Meet the third force in German football
FourFourTwo's award-winning FREE Stats Zone app now also covers the top flights in Italy, Spain, France and Germany (as well as English Premier League, Champions League and Europa League). Michael Cox uses it to investigating the next big thing in German footballÃ¢ÂÂ¦
It must have been a strange season for fans of Bayer Leverkusen, GermanyÃ¢ÂÂs third-placed side. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve nearly confirmed their objective for 2012/13 Ã¢ÂÂ finishing in the Bundesliga's final automatic Champions League place (they're seven points clear of fourth-placed Schalke) Ã¢ÂÂ but with their illustrious rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund qualifying for the Champions League final with brilliant semi-final performances, Leverkusen have hardly received any attention outside Germany. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre the Michael Collins to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin Ã¢ÂÂ theyÃ¢ÂÂve been there in the background, but wonÃ¢ÂÂt receive the fame.
The coaching set-up at Leverkusen is unusual: Sami Hyypia is effectively head coach, but as he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt possess a full coaching licence, Sascha Lewandowski is officially the manager. "The arrangement is not easy for either of us,Ã¢ÂÂ admits Hyypia. Ã¢ÂÂWe must compromise a lot, which does make it a bit more difficult. I need to discuss things with Sascha first before making a decision.Ã¢ÂÂ However, the joint managership hasnÃ¢ÂÂt prove a barrier to success.
Lewandowski and Hyypia: Marriage of convenience
Leverkusen are a completely different side to Bayern and Dortmund Ã¢ÂÂ while the two Champions League finalists boast the highest possession statistics in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen arenÃ¢ÂÂt even in the top 10. Of the major clubs in Europe, HyypiaÃ¢ÂÂs side are arguably the purest counter-attackers.
While Leverkusen have considerably less possession than Bayern and Dortmund, they have nearly as many shots Ã¢ÂÂ because theyÃ¢ÂÂre thrillingly direct in possession, breaking forward immediately at great speed. Indeed, their two main forwards, Stefan Kiessling and Andre Schurrle, are placed first and second in the Ã¢ÂÂshots per gameÃ¢ÂÂ statistic amongst all the players in the Bundesliga.
Kiessling scores, as Kiessling does
LeverkusenÃ¢ÂÂs main strength is their front three. Classic old-school No.9 Kiessling spearheads the side; the 6ft 3in striker is just one goal behind Robert Lewandowski at the top of the BundesligaÃ¢ÂÂs scoring charts, but has fallen out of favour with national team manager Jogi Low, with Kiessling saying he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt expect a call-up for World Cup 2014.
There are two major features of KiesslingÃ¢ÂÂs game Ã¢ÂÂ his finishing and his aerial power. The recent 5-0 win over Hoffenheim demonstrates how clinical he is in the penalty box, particularly when receiving crosses from wideÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Ã¢ÂÂ¦while the narrow 3-2 defeat against Dortmund showed how many aerial duels he wins Ã¢ÂÂ and how often heÃ¢ÂÂs awarded free-kicks when defenders foul him in the air.
KiesslingÃ¢ÂÂs raw aerial threat is complemented nicely by SchurrleÃ¢ÂÂs sheer speed from the flank. The Chelsea target plays an interesting role, not unlike Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid Ã¢ÂÂ he stays very high up on the left, not bothering to track the opposition right-back and instead remaining in a position where he can counter-attack quickly.
HeÃ¢ÂÂs the main catalyst for LeverkusenÃ¢ÂÂs excellent breaks, and heÃ¢ÂÂs capable of hitting fine long-range shots on the run from distance. The 5-0 win over Hoffenheim was a good example of his style of playÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Ã¢ÂÂ¦while the 3-0 win over Hamburg demonstrated that while Schurrle often beats players, heÃ¢ÂÂs very much a shooter rather than a crosser.
HyypiaÃ¢ÂÂs only dilemma is on the other flank. There, the most exciting option is Sidney Sam, a pacy winger who likes to stay wide and dribble past opponents before shooting from difficult angles Ã¢ÂÂ not unlike Schurrle on the left.
But Gonzalo Castro is generally preferred on the right. HeÃ¢ÂÂs more of an all-rounder: he initially impressed as an attack-minded full-back, heÃ¢ÂÂs extremely energetic and he makes LeverkusenyÃ¢ÂÂs front three more balanced. He stays deeper and gets involved in the centre, although heÃ¢ÂÂs not the most creative player.
Sadly, there is a good chance that at least one of Schurrle and Kiessling will leave this summer. Ã¢ÂÂIf the club wants success, then it can't sell all the best players every year,Ã¢ÂÂ insists Hyypia. If they stay, Leverkusen could be a real dark horse in next seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Champions League tÃ¢ÂÂ although with the Bundesliga now being spoken about as EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs strongest league, they may not go unnoticed as the old clichÃÂ© comes back into play: never write off the Germans.
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