This was supposed to be the make-or-break match that decided Gerardo Seoane’s future at the club, but Leverkusen reacted straight after the midweek Champions League loss at Porto and fired the Swiss coach. So, instead Saturday will see Xabi Alonso take charge of the Werkself for the first time after being installed as successor to Seoane.
It is a bold move from Leverkusen with the Spaniard having no topflight experience as a coach. What he lacks though is more than made up for in terms of playing experience with a World Cup, a Champions League and three Bundesliga titles under his belt from his time at Bayern Munich.
He knows the Bundesliga, but getting a floundering Bayer Leverkusen back afloat will be a big challenge and completely different from what he has experienced at Real Sociedad II in the Spanish Segunda Liga B. The only way is up for Bayer (unless they drop below Bochum) sitting as they do in 17th place, but he faces a tough first game with Schalke arriving at the Bay Arena in need of points themselves.
The Königsblauen have found life tough back in the Bundesliga and unlike Werder Bremen do not have the points bounty that they would have liked by this stage with just six from the opening eight games. Two consecutive defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Augsburg mean the need to avoid defeat is high against Leverkusen.
Whether they will face a Werkself side on a positive bounce following Xabi Alonso’s hiring, or whether they can take advantage of a downcast side remains to be seen.
It remains to be seen what formation and personnel new coach Alonso will opt for against Schalke. If he doesn’t go with the 4-3-3 as the line-up below suggests, a 3-4-2-1 could be an option. The only new injury doubt is Sardar Azmoun, who it has been revealed will be out for 6-8 weeks with a muscle tear sustained pre-match versus Porto.
Possible line-up: Hradecky, Frimpong, Tah, Tapsoba, Bakker, Aranguiz, Andrich, Demirbay, Diaby, Hudson-Odoi, Schick
The injuries picked up last week against Augsburg will hamper the choice of line-up available to Frank Kramer. Dutch centreback Sepp van den Berg’s serious ankle injury will keep him out until 2023, while Rodrigo’s metatarsal fracture will keep him out for the foreseeable future. With just one striker Sebastian Polter will have to be content with a place on the bench.
Possible line-up: Schwolow, Brunner, Greiml, Yoshida, Ouwejan, Krauß, Flick, Bülter, Drexler, Mohr, Terodde
What they’re saying:
Xabi Alonso: “It’s now about to get to know the players, feeling the atmosphere and talking to the team. I don’t look too far into the future. I look from game to game, the next one is always the most important.
“I felt that as a coach I first had to go through a process to become good. The steps in youth at Real Madrid and then at Real Sociedad were important. Now it’s time for me to take over a big team.
“It’s a great honour for me to be here. I’m happy to manage the #Bayer04 team. It’s a big project at a big club with a strong team.”
Frank Kramer: “Sunday was disappointing, then there were the two injuries. These are slaps in the face that have to be taken. You have to shake off and the boys have done that. Our full focus is on Leverkusen.
“It’s different, of course [the team talk after the change in trainer], because we’ve looked at their games and drawn conclusions. It’s important to stay true to yourself and be clear about what you want.
“As is well known, Kaminski, Cissé, van den Berg and Zalazar are out. Cedric Brunner was able to take part in the entire training program this week and we assume that he will be available to us again.”
04.10.22 Porto (a) 0-2 L (Champions League)
30.09.22 Bayern Munich (a) 4-0 L (Bundesliga)
17.09.22 Werder Bremen (h) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
13.09.22 Atletico Madrid (h) 2-0 W (Champions League)
10.09.22 Hertha Berlin (a) 2-2 D (Bundesliga)
02.10.22 Augsburg (h) 2-3 L (Bundesliga)
17.09.22 Borussia Dortmund (a) 1-0 L (Bundesliga)
10.09.22 VfL Bochum (h) 3-1 W (Bundesliga)
03.09.22 VfB Stuttgart (a) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
27.08.22 Union Berlin (h) 1-6 L (Bundesliga)
Due to Schalke’s season in the second tier the last time the two sides met at the Bay Arena was back on matchday 27 of the 2020-21 season. The home side emerged as 2-1 victors with goals from Lucas Alario in the first half and Patrik Schick in the second putting them on the way to a routine win. It was a debut win for Hannes Wolf who had been brought in to replace Peter Bosz. Klass Jan Huntelaar pulled one back with nine minutes left, but the three points went Leverkusen’s way.
Players to watch:
The players will want to impress their new coach and Moussa Diaby could be one to finally explode into the kind of form he showed last season. Things just haven’t happened thus far for the tricky and speedy winger with a constant change in positions. Hopefully new broom will provide a platform for the Frenchman to perform to his full ability.
Simon Terodde is going to face a Leverkusen defence low on confidence and possibly in a new formation on Saturday and it will be his task to make the most of the chances that come his way, unsettle the back three/ four and test Lukas Hradecky, who looks increasingly error prone.