Leverkusen bullish despite tough tests on horizon

Leverkusen - Recently, Bayer 04 Leverkusen have become the main proponents of an age-old football debate. Is it better to win ugly and grind out three points? Or is playing attractive football the best way to produce results? Head coach Roger Schmidt admirably seems to stand firmly in the latter camp, but results haven't been forthcoming.

'Really annoying'

Despite the club’s , with wins over Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin in their opening two games, the past nine Bundesliga encounters have only brought two victories (against FC Augsburg on Matchday 5 and FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 9). Such struggles have seen the club drop down to sixth from the heady heights at the top of the league.

“It’s really annoying that our league position isn’t better,” Schmidt told Sky after a 0-0 home draw with 1. FSV Mainz 05, the latest in a run of disappointing results. “Obviously, we’re playing really well in the UEFA Champions League and our position at the top of the group is reflecting that. It’s not the same in the Bundesliga. We need to change that very quickly.”

Leverkusen seem to be suffering a minor case of what might be termed ‘Borussia Dortmund syndrome’; experiencing success in Europe, but struggling on the domestic front. Similarly to Dortmund’s case, Leverkusen have struggled to put away sides prepared to defend deeply against their superior firepower.

High-fliers on the horizon

Results against SV Werder Bremen (3-3), SC Freiburg (0-0), SC Paderborn 07 (2-2), VfB Stuttgart (3-3) and Hamburger SV (0-1) prove such a rule. On the other hand, against more free-flowing opponents in the Champions League, Leverkusen have produced a succession of continent-rousing displays: 3-1 against SL Benfica and 2-0 against FC Zenit in the BayArena as well as a 2-1 win in St. Petersburg to top Group C.

The worry for Schmidt is that if performances domestically don’t improve rapidly, then the season aim of retaining the Champions League spot for next season might be in danger. Indeed, with fixtures against direct competitors for the top four, Hannover 96, FC Bayern München, Borussia Mönchengladbach and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on the horizon, as well as hosting a Rhine-Derby against the best team in the league on their travels, 1. FC Köln, the need for Schmidt’s promised improvement is becoming urgent.

Kießling bites back

“Our current points haul isn't good enough,” claimed Stefan Kießling after the Mainz draw. “We weren’t cool enough in front of goal. The only thing our performance lacked was putting the ball in the net.” It was another excellent display, showcasing their high-intensity style. Die Werkself fired in 24 shots, and only a combination of desperate Mainz defending and some inspired goalkeeping from Loris Karius denied them.

Kießling himself, though, is struggling. The top-scorer from 2012/13 hasn’t hit the net in the last ten Bundesliga games and has now gone 814 minutes without a goal. Despite that, Kießling is relaxed ahead of the tough upcoming tests. “It won’t be any easier against the top sides around the corner,” he pointed out. “But perhaps they won’t defend so deeply and that could play into our hands.” If it does, and results begin to pick up, then their performances have already proved that they might be unstoppable.

Daniel Thacker

Check out one of the saves of the season which denied Leverkusen all three points courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: