Five games into the 2014/15 season and a record of five wins and 19 goals is quite something to boast, even in early September. Borussia Dortmund have been swatted aside and UEFA Champions League qualification assured with ease. Rudi Völler, Leverkusen’s sporting director, is quite clear on the reason behind the club’s positive start: Schmidt’s new system. “It's about pressing high and forcing mistakes,” he pointed out. “Sometimes it’s risky, sometimes you could be embarrassed, but we just want to play good football and pick up points.”
Schmidt has begun life in the Bundesliga in exactly the same way his teams start games: by storm - and he is another to credit his system. “We’ve either got the ball and we’re trying to get forward quickly,” explained the 47-year-old, “or the opposition have got the ball and we’re trying to press them." So far, it has worked a treat. In both Champions League wins over FC København, Schmidt’s Leverkusen had opened the scoring within two minutes. Even more memorable, however, was Karim Bellarabi’s goal after just nine seconds on Matchday 1 against Borussia Dortmund, a new Bundesliga record.
It was perhaps the perfect example of Schmidt’s style. Just as he had described, Leverkusen had the ball from the kick-off and drove forward quickly. It was devastatingly simple but goalscorer Bellarabi recognised exactly how the goal came about. “We believe in our system,” said the winger, who also netted in Matchday 2’s win against Hertha Berlin. “We know what we have to do, and we know that if we implement it, we’ll be successful.” Club captain Simon Rolfes is another of Schmidt's disciples: “We attack hard and early. We want to force mistakes and the system is the foundation for that.”
Self-belief and intensity
Leverkusen’s most recent win, 4-2 over Hertha, however, didn’t unfold in quite the same breathtaking way as the København and Dortmund successes. Tin Jedvaj made an early mistake by turning the ball into his own net, but die Werkself trusted in their system and their coach to get them out of trouble.
Bellarabi emphasised that the "self-belief” imparted by Schmidt was the key reason for maintaining their flawless record. As for the coach, he said after the game that all he did at half-time was encourage his troops to “regain their intensity”. That they did was thanks in part to Hakan Calhanoglu's two assists against the Berliners, the 20-year-old already representing a vital cog in the Leverkusen chief's system since joining from Hamburger SV in the summer.
Top of the pile
The Turkish international has already assumed the creative role that last season's rigid midfield lacked, but he also provides his coach and team-mates with a valuable addition to their modus operandi with his impeccable set-pieces. Against København, he scored directly from a free-kick and against Hertha, he delivered perfectly to Emir Spahic to nod home. It’s a get-out clause if Schmidt’s framework fails. Having plied his trade as an attacking midfielder himself, the man in the dugout understands the nuances of the role perfectly. “Playing in an inside-left, or inside-right position is perfect for Hakan."
Schmidt and Leverkusen have been making quite a racket in the Bundesliga with their new system, and now that they sit top of the league for the first time in five years, they’ve really got something to shout about.
Relive Bellarabi's sensational strike on Matchday 2 below, courtesy of the
official Bundesliga YouTube channel