Kai Havertz has slowly but surely hit top gear for top-four hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen during the second half of 2019/20. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/DFL
Kai Havertz has slowly but surely hit top gear for top-four hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen during the second half of 2019/20. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/DFL

Bayer Leverkusen: 2019/20 season so far


Kai Havertz has Bayer Leverkusen firmly in the hunt for a top-four finish, as well as domestic and European honours. bundesliga.com charts Die Werkself's season so far...

Who they signed: Whilst retaining the services of coveted youngsters Havertz and Leon Bailey, Leverkusen responded to losing Julian Brandt to Borussia Dortmund by raiding Hoffenheim to bring in Germany midfielders Nadiem Amiri and Kerem Demirbay. Paris Saint-Germain talent Moussa Diaby added to the attacking riches at head coach Peter Bosz's disposal, while the acquisition of Ajax defender Daley Sinkgraven provided welcome competition on the left-hand side. The club used the winter window to snare further first-team reinforcements in the form of Argentina international midfielder Exequiel Palacios and Vitoria Guimaraes' 21-year-old centre-back Edmond Tapsoba, who has been a revelation at the heart of the Bayer defence since the turn of the year.

What they expected: More of the same. Leverkusen were ninth when Bosz took over in December 2018, but finished the 2018/19 campaign in fourth to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League after a two-year absence. Bosz ball produced 43 goals in 17 Rückrunde matches compared to 26 in as many games on predecessor Heiko Herrlich's watch. They also conceded six fewer, while only champions Bayern Munich (42) and RB Leipzig (35) picked up more points between January and May 2019. Results in pre-season were mixed, but Havertz and Co. started the campaign proper with a bang, recording a 4-1 win away to Alemannia Aachen in the first round of the DFB Cup.

Peter Bosz is enjoying his first full season as Leverkusen coach, after jumping in halfway into 2018/19. - AFP/Getty Images

How it played out: Leverkusen made a bright enough start in the league, taking 13 points from the first 18 on offer. A 4-0 loss to Dortmund during that run hinted at a team not yet ready to mix it with the big boys, while a four-match winless dip bumped Bosz's side down to mid-table after 10 rounds of fixtures.

The tail-end of the calendar year was more hot than cold, with the 2-1 success at Bayern one of four positive results against teams above them in the standings. Defeats to Cologne and struggling Hertha Berlin were typical of Bayer's vacillating fortunes, though they did end 2019 in sixth - only four points outside the top four - thanks to 1-0 win at Mainz.

To be consistent must have been the collective new year's resolution, because Leverkusen have dived head first into the new decade in title-winning form. Six wins, including one barnstorming effort against a resurgent Dortmund, one draw (away to mid-season leaders Leipzig), and one narrow loss to Hoffenheim - as well as 22 goals and nine conceded - have propelled Die Werkself to within two points of fourth place and only eight behind top spot.

Even if the title talk is a tad premature, Leverkusen still have the chance to banish the curse of Neverkusen in the DFB Cup and UEFA Europa League. The Rhinelanders, whose previous hopes of a treble collapsed in the space of 11 infamous days back in 2001/02, are through to the DFB Cup semi-finals and boast a commanding 3-1 lead in their Europa League last-16 tie with Rangers.

Leverkusen put Frankfurt to the sword in their last Bundesliga fixture, running out comfortable 4-0 winners at the BayArena. - Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Key player: Kevin Volland had contributed to almost 40 per cent of Leverkusen's goals when he was forced to go under the knife to rectify a probable season-ending ankle injury towards the end of February. For anyone else, the loss of such a talismanic figure would have represented irreparable damage - but not Bayer 04.

Eight league games into 2020, stand-in captain Havertz has been involved in more goals than any other German player in the Bundesliga (six goals, five assists). The 20-year-old has also produced three goals and two assists in Leverkusen's last three Europa League games, and set up one of three goals in the DFB Cup quarter-final win over Union Berlin.

If Leverkusen are to end the season with at least Champions League football in the bag, you feel Havertz  - as he did last term by scoring 11 of his team-leading 17 goals during the Rückrunde - will be the man to seal the deal.

Best game: Leverkusen came from 3-2 down to beat Dortmund 4-3 at home on Matchday 21, but how many teams can say they went to Bayern's Allianz Arena and won? This season, only two - Hoffenheim and Bayer.

Although Bailey took the plaudits for his first-half brace, Leverkusen's 2-1 success in the Bavarian capital on Matchday 13 was a real triumph of the collective. Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky operated with "one good eye" for 45 minutes after losing one of his contact lenses, while the visiting Werkself had to see out the final nine minutes - and customary onslaught - with 10 men following Jonathan Tah's sending off. They even kept Robert Lewandowski quiet as Hansi Flick's perfect start as Bayern interim coach was given a rude awakening.

"We had luck on our side," admitted Bosz afterwards. "We were bold in attack for the first 30 minutes, put them under pressure, and got our goals. After that, the lads showed real character. Hats off to them!"

Watch: Highlights of Leverkusen's smash-and-grab win away to Bayern

Biggest surprise: If you're wondering why Bailey hasn't had the opportunity to run roughshod over more Bundesliga defences this season, the answer is Diaby.

Although the wing duo played together against Bayern, it's not uncommon for Bosz to plump for one over the other on the left-hand side of the Leverkusen attack. And despite his relative inexperience - 2018/19 was his breakthrough campaign at senior level - Diaby appears to be marginally ahead in the pecking order.

The French youngster has made 26 appearances (15 starts) to Bailey's 22 (11), vindicating his regular inclusion with five goals and six assists in all competitions - a single-season personal best.

Catch him if you can! Moussa Diaby's electric pace and qualities in the one-on-one are a welcome addition to Leverkusen's game. - DFL

"Peter Bosz told me where and how I need to improve," Diaby recalled of his decision to swap star gazing at the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar at PSG for the chance to shine in his own right at Leverkusen. "I think it's been going well."