Bayer 04 Leverkusen may be on the brink of a UEFA Champions League group stage exit following a 3-2 loss against AS Roma on Wednesday, but the goalscoring exploits of Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez continue to be a major positive for the club.
While Die Werkself have picked up just two wins in their last eight outings in all competitions, the Mexican maestro has been firing on all cylinders, netting seven goals in his last five games.
New lease of life
Hernandez’s body language alone is a far cry from the downbeat and dejected player that was seen struggling to impress Manchester United FC head coach Louis van Gaal at the start of the season. “Roger Schmidt has given me a great amount of confidence and I want to repay him during games,” said the 27-year-old, whose nine goals in 2015/16 outnumber any Red Devils’ player.
Upon Hernandez’s unveiling back in September, Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler described the summer signing as a “lively, agile and pacey striker with a very good, clinical touch”, and made the case that the forward offered Bayer 04 “more variable options that make us even harder to work out”. In his short time at the club, Chicharito has ensured those words are ringing true.
Goals not enough for porous Leverkusen
Leverkusen now boast a striker capable of leading the line whilst providing a cutting edge in front of goal that has been lacking since Stefan Kießling won the Torjägerkanone back in the 2012/13 campaign. Hernandez’s strike to level the scores against Roma epitomised what the nimble forward is all about, playing off the shoulder of the last man to break in behind the defence, before confidently firing home.
Yet the team's current problem is conceding goals, not scoring them, and they were unable to hold on for what could have been an invaluable point. Instead the defeat realistically leaves Bayer needing back-to-back wins against BATE Borisov and FC Barcelona to progress from Group E.
‘All's not lost yet’
For Leverkusen to stand any chance of reaching the last 16 for a third straight year they cannot risk a repeat of their first-half performance at the Stadio Olimpico. “For some reason we were completely asleep in the first half and were lucky to only be 2-0 down at the break,” admitted goalkeeper Bernd Leno. “Basically we’ve got to put more focus on our defensive work.”
While Chicharito might be getting the job done up front, his goals will count for little if Leverkusen are unable to address their defensive issues, with Leno having been beaten 12 times in his side's last five games. “Our style isn't too attacking. We just can’t allow ourselves to constantly be hit on the counter-attack,” explained Bayer's No.1. “Our chances of reaching the round of 16 certainly haven’t improved, but all's not lost yet.”