It is 22 years since what should have been the greatest season in Bayer Leverkusen’s history. Perhaps the greatest in the history of German football as they became within a few bounces of a ball of becoming the first German team to ever do the treble, Reelradio.com.ng reports.
They ended the campaign empty-handed.
Bayer ‘Vizekusen’ as were then referred to in Germany, or Neverkusen further afield, have a reputation for threatening to win things, only to fall short.
Ever-presents in Germany’s top flight since 1979, Leverkusen have never won the league title but have finished second on five occasions. They won the UEFA Cup back in 1988 and the DFB-Pokal in 1993 but have since lost all four finals (one Champions League, three DFB-Pokal) they have reached.
There have been false dawns along the way — Leverkusen were top at Christmas in 2010, only to be overhauled by Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund side, and they were on Bayern’s tail after winning 2014 after winning 12 of their opening 15 games — but this season feels different.
Last season went fairly well following the appointment of Xabi Alonso, who looked to shore up the defence first and foremost. With the team in the relegation zone as the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder arrives it was all about consolidation.
This season, though, has seen a clear change in direction from the Spaniard to build on that foundation.
That building began with a perfect summer. Leverkusen identified their top targets at left-back (Álex Grimaldo), in midfield (Granit Xhaka), a bit further forward (Jonas Hofmann) and up front (Victor Boniface).
“Boniface, Hofmann, Grimaldo and Xhaka were our number one priority in each of their positions,” chief executive Fernando Carro told 11Freunde last month. “The fact we pulled all of those transfers off wasn’t to be expected and speaks to the work of (sporting director) Simon Rolfes.”
Those additions have all been crucial as Leverkusen have moved on from Moussa Diaby and look better all across the pitch, playing a more dominant brand of football, pressing higher, pinning teams back and monopolising possession.
Though they play with a back five, Alonso has Jeremie Frimpong flying forward on the right to have a huge impact from right-wingback. The two central midfielders — Xhaka and Exequiel Palacios — offer everything you want in the heart of the park, with energy and bite mixed with quality on the ball.
Ahead of them, Hofmann and Florian Wirtz float between the lines offering creativity and a nose for goals. And then there’s Boniface, who looks like the ultimate striker and has taken to the Bundesliga like a big, clinical duck to water.
The Nigerian is unselfish in his work rate and gets his head up in the box looking for team-mates but there’s no doubting his hunger for goals either and he has four goals (and two assists) in his three Bundesliga appearances to date, including a superb solo effort against Darmstadt last time out.
Where Leverkusen have succeeded, with excellent planning carried out clinically over the summer, Bayern Munich have had a summer to forget.
Going for a 12th Bundesliga title in a row this season they remain massive favourites for the title, especially with the addition of Harry Kane, but no squad in Germany’s top flight is smaller.
The transfer window ended with the club failing to sign the “holding six” Thomas Tuchel had insisted on — a deadline day deal for João Palhinha couldn’t be completed after interest in Declan Rice led nowhere —and the squad was left a man short in defence after Benjamin Pavard left and wasn’t replaced despite Bayern’s interest in signing Trevor Chalobah and Armel Bella-Kotchap after failing to secure Kyle Walker’s signature.
But that doesn’t mean they are destined to fall short. Kane has started amongst the goals and Bayern even overcame their customary banana skin in coming from behind to beat Borussia Mönchengladbach away from home before the international break.
It has not been the trickiest starts for Bayern, beating Werder Bremen and FC Augsburg before that one, and Friday poses a true test of where they stand. More than anything though, it provides a huge test and huge opportunity for Leverkusen. They arrive in Munich top of the league and, at this early stage, the most impressive team of the season to date.
If they can leave Munich still top of the table, it will be time to consider them genuine contenders to Bayern’s title this season.