It has been 21 years since Bayer Leverkusen won a trophy. That was the DFB Pokal Cup. However, they have never raised the trophy, or plate, as the Bundesliga champion. They have added some quality young players to remain competitive for years to come. However, the focus is on this year. Coach Roger Schmidt said he wants to excite people and the common refrain is that anything less than top four is a disappointment.
Leverkusen finished just one point ahead of Wolfsburg for fourth place. Four wins out of the last five secured their spot. That streak came on the heels of a bad loss against relegation candidate Hamburg. They salvaged their season in the end after losing 12 of 17 matches from December to April.
Their losing ways brought in caretaker Sascha Lewandowski who replaced Sami Hyypiä. Lewandowski kept Leverkusen in Champions League play, but the team knew they had to add over the summer to stay in European play.
Bernd Leno will be the No. 1 keeper. He will be between the pipes for the foreseeable future and was on the fringe of German National Team inclusion this year. He will be backed up by Dario Kresic who will push German-American David Yelldell back down the depth chart.
The back line got a few reinforcements this offseason. Wendell was brought in to play left back and should be joined by another new acquisition, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, in the back four. Ömer Toprak and Emir Spahic add solid quality in the center of defense. The weak spot will be at right back.
Captain Simon Rolfes will take the defensive responsibilities in either a three or four-man midfield. The 32-year-old player will share time with Lars Bender. Stefan Reinartz adds competition in the midfield. There are four other players under the age of 24 competing for playing time.
The emphasis of Schmidt’s system is attack and pressure. The new players brought into supplement the offense will be given many liberties. Hakan Calhanoglu showed he was a free kick specialist with Hamburg and helped them stave off relegation. He is expected to play in a central attacking midfielder role.
Josep Drmic also comes over to add goals. He could be paired with Stefan Kieβling in a two-man forward setup. Kieβling averages nearly a goal every other match for Leverkusen. They are joined by Heung-Min Son who had a great league season last year. Son was disappointing in continental play, but he will have a chance to improve on that this year.
It took a tour of South Korea for Leverkusen to find their stride in the preseason. They took out Southampton and then won 6-0 in the first round of the DFB Pokal. Goal scoring should not be a problem this season under Schmidt. If they keep their focus on good transitional defense then this could be something special.
2014-15 Record: 19-8-7, 65 Points, Fourth Place