Why Peter Bosz's Bayer Leverkusen are bossing it again
Honesty is generally considered to be the best policy in life so we'll just get right to the point: Peter Bosz's Bayer Leverkusen have been better than Borussia Dortmund in 2019. There. We said it.
While you digest that bombshell, bear in mind that BVB have not been bad; quite the opposite in fact. Lucien Favre's men are currently top of the league and ran Bayern Munich agonisingly close to the Bundesliga title back in may. Given that backdrop, Leverkusen's achievements under their Dutch tactician come into even sharper focus.
Since Bosz took over at the BayArena at the start of January this year, Die Werkself have won 13 of 19 Bundesliga games, amassing 40 points while scoring 49 goals in the process. That's an average of 2.57 goals per game and the club's best since winning promotion to the Bundesliga in 1979.
Dortmund, by comparison, have won 12 of their matches over the same period and while they have also taken 40 points since the turn of the year they have 'only' scored 45, conceding 28 times to Leverkusen's 26.
Indeed, so impressive have Leverkusen been under Bosz that only Bayern Munich (46 points, 57 goals scored) and RB Leipzig (41 points, 38 goals) have a better record since the 55-year-old returned to the Bundesliga.
For a team down in ninth when he arrived, the turnaround has been as swift as it has remarkable. So how has he done it?
Well, for a start Bosz is uber-motivated following a disappointing six-month spell in charge at Dortmund in 2017.
"I desperately wanted to come back to the Bundesliga," Bosz said at his unveiling back in January. "The people in Germany haven't seen the real Peter Bosz yet. Now they'll get to know him at Bayer Leverkusen, but I can't repeat the mistakes that I made at Dortmund. I have to learn from that experience."
In addition to that determination to succeed, Bosz appears to be in the right environment to thrive.
"Peter's brand of football suits a lot of our players," said sporting director Rudi Völler upon the arrival of the coach that took an inexperienced young Ajax side to the final of the 2017 UEFA Europa League.
"They're young, fast, good on the ball and naturally inclined to get forward. Peter's shown what he can do with those qualities. And that's the kind of football we want to build on."
Watch: Kai Havertz's attacking masterclass unlocked
Bosz certainly has done so far. Speedy attackers Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey and Karim Bellarabi have all thrived under his guidance, given free rein to cause havoc among opposition defences. It is no surprise that Bayer have scored in every league game since Bosz took charge.
"We didn't lose against a good Leverkusen side, but against a very good Leverkusen side," acknowledged Fortuna Düsseldorf boss Friedhelm Funkel after Leverkusen's 3-1 victory on Matchday 2.
"And we deserved to lose. If we're being completely honest, we didn't stand a chance today. In the first 45 minutes they did everything that sets them apart: their movement was good, they kept the ball moving, they played almost only with one-touch football and their zonal play was good. It wasn't easy for us."
Paderborn coach Steffen Baumgart struck a similar chord when analysing his side's 3-2 defeat on the opening weekend of the season: "The goals they scored were really well made. You can only complement Leverkusen for that."
Watch: Highlights of Leverkusen's win over Paderborn
And yet for all Leverkusen's prowess in the final third and Bosz's own attacking instincts, theirs is by no means a gung-ho approach.
"We were very open, we weren't compact enough," lamented Bosz after beating Paderborn. "We don't want it to be an end-to-end match. We want to control the game."
Having identified the issue and addressed it during training, Bosz was far more satisfied after overcoming Düsseldorf: "We defended in a much more compact manner. We didn't allow the opposition to play on the counter.
"Our defence is often criticised but that's not right. The boys defend a very large area. If we're compact up front and immediately press when the opposition have the ball that makes things a lot easier for our defenders. We did that much better today."
His insistence on "compactness" in all areas of the pitch is telling, as is his willingness to switch between a three- and four-man backline in order to ensure it.
One thing that invariably remains the same, however, is having two midfield shields – usually Charles Aranguiz with either Julian Baumgartlinger or Kerem Demirbay - protecting the defence.
This successful balancing act has borne fruit so far and Bayern coach Niko Kovac is convinced enough to believe Leverkusen could be title candidates this year.
It is not as far-fetched an idea as you might think. After all, if Dortmund are in the running, why not Leverkusen?
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