Munich - Perhaps only FC Bayern Munich played more consistently than Bayer 04 Leverkusen over the course of 2012/13. The Werkself achieved their main objective of securing renewed qualification for the UEFA Champions League, consigning an underwhelming 2011/12 campaign firmly to the history books.
If that was not reason enough in itself for celebration, a few other sub-plots helped to make the season a resounding success story, such as a popular and unique coaching duo, a famous win at the Allianz Arena and the remarkable ongoing upward trajectory of Stefan Kießling’s form in front of goal.
The credit for creating such a well-organised unit goes in great part to Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski. The former, a recognised coach at youth level, and the latter, a Champions League winner and former Leverkusen cult hero, complemented each other excellently. Taking over from former coach Robin Dutt last spring, they restored solidity to a porous side, which proved to be the basis for the counter-attacking football that would serve them so well this term.
With three holding midfielders in front of the defence - usually experienced captain hard-tackling and the tireless - Leverkusen were an extremely tough nut to crack. Once possession was overturned, the pace of and was used to breath-taking effect, with the reliable often the final port of call up front.
Model of consistency
Leverkusen began the season with two defeats – to Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund – in three games, but then went on to win ten of their next 15 Bundesliga games. The undisputed highlight of their Hinrunde came on Matchday 9 when Hyypiä’s men beat FC Bayern on their own turf for the first time in 23 years. By the end of the calendar year they were sitting pretty, second-placed in the table
Another nine victories followed after the league restart and third spot was secured with two games to go after success at Nuremberg. Astonishingly, Leverkusen were never lower than third in the standings after Matchday 4. In a way, their understated path a top-four finish almost seems to detract from the magnitude of the achievement in the wake of such a troubled previous campaign. That said, success with the minimum of fuss was doubtless just the ticket for all concerned.
It was fitting that the final word should be Stefan Kießling's. With the season winding rapidly to a close, the fontman collected one final pass and bent a shot past Hamburger SV’s Rene Adler for the winning goal on Matchday 34. His 25th strike of the season was enough to edge him clear of Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski to become Bayer's first Bundesliga top scorer, since Ulf Kirsten in 1998.
At 29, the former Nuremberg man seems to be getting ever better with age. And with the opportunity to shine in the Champions League as well next season, he could yet earn a recall to the Germany squad, just in time for the World Cup finals in Brazil. However that pans out, Kießling and Leverkusen - now under Hyypiä's sole charge, with Lewandowski taking up a newly-created post as head of youth coaching - have plenty to look forward to next season.
Tobias Gonscherowski/Bernie Reeves