Bayer Leverkusen once again finished runners up in the Bundesliga last season, although they were never really in contention for the title until Dortmund had a slight wobble towards the end of the season. You could argue that they were closer to their first tile in 2010 despite finishing 11 points behind winners Munich, and not even getting a Champions league spot. In 2010 they lead the league at Christmas and then had a trademark meltdown. 2002 saw them come close and crumble with a few games remaining, and in 2000 they only required a win against mid table opposition on the last day to seal their first ever title, they lost the game and the title race.
Now I’m not going to jump straight into the chilling waters of ‘next year is their year’ but I will cautiously dip my toes in. There is no real suggestion that they are the best team in the Bundesliga. Dortmund and Munich are most certainly ahead of them. I could even argue that Hamburg and Bremen have better squads on paper. However Leverkusen have a good team, good enough to certainly mount a title challenge and in my eyes are good enough to win it.
Dortmund have a fantastic squad and great players, but will they take their eyes off the Bundesliga in the hope of prolonging their champions league campaign? They have an ambitious manager and squad, and they have players with real quality and potential, but this may work against them. I believe Dortmund could be a dark horse in the Champions league next year, with a bit of luck they could make it to the final. I also think the players and manager believe this as well. It may become a distraction from the league meaning they will still be near the top but no where near as dominant as they were last season.
Perhaps the bigger obstacle is Bayern Munich, who despite what last season suggests, are still the strongest Bundesliga team. They seem to be addressing the key issues of their defence and goalkeeper, to date they have signed Rafinha and Neuer. It is also reported they are close to getting Jerome Boateng. These three signings alone should make them a far more formidable opponent next season. Factor in that Robben should be available from the start, and suddenly it begins to look impossible for Leverkusen to win their first title. However more so than Dortmund, Munich will be eyeing the Champions league as well, and will be desperate to reach the final which will be played at their own Allianz Arena, making that their priority over the league.
Now obviously Leverkusen will want to perform well in the Champions league but I don’t think they can really look much past the second round, although Schalke showed that you can never rule anything out. They should instead concentrate on the league. They will have a new manager in Robin Dutt who impressed last season with a very effective Freiburg team and has already laid out ambitious plans to implement new system at Leverkusen. They may well end up losing the very impressive Vidal to rivals Munich, but they have pulled off a major coup in signing twenty year old Andre Schurrle from Mainz. Schurrle is exactly what Leverkusen were missing last year, a direct and creative player in the final third. The other players will need to step up their consistency, all their players bar Vidal last season were guilty of going missing too often in games, and Michael Ballack failed to deliver in an injury hit season. But there is some hope, Kiessling although unorthodox is effective, and the likes of Sidney Sam and Barnetta offer glimpses of quality. If Ballack can stay injury free, he and Rolfes can form a solid spine. And while their defence isn’t the strongest it is decent, and they have a good keeper in Adler to call upon when it fails.
It is a tough ask but not impossible, and the Bundesliga has had a fair few surprise winners in recent years, the most recent being the perfect example. If Robin Dutt can implement his system, Ballack remain fit, and Schurrle perform like he did last season I wouldn’t rule out Leverkusen fans finally being able to be the centre of attention.
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