he had shown and Kerem Demirbay (Julian Brandt’s replacement) was not settling in as quickly as had been hoped.
Matchday 10 brought a home loss to Mönchengladbach, but then Leverkusen gave themselves a real shot in the arm by beating Bayern at the Allianz Arena. Two goals from Leon Bailey earned an unlikely victory with the home side just not able to turn their dominance into goals. There were however two unnecessary defeats to Köln and Hertha Berlin before the Winterpause.
Leverkusen went into the Christmas break in sixth, but just two points behind Dortmund in fourth. At this stage Borussia Mönchengladbach were seven points ahead.
The Rückrunde started on a more positive note with six wins out of eight including a great 4-3 win over Dortmund and a 4-0 victory against Frankfurt. By the time the corona virus lockdown was put into effect, they were still just two points off fourth place Gladbach and the race for the Champions League was put on hold.
Wins against Werder and more crucially Gladbach after the restart looked to have put Peter Bosz’s side in pole position, but then came a loss to Wolfsburg, a 4-2 home defeat to Bayern and a just a point at struggling Schalke. Revenge was gained over Köln, but then came the sucker punch on matchday 33 from bogey team Hertha. A 2-0 defeat at the Olympiastadion combined with Mönchengladbach beating Paderborn and fourth place was out of their control. The final weekend saw the Foals beat Hertha meaning Leverkusen were consigned to the Europa League rather than the Champions League next season.
The seven-goal thriller which saw the Werkself overcome Dortmund on matchday 21 was the stand-out game of the season. Two first half goals from Kevin Volland were cancelled out by Mats Hummels and Emre Can to put it all-square at the break. Raphael Guerreiro gave the visitors a 64th minute lead only for Leon Bailey and Lars Bender to score within a minute of each other to turn the game back in the hosts favour.
Beating Bayern at the Allianz Arena in the Hinrunde was another highlight, albeit on that seemed more than a little fortunate. The 4-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt on matchday 25 was also impressive as was the 3-1 Geisterspiel win over Mönchengladbach. Player-wise the arrival of 17-year-old Florian Wirtz on the scene provided a note of positivity for the club going forward.
BVB may have provided a highlight, but the Schwarzgelben also inflicted one of the lowlights when they beat Bayer 4-0 at the Signal Iduna Park on matchday 4. Both losses to Hertha Berlin came at crucial points in the season and ultimately played a huge part in Leverkusen missing out on fourth spot.
The 4-1 home defeat to VfL Wolfsburg on matchday 28 was damaging, while the Cup final defeat to Bayern just added insult to the injury of being pipped by Gladbach into fourth.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 19-6-9, 63 points (1.85 per game), 5th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 31 points (9-4-4) Away Record: 32 points (10-2-5)
Goals: 61 (1.79 per game), Goals Against: 44 (1.29 per game), Diff: 17
xG: 56.8, xGA: 45.7, Diff: 11.1
61 goals were scored giving them an average of 1.85 per game. Kai Havertz was the leading scorer with 12 goals, but 10 of them were scored in the Rückrunde indicating how under-par he had been in the first half of the campaign. Of the recognised strikers Kevin Volland scored 10 and provided 7 assists. His season was however interrupted in mid-February following a syndesmotic ligament tear.
Lucas Alario scored 7 in 24 appearances (11 as a starter), while winger Moussa Diaby contributed five goals and five assists. Leon Bailey chipped in with five goals while Karim Bellarabi scored four.
Going purely by Kicker’s ratings, Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky was the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga last season (even with his Pokal final blunder).
Peter Bosz went mainly with a back four throughout the season but did switch to three on certain occasions. Sven Bender was the cornerstone of the defence and was partnered by Jonathan Tah until the arrival of Edmond Tapsoba in January and Tah was marginalised by the hugely impressive centre back. Aleksandar Dragović filled in at times making ten starts.
Lars Bender and Mitchell Weiser competed for the right back berth, while Brazilian Wendell had competition from Daley Sinkgraven on the left. Wendell actually ranked fifth overall in the league for tackles won (50), while Sven Bender ranked sixth overall for interceptions (62) and also clearances (169). The captain also had the second highest pass completion rate in the league (92.8%).
Charles Aranguiz once again showed his importance in the centre of midfield and news that he had signed a new contract at the club came as a real boost to Leverkusen. The Chilean formed a good central partnership with Julian Baumgartlinger allowing the more attack-minded players the freedom to get forward.
Moussa Diaby impressed on the wing with Leon Bailey playing a lesser role. The young Frenchman made 18 starts with the Jamaican starting twelve times. Kerem Demirbay provided five assists and one goal in his first season starting 18 of his 25 matches. Minutes-wise Nadiem Amiri was the second most used midfielder behind Aranguiz playing a total of 1857 minutes.
17-year-old Florian Wirtz was the breakout player for Leverkusen this season making 7 appearances after the corona virus restart and becoming the youngest-ever Bundesliga goal scorer with his goal against Bayern.
To ease the loss of Julian Brandt, Leverkusen spent €32 million on Hoffenheim’s Kerem Demirbay. He struggled at first to produce the performance levels that were required, but towards the end of the season, he began to show that he does have what it takes to fill the Brandt hole.
Spending €15 million on Moussa Diaby now looks an absolute steal after the season the young French attack has enjoyed. Nadiem Amiri also slotted in well following his 9 million arrival from Hoffenheim. Ajax left back Daley Sinkgraven came in for €5 million and made 13 appearances (11 as a starter).
But perhaps the best signing made was the €18 million transfer of defender Edmond Tapsoba from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes. He impressed instantly and his performances made it impossible for Peter Bosz to drop him- much to the detriment of Jonathan Tah. The €21million signing of midfielder Exequiel Palacios from River Plate is very much one for the future.
Player of the Season
Despite not hitting the heights in the first half of the season, Havertz hit top form in the Rückrunde and ended the season with 12 goals and 6 assists. He also showed his versatility with Peter Bosz fielding him as the main striker in some games.
Sadly that may be the last we see of him in the Bundesliga as his world-class talent combined with his desire to move to the next stage of his career means that he will in all likelihood be playing in the Premier League next season with Chelsea an early contender for his signature.
Good, but not quite good enough. One place higher and a Frankfurt-like display in the DFB Pokal final and we would be talking about this season as being an outright A grade. Pipped by Mönchengladbach into fourth takes the edge off the campaign, but there were still plenty of positives. The task now (as it was last season) is to find a way to cope with the loss of one of their major talents.