Preview: FC Bayern – Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Justin Separator September 14, 2018

In October 2012, Leverkusen managed their last victory in Munich. But the 2:1 was already an exception at that time. Bayer’s record is 33 defeats, 6 draws and just 3 wins in Munich.

The hopes for a successful weekend didn’t get any better when you look at how the season started. A narrow 1-0 victory in Pforzheim was followed by two clear defeats against Gladbach and Wolfsburg. They have already conceded five goals in the Bundesliga.

During the international break the first discussions with the coaches took place among the fans. His critics have said that while he is a great guy, he lacks experience tactically and interpersonally. The opponents say that you should just wait for the moment and give him a vote of confidence after a good previous season.

Völler was rather annoyed by the external criticism of the coach. Heiko Herrlich, on the other hand, shows virtues that have brought him far in the last season. He radiates calm on and off the pitch. Peace that threatens to be lost in Leverkusen.

What is Leverkusen’s aspiration?

In Leverkusen there is once again no agreement as to what this club is actually capable of. On the one hand, Rudi Völler is someone who rarely makes ambitious statements in public. For example, Bayern and Dortmund would be too strong. Achieving the Champions League is one goal, but the Europa League should at least be one. After all, other clubs in Germany also have ambitions.

This can certainly be described as realism. But it can also be seen as the dilemma in which Bayer has found itself for many years. Where are the aspirations? What does this club want to achieve? What does it stand for? And has there been any development?

If teams like Gladbach or Hertha are the grey mice of the league, Leverkusen is the colorless top team in Germany. That’s the other side of the coin. The club leadership, and Rudi Völler is one of them, must be highly credited for being able to hold on to their key players. But how will that work in the future if the Champions League is not at least formulated as a goal and achieved?

Young players are burning for a title with the Werkself. But how long will players like Brandt last if ambitions don’t rise?

After all, the squad’s self-confidence is high. Even after two defeats, Brandt still talks publicly about the fact that titles with this team are a possibility. And yet the feeling remains that Leverkusen are not daring to finally take a courageous step forward.

For years, Bayer was a constant participant in the Champions League. Even then, many fans were missing the decisive step. Often it’s nuances that determine success or failure. Leverkusen usually failed in the last few steps to win a title.

How is that going to change if no one in the club is living up to this unconditional will to win? That’s the core of a criticism that feels like it’ s being repeated year after year. Völler, too, is no longer immune to these criticisms. There have even been some voices demanding his expulsion.

But now a very difficult task awaits the Werkself in Munich. If the team loses this game as well, things could become restless in Leverkusen. Or maybe Heiko Herrlich’s calmness will pay off, as he is a pleasant counterpart to Rudi Völler in public.

For coach Heiko Herrlich there are important weeks ahead.
(Photo: Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Concentrating on the next step

In Munich we are used to unrest. But Niko Kovač is someone who can quickly eliminate these disturbing factors. Robben is upset? Ribéry too? What about James? The Bayern coach smiles briefly and once again makes it clear to the journalists how important each individual player is. You believe him. Because at the moment he has been successful. And because he’s such a smart guy.

For Kovač, it’s not just about a good result against Leverkusen. He wants to see his team take the next step. Step by step he wants the team to develop and implement his ideas.

The trainer’s clearly recognizable touch is perhaps what reassures Bayern fans the most at the moment. Positional play tailored to the opponent, good half-space line-up, increasingly better passing play, high and variable pressing – Kovač has not reinvented the wheel, but is noticeably tightening a few screws.

Against Leverkusen, the strengths in the half-space could be a suitable weapon. The Werkself was very susceptible there in the first two games. The two switching moments were especially difficult for them. When the ball was lost, the outside players didn’t always work actively enough backwards; when the ball was won, there were problems getting speed into the attacks. The midfield cannot combine offense and defense. This often results in Bayer losing compactness, which will be urgently needed in Munich.

Herrlich has not yet found a remedy against Bayern. High pressing, lower pressing, three-man chain, four-man chain, compact midfield, good broad defense – everything has gone wrong. FC Bayern has always had the answer.

Nevertheless, the Munich team must remain concentrated in order to win again. Leverkusen has great potential, especially in the offensive. Like Hoffenheim, Leverkusen could also succeed in disrupting Bayern early on and ensuring an open game with a high degree of aggression.

Perhaps that’s why Kovač will revert to Javi Martínez again. Stability against the counterplay of the visitors is certainly not a bad idea. Martínez can defend a very broad area on his own. If Kovač wants o act again with the sides pushed up again, the Spaniard can secure the zones behind them. Leverkusen can make much better use of these spaces than Stuttgart.

However, the coach has all the cards in his hand. With Thiago on the six, he could strengthen both his position and passing game. The advancing backs were a good tactical means to support Thiago in the defense.

From Bayern’s point of view, however, the beauty of these days is that you can’t really predict what Kovač will do. Both approaches worked well according to the circumstances. Both also had their weaknesses. FC Bayern, for example, knocked in too many crosses when the penalty area was empty. High balls from the game and their own standards often resulted in good counter situations for the opponent.

The next few weeks will be all about making the next steps forward. Solutions are needed to get even more frequent combinations into the opponent’s sixteen. Ancelotti knew that the next game would look the same as the previous one. But now a coach is sitting on the bench of FC Bayern who is actively looking for solutions. The anticipation is therefore great. Which approach will he take against Leverkusen? Is Kovač even trying out new tactical means?

The fact is that the international break may have played into the hands of the stumbling Leverkuseners. Bayern’s national players traveled all over the world and came back, some of them beleaguered. But there don’t seem to be any problems for Kovač. He smiles briefly and then already thinks of solutions.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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