Bayer Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga title — they have come close, though, in the past, and with Leon Bailey and Florian Wirtz helping transform Peter Bosz’s attacking philosophy into points on the pitch, they have never had a better chance to become German champions.
bundesliga.com gives you five reasons 'Neverkusen' can lose their bridesmaid tag and earn a maiden Meisterschale...
1) The best Leon Bailey yet
The Jamaica international had struggled to follow up the promising nine goals and six assists he racked up in a blockbuster debut 2017/18 Bundesliga season, but recent performances have suggested that may be about to change.
With Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland both leaving last summer, Leverkusen needed Bailey to step up, and with four goals — just one shy of the tallies he managed in both of the previous two league seasons — and four assists in 12 league matches so far, he certainly has done.
“Leon had it very hard, last year and early this season,” coach Bosz said after his side’s 3-1 win over Augsburg in which Bailey set-up Moussa Diaby’s goal late on. “But I see that he gets better with every game - physically, but also in terms of his football.”
With five goals and two assists in six UEFA Europa League games, Bailey, now 23, was a significant factor in Leverkusen cruising into the competition’s knockout stages.
“When you see how much he runs, but also how much he sprints and his football playing quality, that’s always going up,” Bosz added.
2) Entertaining… within reason
“I want fans to go home and say, 'Wow! What a game that was!’“, said Bosz when asked to describe the footballing philosophy he wants to put in place. His side have certainly kept their fans leaping from their armchairs at home with regularity this season — before their 2-1 Matchday 13 loss to Bayern Munich, they had won their previous three league games scoring 11 times and conceding just once. They have scored four times against the likes of Hoffenheim, Freiburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach this season, and have only failed to find the net in two of their 13 Bundesliga fixtures to date.
But while their forward line has been slipping into high gear with remarkable ease, it is the way the side has defended that has given the team’s creativity and clinical edge the chance to come to the fore.
Leverkusen are the division’s second top scorers — 28 goals, behind Bayern’s 39 — but they also boast the second-best defensive record with 12 goals conceded, bettered only by RB Leipzig’s nine.
Edmond Tapsoba has followed on in the same impressive vein of last season, while the experience of the Bender twins - Lars and Sven - and Aleksandar Dragovic has added a calmness to a rearguard in which Daley Sinkgraven and Jonathan Tah have also played a major role.
3) Florian Wirtz: Kai Havertz's successor
Influence is something Wirtz has in abundance. Not even halfway into his first full campaign of Bundesliga football, Leverkusen's greenest debutant and scorer has played more top-flight minutes than any of his teen counterparts continent-wide, with 984 minutes spread over his 12 league appearances.
He has contributed two goals and four assists to Leverkusen's tally of 28 league strikes, almost a quarter of their total, and adds work ethic to his end-product in covering an average of over seven miles per top-flight game.
The idea that Havertz, who left for Chelsea at the start of September with 46 goals and 31 assists in 150 appearances in all competitions under his belt, accumulated between the ages of 16 and 21, could not be replaced has been well and truly dismissed.
Leverkusen have had no trouble filling the boots of Volland, either.
No longer punching below his weight as a bit-part player, Lucas Alario is well and truly socking it to opposition defences. So much so that only Bayern's Robert Lewandowski and Dortmund counterpart Erling Haaland can lay claim to a superior better goals-per-minute ratio than the Argentina international, who's hit eight in 10 league games at an average of one every 73 minutes so far this term.
Watch: Lucas Alario - Leverkusen's X-factor
Alario isn't the only out-and-out striker at Leverkusen with designs on double digits, though.
With Alario missing two games through injury and beginning the ensuing three on the bench, Patrik Schick threw his hat into the ring with three goals and an assist in games against Schalke, Hoffenheim, Cologne and Bayern.
The Czech international is now on four for the league campaign, having scored 10 whilst on loan at Leipzig last season.
5) Big Bosz man
The Alario-Schick factor provides Bosz with ample ammunition for his tilt at not just Bundesliga, but Europa League and DFB Cup honours.
The Dutchman exercised moderate rotation as Leverkusen topped their Europa League group, with five wins and one defeat, despite being without South American quartet Charles Aranguiz, Santiago Arias, Exequiel Palacios and Paulinho.
As illustrated by Hansi Flick at the helm of 2019/20 treble winners Bayern, a clearly identifiable game plan and shrewd man management, along with the necessary blend of youth and experience, breeds success.
Following third-placed Eredivisie and Europa League runners-up finishes with Ajax, and a disappointing six-month spell in charge of Dortmund, Bosz is on track to make it a case of third time lucky at Leverkusen.