Bayer Leverkusen's top-four aspirations have been rocked by news of a potentially season-ending ankle injury to Kevin Volland. bundesliga.com looks at who might replace the 27-year-old forward's team-leading nine goals and seven assists...
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Peter Bosz’s men, losing their most potent striker for approximately three months because of an ankle ligament strain sustained the end of the UEFA Europa League last-32 first leg win over Porto.
The tear to the ligament in Volland’s left ankle puts his hopes of a Germany recall in time for this summer’s UEFA European Championship bid in doubt, while depriving Die Werkself of the man who has been involved in more goals (16) than any of his teammates.
In fact, only Robert Lewandowski, Timo Werner (both 28), Jadon Sancho (27), Thomas Müller (19), Serge Gnabry (18) and Florian Niederlechner (17) have played a part in a greater number of league goals than Volland, who is well clear in that regard of next-best clubmates Kai Havertz (eight), Lucas Alario (seven), Moussa Diaby (six) and Leon Bailey (five).
Leverkusen will look to all four as they search to replace Volland’s goals that have helped propel Bosz’s men into fifth place and just six points off table toppers Bayern Munich, thanks to a run of five wins out of six since the start of the Rückrunde.
Watch: Volland hit a brace in the dramatic 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund
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Since the arrival of Edmond Tapsoba to reinforce the Leverkusen defence, Bosz has plumped for a 3-4-3 formation that has seen the Rhineland club score nine times in their last three matches - all wins. Volland has been the central tip of the three-man attack, flanked by Havertz on the right and Diaby to his left.
It is clearly a tactic that has found some success and should Bosz persist with it, Alario is the natural replacement to step into the Volland-shaped void.
The Argentine did just that against Augsburg and with six league goals to his name, Leverkusen’s second highest marksman is a ready-made fit. He is also overdue a sustained run in the side, having never started more than four successive Bundesliga matches since joining the club in 2017. And with Joel Pohjanpalo out on loan at Hamburg, there is no other out-and-out centre-forward in the squad.
Reverting to type
Alario should be nailed-on to lead the line, but - considering the sheer bulk of goals Volland has brought to the team this season - another option for Bosz is to move back to his previously favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. This would allow him to squeeze another forward into his line-up, and he’s hardly short of options in that department.
Diaby’s wonderful recent form has seen the French winger bag three Bundesliga goals in his last four games, leaving his coach with no option but to select the 20-year-old ahead of Bailey. But an extra body could mean that the Jamaican operates on one flank, Diaby the other, and with Havertz in a central role behind Alario.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Paulinho - fresh from his Olympic Games qualification heroics - offers even more encouragement to play an attacking quartet, as does the opportunity to push Karim Bellarabi further forward from right wing-back, with Mitchell Weiser or Lars Bender able to slot in on the right-hand side of a back four.
A change in tact(ics)
Bosz has been happy to mix things up this season, using no less than six different formations across Leverkusen’s challenge on four fronts. And it may be the win over Porto where he lost his leading man that offers the greatest insight into how Leverkusen line up without the 10-time Germany international.
Alario was the furthest forward in a 4-1-4-1 against the Portuguese outfit, with Volland on the left and Havertz on the right of the four-man midfield ahead of holding player Charles Aranguiz.
Should Bosz opt for this particular set-up, he is spoilt for choice for alternatives to Volland on the left-hand side of the pitch.
The aforementioned Diaby and Bailey would be obvious replacements, while both Wendell and Daley Sinkgraven - currently battling for the regular left-back spot - are more than capable of offering defensive protection and attacking adventure to the midfield.
Watch: Leon Bailey scored twice as Leverkusen won in Munich on Matchday 13
However Leverkusen look to cope without the man who has not only scored their most goals but also captained the team seven times this season, they certainly aren’t short of quality alternatives and, in Bosz, have a coach with plenty of tricks up his sleeve.