Preview: FC Bayern – Bayer 04 Leverkusen

The wait is finally over. Bundesliga football returns this weekend. On Friday evening, FC Bayern are opening the 55th Bundesliga season against Leverkusen. Author: Justin • Translator: Michael

For the visitors, things are still slightly unclear ahead of the upcoming season. Leverkusen parted ways with coach Roger Schmidt who was unable to make the next step to the top in the past years. His system was too rigid, his behavior too stubborn. The new solution for the task of getting Bayer 04 back to the top is supposed to be Heiko Herrlich.

Scouting report

The path to that goal is long, however. According to sources from around the club, the atmosphere within the team wasn’t good under Schmidt. The team wasn’t a unit anymore and hardly anyone was getting behind the manager’s system, thus forcing the club to make a change.

Herrlich is tasked with bringing back the team spirit and making sure Leverkusen are playing as a compact unit. The first few statements from the manager in pre-season were going in that direction, too.

Tactically the situation is supposed to change as well. Schmidt’s one-way system is said to become more flexible. In Regensburg, Herrlich varied between several formations and adjusted them throughout the game.

So far in pre-season, he usually deployed a 4-4-2 against the ball which can quickly change into a 4-2-3-1 in transition. Nothing special really. Sometimes you don’t need anything special to get back to old ways, though.

Herrlich wants to stabilise. He hasn’t been able to do this yet. Leverkusen had a big wing-focus in pre-season. Both full-backs pushed up pretty far up the pitch and the coverage in the centre and beyond was questionable. There was also a lack of support from the centre at times, which led to several simple losses of possession on the wing.

Leverkusen had to deal with a lot of counter-attacks from opponents, many of them ended in conceding a goal. In possession, the support and the centre are still big issues. While Kampl is trying his best to fill the gaps, the sheer lack of occupation of space in midfield prohibits the team from finding vertical success in their ball circulation.

Herrlich will be judged upon these fundamental issues and their development over the course of the season. The transfer policy wasn’t overly beneficial for the manager. Leverkusen had one of the most flexible and widest squads in the league over the past two years but there’s not much left anymore.

Even if Schmidt barely utilised the flexibility of the different player profiles, the team’s potential was huge. Chicharito, Calhanoglu, Toprak and da Costa are definitely the most prominent departures. The most notable signing was Sven Bender. Simply put, the transfer window hasn’t been overly promising so far.

It’s worth noting that Leverkusen’s squad is still good. Prospects like Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz and Benjamin Henrichs will have to step up now. Players like Karim Bellarabi or Kevin Kampl have the opportunity to lead their team out of a slump and potentially make a big step forward themselves.

Heiko Herrlich and Bayer Leverkusen have a lot of problems to solve before they’ll return back to the top of the Bundesliga. Currently it seems unlikely this will happen this season, even if the squad is absolutely capable of doing just that.

What can FC Bayern expect?

However, what does this mean for the record champions at the weekend? Bascially nothing, because for such teams there’s not a better time to play against FC Bayern than now. Munich had a bumpy pre-season, too.

Leverkusen will probably go with a midfield-press which might not be as high and sudden as the one from previous years but still aggressive. If Leverkusen want to get anything from this match, they’ll have to pressure Bayern’s midfield without leaving too many gaps in their formation.

FC Bayern have had their biggest problems there lately. A lot will depend on how well the champions can play through the pressure and which solutions the team is offering to the player in possession.

If Bayern are losing possession too often and thus allowing many counter-attacks from Leverkusen, it will be a very tough season opener. In the Supercup as well as the cup game against Chemnitz the record champion looked best when Rudy was on the pitch and Vidal sitting on the bench.

Especially once Thiago is back, this could ignite a proper competition for this position. Rudy boasts with a big football brain, he can pull the strings in Bayern’s build-up play and has shown outstanding pressing resistance so far. He’d be a relief for Thiago. All of the aforementioned factors Vidal doesn’t possess in deeper areas of the pitch. If the former Hoffenheim player is able to affirm first impressions, the signing of the summer from Bayern might be someone they’ve signed on a free transfer.

Bayern’s right side consisting of Kimmich, Rudy, Coman and Thomas Müller was very impressive in Chemnitz. The combination for the 3-0 shows how much potential this formation has. Whereby Tolisso was also directly involved and shouldn’t go unmentioned. Niklas Süle completed this kind of network in the cup game, which stole the show compared to the more experienced players on the opposite side.

Of course, one can argue that it was only Chemnitz but even in Dortmund there were flashes of synergy between Rudy, Kimmich, Tolisso and Müller. This certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Ancelotti. In case some established players can’t improve throughout the season, the Italian won’t have a choice but to give the youth a chance.

Against Chemnitzer FC the right side of the record champion impressed. It consisted of Süle, Kimmich, Rudy, Coman, Tolisso and often Thomas Müller (not in the picture).
(Foto: Ronny Hartmann / Bongarts / Getty Images)

This starting position shows that Bayern have done well this transfer window. Not everything went smoothly but especially in midfield the record champion is set up superbly.

Leverkusen is the first proper test for the Ancelotti eleven. Three points in the season opener are obviously important, but it’ll be more important to see Bayern’s central line-up and how well they’ll do.

On the highest level, one of the biggest differences to Real Madrid was that Bayern didn’t have enough control in the centre with and without the ball. Games are won there and it’s a decisive factor for a team being able to win the Champions League or not.

Facts and stats

  • At home FC Bayern won 32 out of 41 games against Bayer Leverkusen. Only three clashes went to the visitors, six ended as a draw. The last time that Leverkusen managed to win in the Allianz Arena was in 2012.
  • As the defending champions, Bayern have managed to stay unbeaten nine times in their season opener. Eight wins and a 2-2 draw against HSV (2008).
  • Robert Lewandowski has only managed to score 2 goals in 13 games against Leverkusen. He has however beaten them eight times with his teams.
  • In Germany, you can watch the game live on TV on Friday (ZDF) or on the internet (via ZDF’s livestream for free or with a paid subscription on the Eurosport Player). Kick-off is at 8:30pm CEST.
  • Experts’ predictions

    In this section, an external expert will give their opinion on the game in a couple of sentences and predict the end result. A correct prediction earns them three points, a correct tendency (win, draw, loss) one point. This will be compared to a second prediction, made by Miasanrot’s editorial team. At the end of the season, we will see whether the external experts gained more points than the Miasanrot team.

    Last week, Jan (4-1) and our expert Markus Herwig (3-1) each scored a point. Overall the experts are up 1-2. For the Leverkusen game Kevin Scheuren from “meinsportradio.de” and Tobi from our editorial team will go head-to-head.

    Kevin Scheuren: When is it best to beat FC Bayern Munich? Exactly, on the first few matchdays or ahead of a Champions League semi-final. It will be an open game and not as easy as previous season openers for Bayern. Bayer 04 are ready to hit the ground running and will win 3-2 in Munich.

    Tobi: Against a Leverkusen side that is yet to be established, FC Bayern will deliver a solid performance. Including the usual slump mid-game and conceding a marvellous goal. Munich will win 3-1.



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