- Leverkusen secure place in Champions League group stage with third-place finish.
- Die Werkself won eight of their last nine league matches.
- Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez top scorer with 17 goals.
When a Ja-Cheol Koo-inspired FC Augsburg raced into a 3-0 lead against Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday 25, UEFA Champions League football must have seemed like a very distant dream to Die Werkself and their supporters. However, an astonishing second-half fightback at the WWK ARENA proved to be the turning point in Bayer’s campaign…
Season in a nutshell
Led by the goals of the prolific Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, Schmidt’s charges were on the cusp of the top four for the majority of the Hinrunde. A haul of 11 points from five matches at the beginning of the Rückrunde lifted them into third, before a succession of injuries to key players threatened to derail their top-four ambitions.
Schmidt’s charges travelled to Augsburg in early March on the back of three straight defeats, and their hopes of arresting that run looked slim after Koo's first-half hat-trick at the WWK ARENA. But strikes from Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Calhanoglu either side of a Paul Verhaegh own-goal rescued an unlikely 3-3 draw and Leverkusen never looked back, winning eight of their last nine league matches to seal their place in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition for the fourth season running.
Top three games
MD16: Bayer 04 Leverkusen 5-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Leverkusen bounced back from their Champions League exit three days previously with a romping victory over Rhineland rivals and fellow European hopefuls Gladbach. Chicharito scored his maiden Bundesliga hat-trick at the BayArena, with Stefan Kießling also netting a brace.
MD26: Bayer 04 Leverkusen 1-0 Hamburger SV
Die Werkself’s narrow victory was not one for the purists, but it arrested a run of four league matches without a win. Albin Ekdal’s unfortunate own goal after 18 minutes proved the difference between the two sides, while Calhanoglu and goalkeeper Bernd Leno were both in impressive form for the hosts.
MD31: FC Schalke 04 2-3 Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Another miraculous fightback earned Leverkusen a vital three points in Gelsenkirchen. The Royal Blues led 2-0 at the interval, but three goals in six second-half minutes from Julian Brandt, Bellarabi and Chicharito lifted Leverkusen back into third for the first time since Matchday 21.
With 17 goals in 28 appearances in his first season in Germany, Chicharito has taken to the Bundesliga like a duck to water. Only FC Bayern München pair Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, as well as Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have netted more league goals than the Mexican in 2015/16, while his energy and agility made him the perfect foil for Kießling in Leverkusen’s attack.
What is next?
Loanees Levin Öztunali (SV Werder Bremen), Danny Da Costa (FC Ingolstadt 04) and Jonas Meffert (Karlsruher SC) are all due to return to the BayArena, while keeper Leno has also committed his future to the club. Leverkusen commence pre-season training on July 11 before travelling to Marienfeld to face SC Verl (15 July) and Delbrücker SC (17 July). Schmidt’s side have also arranged a week-long training camp in the picturesque Austrian town of Zell am See (28 July-5 August).
bundesliga.com’s Tobias Gonscherowski fondly recalls the spine-tingling reception Kießling received from the BayArena faithful after scoring twice in the rout of Mönchengladbach on Matchday 17. Kießling’s only previous league goal had come against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on the opening day of the season, but the 32-year-old was one of Leverkusen’s standout performers against the Foals and was deservedly given a standing ovation as he left the field.