Preview: FC Bayern – Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Justin Separator November 25, 2016

In our preview we spoke to Timo Schwarz, who tries to find an explanation for the current crisis in Leverkusen. We are also taking a closer look towards the game on Saturday.

(Grafik: Michael Böck)
(Visual: Michael Böck)

Hello, let’s talk about you first. Please introduce yourself to our readers and tells us about your connection to Bayer Leverkusen.

Hi! My name is Timo Schwarz, I am 17 years old and currently taking my A-Levels in Osnabrück. Up until the World Cup in 2006 I had no connection to football whatsoever. Then I saw Bernd Schneider playing for Germany. He fascinated me, even though, looking back you will recognize that he played below his average in the tournament. That is how I got into football. From this point on I supported Bayer Leverkusen passionately, causing a lot of suffering, from time to time. I also run a blog by the name b04blog, which by the way is also my Twitter handle.

Your start into the season was, as you may say, “below average” as well. What went wrong there?

From my point of view the problem is the club does not learn from mistakes and that is the case in all areas. Just a few weeks ago, I thought that Roger Schmidt has finally managed to control himself during the games, but we all know what happened. In addition to hat, it is just a matter of time until Rudi Völler has his next outburst in an interview after the game. The main problem though, is the lack of development regarding the football the team plays. We are in the third year with Roger Schmidt and no main player has left us. Expectations were high starting into the season, but as you can see the same problems occur over and over again. Especially set-pieces in offence and defence, as well as the defence as a whole is lacking in stability.

Many teams know how to play successfully against Bayer 04. We have severe problems when coming up against teams focusing on defensive stability. It seems like the tactic approach is only focused on solving the problems when they appear, instead of improving the system as a whole.

We had some injuries as well, which may count as an excuse for losses against top teams, but what about the losses against Lotte, Bremen and Augsburg?

You already mentioned that expectations were high at the beginning of the season. Some experts even thought that Leverkusen could take advantage of the big changes in Dortmund and Munich. Are there any doubts regarding Roger Schmidt, yet?

Yes there are! Since the season started, they grew on me as well. Reaching the best performance-level with this team might be impossible with Schmidt. However, there are some points in his favour. For example, there is the development of our youth players, as well as the qualification for the Champions League for the past few years. Even the system, as much criticism as there is, sometimes works perfectly.

Currently we are getting regular Champions League football in Leverkusen, sacking the coach is not an option. And that is a good thing.

 Roger Schmidt is not untouchable at Bayer 04 anymore.(Photo: Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images)
Roger Schmidt is not untouchable at Bayer 04 anymore.
(Photo: Patrik Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images)

Let’s put all of the troubles aside. Why is Leverkusen still a top team in the Bundesliga? What is so special about them?

We can be special – in particular games. The wins against Dortmund and Tottenham were no flukes. There is no doubt that all the requirements are at hand to play like an international top team.

To count Leverkusen as a top-tear-team regularly, the consistency is way off. Before the current season I thought that we might be able to perform frequently on that level and bad games were only the exceptions. Right now, I think I was wrong and it is the other way round.

What you reckon are Schmidt’s plans for Saturday?

The formation will be 4-2-2-2 like always and without any special changes in the line-up. Lars Bender and Stefan Kießling are likely to miss out, but won’t even be options as starters, when completely healthy.

If Xabi Alonso is playing he will be the main target of our pressure. We also might play a bit more defensive than in previous years. Without possession the system transforms into a 4-4-2, the wingers will close down the half spaces and the full-backs are attacking higher up the field to outnumber the opponent in midfield. If we don’t want to leave empty handed, the spaces between our defenders are crucial. A backline with Henrichs, Tah, Toprak and Wendell, who are well practised together, is likely to be starting on Saturday.

To be honest, if you are not able to be successful in Munich right now, I don’t know when there will be another time. How high do you rate your chances and what sort of a game are you expecting?

I think FC Bayern is still the unanimous favourite besides all problems they currently have. I am sure the game will display that quite well in form of possession and goal scoring opportunities, but maybe not goal scoring-wise. If the defensive stability is on point and we are able to play determined, it might be possible to take points home. FC Bayern is way more vulnerable this season.

Can you give us your score prediction?

Both players on a drought period (Müller and Chicharito) will score. 1-1.

If I could choose a player of Bayer 04 to play for FC Bayern, it would be Julian Brandt. Now it is your turn, which Bayern player would it be and why?

Robert Lewandowski. He might be your best player overall. He is incredible and always dangerous. Shooting, heading, his physique and creativity. Just a complete player and most likely an instant improvement to the squad.
You may be surprised but I also would like to see Julian Brandt playing in another team. But there is still a lot of time for that.

Bayer 04 has had a bad start into the season but their style of play is made for causing problems for FC Bayern on Saturday.

To grade Roger Schmidt’s time at Bayer 04 so far you can call it a solid B. He changed a lot and implemented his own style into the team. Unfortunately there were no real improvements, due to several exterior factors.

He did not manage to stabilize the defence and performances on a top level are rare in important games. No titles, rankings that were already reached before he took over and missed opportunities to take advantage of weak opponents are the results.

Preview Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Flexible offence

To describe Bayer04 football in one word, “power” might be the most suitable. Pace and intensity, many duels and an absolute willingness to play offensive football is what Schmidt likes to see. On good days his team transform into a pressure machine.

Their common formation is a 4-2-2-2. The wingers are covering the half spaces or switching over to the sides to create more width. Sometimes they are overloading one side of the pitch to bring out the technical abilities of Brandt, Chicharito, Volland and Kampl, who can cause a lot of danger in those situations.

The team plays in a very structured way. They always try to link up with each other or create situations for individualists to break through.

Bayern’s main focus will be directed towards Julian Brandt. The young German international is one of the most intelligent players in the Bundesliga and wanted by top teams all over Europe. He already collected five scorer points in 816 minutes this season.

Scoring in general is well spread over the team at Bayer 04. In 17 games there have been 10 different scorers, who combined for 27 goals in total. Chicharito (7) is the most effective but also Volland, Mehmedi, Calhanoglu (3 each), as well as Kampl and Brandt (2) know how to find the back of the net.

Bayern vs. Leverkusen head-to-head.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Genius or insanity

Roger Schmidt is a mystery. On one hand his style of play causes spectacular games, but on the other hand his teams cannot maintain a consistent level that would make him successful enough to overcome his predecessors. The main reason for that might be the defence. 18 goals conceded in only 11 games speak for themselves.

They do not even grant many opportunities for their opponents. 9.8 on average make them fourth in the Bundesliga. There are just too many big chances that cause them to loose important points. If the opponent can overcome the first line of pressure it seems to be quite easy to outplay the defence. That is the burden of a high-pressure attack, which is not perfectly coordinated.

The big question is why does Schmidt’s approach not work on a regular basis? The game against Dortmund, for example, was outstanding. Schmidt made a few adjustments over the past few weeks, so that his system got more flexible. The 4-2-2-2 can become a 4-2-4 or even a 3-4-3, in which the centre is much stronger. As a result, disrupting the opponent’s build-up play has become much easier.

 Bayern will get under pressure against Leverkusen. Supporting the central defensive midfielder and creating triangles will be essential.
Bayern will get under pressure against Leverkusen. Supporting the central defensive midfielder and creating triangles will be essential.

The fullbacks often move forward to support the midfielders and to outnumber the opponent. Thomas Tuchel had no solutions against this approach. Even his adjustments brought no improvements worth mentioning. Julian Weigl was out of the game and the whole second third of the pitch belonged to Bayer 04.

On Saturday, Schmidt is expected to play in a similar way. They will try to get into duels and disrupt the opponents with a man-to-man coverage. 20.9 successful duels ranks them second in the Bundesliga overall.

Due to the fact that Alonso had to sit out against Rostov he is likely to play on Saturday. If he does not get enough support, Bayern will struggle big time. He will find himself in narrow spaces and will depend on protection from his teammates. Loose balls in build-up play should be avoided by any means because you do not want Leverkusen to have options to counter-attack.

L Leverkusen gets into many duels but their success rate is average.(grafic: Lukas)
Leverkusen gets into many duels, but their success rate is average.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Neither Pep nor Carlo

Bayer 04 likes to pressure in half spaces, which could be dangerous for FC Bayern. In Ancelotti’s 4-4-2 formation those are the most vulnerable areas, like we saw over the past few games.
It seems like the team struggles with the transition from Guardiola to Ancelotti. Some players still act like they did under the reign of the Spaniard while others stick to Ancelotti’s defaults. Right now there is no unity on the pitch in offence and defence as well.

 Leverkusen initiates many chances from half spaces or down the wings. That is exactly where Bayern has had problems this season.(grafic: Lukas)
Leverkusen initiates many chances from half spaces or down the wings. That is exactly where Bayern has had problems this season.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Defending high up the field still seems to be the better option for Ancelotti’s team. The team is simply not patient enough to stay back. They want possession. They want to play football. The pressure in the final third, when not in possession, is also too inconsistent. Three attackers and midfielders who struggle to advance for support is simply not enough.

Ancelotti should reconsider his approach

FC Bayern has a structural problem. We are talking about this for several weeks now, but no adjustments whatsoever can be identified. Especially when he talks to the media, Ancelotti acts unworried and resistant towards any form of critique.

Reconsideration might be necessary from now on. Ancelotti still has not found the right position for Thomas Müller. Xabi Alonso suffers from pressure week in week out. He also makes substitutions on players who played well and his defence still cannot defend effectively.

To be fair the Müller-problem is due to his bad finishing right now but there is no denying the fact that lining him up as a winger takes away his strengths massively. In addition to that you are missing out on another winger who might be useful in one-on-one duels.

The game against Rostow showed that there is no solidarity in the squad. We saw 11 individuals, waiting on being structured correctly to work as a team again. However the problem is not only the formation, which in the end is only a number on a piece of paper.

Spaces are left open, while others are not covered at all. All of the positional-play Guardiola implemented is gone.

Ancelotti broke a perfect creation and is now responsible to rearrange the pieces in his own way. If he has not found a solution over the past days, the game on Saturday will be quite unpleasant for FC Bayern supporters.

Nevertheless, the matchup of two struggling top-teams may be coming at the right time. The team is “back to earth” , but they are still playing for FC Bayern. Let’s prove it on Saturday. As a team!

Five bold predictions

  1. Bayern shows a reaction and takes a step forward by winning the game.
  2. Thomas Müller will score.
  3. Leverkusen will score as well.
  4. The first goal will be scored within the first 30 minutes.
  5. Kimmich will contribute with at least one goal or assist.

Sadly four of the five prediction of the game against Dortmund were correct. Because the momentum is on our side right now, we will use it to counter the crisis. 39/80 in total.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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