Undoubtedly, Gerardo Seoane's Bayer Leverkusen are having a great Bundesliga this year. They’re currently snapping at the feet of Dortmund, and although it’s unlikely they’ll dethrone Bayern from the top of the league this year, a top three finish is looking good. In this article, analyst Fernando Núñez breaks down the tactics and play of a team who are looking for a level of competitiveness that they haven’t seen in over two decades.
In Germany, Bayern are ubiquitous. They are the team that has been so dominant over the years that it’s a surprise if they don’t lift the trophy at the end of the season. This German juggernaut is also present in Europe too, of course, and have even claimed the Champions League several times…possibly less than they should have. The truth is, a lack of competition in the domestic league may have held them back somewhat.
And then there’s Leverkusen…the aspiring team which is never far from the lips of football aficionados. The sleeping giant that has slowly been waking from its slumber, fighting for third this season, and a place in the Champions League.
Rapid in both offense and defense, Leverkusen are marching towards European football and want to prove that they are, once again, capable of competing at the highest level.
One of the hallmarks of this is its ability to press hard and high. They allow their opponent to play out short before moving forward to apply great pressure. Above all, they force the opposing team out to the wings and then use man-to-man marking to turn the screw, leaving the man in possession with no other option but to play black. It’s during these hasty passbacks that Leverkusen strike, turning the game around high.
On a defensive level, they start in the mid-block position, ending in the high block position due to applying pressure.
If the opposing team overcome this pressure, Leverkusen arrange themselves in a 4-4-2, grouping many players inside to protect the midfield, again forcing the opposition out wide, where they can apply the highest pressure.
The accumulation of players in central areas makes Leverkusen practically impenetrable through the middle. If the opposition can make it through the gaps on the wings, then Leverkusen deal with crosses into their box easily due to their strength and dominance in the air.
When defending against these crosses, Leverkusen stuff their area with up to six players - three close to the goal line, one at the edge of the 6-yard box on the side where the ball is coming from, one in the centre of the 12-yard box and another at the far post.
The second line of defense is placed a metre or so further up the park, placed in a similar formation to the first line. Add the two players sitting at the edge of the box waiting for rebounds and you can see how they completely dominate in defense.
When starting from the back, Leverkusen are a team that likes to take risks with the short ball. Open central defenders, deep full-backs and two midfielders on the inside are the keys to starting on starting play on one side before switching to find free space to play in.
The triangular formations that the midfielders form with the central defenders and quick circulation is key to pulling the opposition forward, giving the forward players more space behind the defensive lines of the opposition. The mobility of the midfielders is key to forming these triangles.
But, as a good team with tactical resources to hand, they always have a plan B if the opponent stifles their forward momentum. This is the long ball played towards the striker and two offensive midfielders who stand ready to pick up the ball and mount a quick attack on the wings.
In this facet of the game, the team is very clear. In the last few metres, they inject speed into their game, taking advantage of the power held by their players.
Every time they hold the ball, they come forward, determined to finish the play as quickly as possible. Two players open up towards the wing while another two stay on the inside as the man in possession drives forward. This generates doubt in the minds of the opposition about which player they should mark and whether or not they should push forward to apply pressure on the ball. Whatever option they choose, they open gaps or leave players free.
And all of this is what makes them so dangerous. The mobility of the midfield and playmaker and their movement between the lines makes them an extremely difficult team to defend against.
Just as their attack is based on high-speed offensive plays, so too are their offensive transitions. The speed of their attacking players is ideal for fast, dangerous transitions. Two players break out, opening wide at full speed, with another attacker in front of the ball, opening space with zig zagging runs while the ball holder drives at full speed down the central lane, looking to release the past to the forward player right in front of the keeper.
Following a loss of possession, the players closest to the ball press at speed, leaving no room for the opponents to advance. This forces the opposing team to pass back, giving even more opportunity to press. The entire team is then positioned to steal quickly in a very dangerous position.
It can be concluded that Gerardo Seoane’s team is beginning to recover an essence which has been lost for many years. Thanks to the Swiss coach, this is a team which does not let their opponent breathe when defending. High pressure and speed are their characteristics in this regard.
This is combined with an attack full of verticality and a lot of speed. This makes their matches very open and colourful. It is difficult for Leverkusen’s opponents to keep up with their intensity for a full 90 minutes. It’s probably no coincidence that Leverkusen scores so many goals in the dying minutes of the match, almost stealing points from their opponents.
The Bundesliga needs teams that can challenge the dominance of Bayern Munich. Dortmund are approaching this level, as are Leipzig who ,despite losing some of their big players, continue to develop through the Red Bull academy, competing in both the domestic league and Europe.
And this is why Leverkusen’s comeback is great news for the German game. It makes the Bundesliga more competitive and adds to the pool of teams that could, conceivably, challenge for the league title.
Mission Accomplished! Welcome!
Thanks for signing up for our newsletter. Very soon, we`ll mail out the best articles and advice from our website...straight to your inbox