After enjoying the best Rückrunde in the club’s history and leading the Werkself into this season’s Champions League, Gerardo Seoane now finds himself out of a job after Bayer Leverkusen suffered their worst start to a Bundesliga season in 40 years. What went wrong for the Swiss coach? How did he go from hero to zero in such a short space of time?
Leverkusen took 36 points in the second half of last season (the best in the league) to finish third in the table after winning eleven of their seventeen matches and losing just three. There was a 5-2 away win at Borussia Dortmund, a 5-1 at Augsburg, and a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena to make up for the 5-1 defeat Bayern inflicted upon them on matchday 8.
It was a highly successful first year for Swiss coach Gerardo Seoane, who despite losing Florian Wirtz to injury in April and having a number of other absentees to cope with, was a positive change to the football seen under Peter Bosz. He found tactical solutions to problems and looked to have built a unified squad built on attacking football.
This season had many predicting more of the same and Bayer were widely tipped to join Dortmund and RB Leipzig as Bundesliga title challengers. A first-round loss to minnows Elversberg in the DFB Pokal was an ominous start, but then came four losses in their first five matches as well as a Champions League defeat in Belgium to Brugge. A 3-0 win at Mainz and a surprise win over Atletico in Europe were rare bright spots in an otherwise abject start to the season.
17th place in the Bundesliga after eight games and a desolate 4-0 defeat to Bayern Munich led CEO Fernando Carro to issue an unofficial ultimatum to Seoane- beat Schalke on matchday 9 or you are done! However, the cord was pulled before that following a 2-0 loss to Porto in midweek and Xabi Alonso has been brought in.
So, what has caused such a dramatic crash? Where did it all go wrong for Seoane?
1. Schick don’t click
Last season Czech striker Patrik Schick was scoring goals for fun and everything he hit seemed to end up in the back of the net. 24 goals in 27 appearances saw him second only to the superhuman Robert Lewandowski in the scoring charts (he was two ahead of Erling Haaland).
By no means the sole cause of Leverkusen’s woes this season, but he has ‘only’ scored twice in eight games but has missed a host of chances that last season he would have scored with his eyes closed. The killer instinct has deserted him, and Bayer have suffered as a result.
2. No team work to make the dream work
For all the comments from the players saying they were behind Gerardo Seoane and the club that he still had the backing and respect of the dressing room, something has been seriously amiss with the players’ attitudes this season.
Both Kerem Demirbay and Robert Andrich admitted as much after the Bayern defeat with Demirbay saying, “Everyone has to ask themselves whether they have given everything and whether they can still do more. I hope that everyone is honest with themselves. Regardless of that, we as a team have to do a lot more.
“There’s a lot of quality in the squad, but football is everyday business, and we don’t have any quality at the moment. We’re losing games in a way that’s brutal.
A theory was doing the rounds that language issues could be at the heart of the communication problem and a reason for a lack of unity in the squad. Seoane is fluent in six languages and chose to communicate with the players in the mother tongue. A story in Bild claimed this was causing headaches and players were struggling to bond without the ability to fully understand each other, as many players stuck within their own sub-groups.
Whatever the reason, there have been obvious issues with team unity this season that were not evident last season.
3. Individual errors
When your normally reliable goalkeeper produces a howler, you usually put it down as a one-off aberration. However, Lukas Hradecky has been making a habit of errors this season and realistically can be said to have directly led to four goals. His terrible error against Brugge where he carried the ball over the line started things.
Against Werder Bremen he was at fault for the equaliser and against Bayern he gifted Thomas Müller the fourth as was also at fault for Jamal Musiala’s goal earlier on. Defenders need confidence in their keeper and with the regular mistakes from the Finn, this may have been eroded. It hasn’t just been the goalkeeper with Seoane having to deal with individual errors that you just can’t compensate for with tactics or training.
4. Negative cycle
Sometimes one or two negative results start to breed a negative atmosphere and the results start to play on players’ minds and this in turn results in poorer performance levels. The pressure increases and you either stand up and deal with it or you retreat into further negative thinking and therefore more negative results.
This appears to be the cycle at the Bay Arena and trainer Gerardo Seoane has not been able to break the cycle. There was almost an air of inevitability over the midweek loss to Porto with Patrik Schick’s penalty miss in the first half and then the Portuguese side’s two goals as Leverkusen lost mental energy.
The loss to Bayern was no big shock either, although perhaps the manner was. The club ultimately decided that Seoane was not going to be able to stop the rot and a change was needed even before the original ultimatum of the Schalke game.
Ultimately it is the players who perform (or don’t perform) on the pitch, but it is the coach who pays the price with his job when results don’t go their way. The stark descent from the best team in last season’s Rückrunde, to 17th place after eight games this season has been a shock and Seoane is the one to pay the heavy price.
Over to you Xabi Alonso.