Fantastic Four: Paulinho (18) has joined Julian Brandt (22), Leon Bailey (20) and Kai Havertz (19) at Bayer Leverkusen. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA
Fantastic Four: Paulinho (18) has joined Julian Brandt (22), Leon Bailey (20) and Kai Havertz (19) at Bayer Leverkusen. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

Paulinho, Brandt, Bailey and Havertz: Do Bayer Leverkusen boast the best collection of U23 attacking midfielders in the world?

Bold, brave, lightning quick and seemingly far too complete for such precocious talents, Bayer Leverkusen's forward line of Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz made for compelling viewing last season.

Given licence to roam, the trio's direct running and ability to shift the ball at pace across a constantly evolving midfield underlined and reinforced Heiko Herrlich's high-octane game plan. The end result was remarkable for such an inexperienced crop of players - Bayer only missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification on goal difference - but unsurprising considering their immense potential and the opportunities afforded to them by a club so invested in their development.

Fourth highest goalscorers in the league, that Leverkusen also clocked the third highest pass completion rate (84 per cent) and completed the most crosses (388) while putting in a league high 7,930 sprints speaks volumes - but there's more.

Bayer have since added immensely talented 19-year-old Brazilian Paulinho to their ranks ahead of the new season, further bolstering an attacking armoury already oozing talent.

That got us here at thinking: Do Leverkusen boast the best collection of U23 attacking midfielders in the game? Spoiler, they probably do…

Leon Bailey

The Jamaican winger was an absolute revelation for Leverkusen in his breakout season in 2017/18, leading the way in bringing to life Herrlich's tactical blueprint by causing havoc down either flank; drifting with menace from one full-back to another.

Always wanting to take on his man, Bailey attempted 166 dribbles, beating his man on 77 occasions. The 20-year-old also averaged 30.8 sprints per game, way beyond the league average of 19 for attacking midfielders and 18 for strikers. This resulted in Bailey going one-on-one with defenders 19.8 times per 90 minutes, while his top speed was an incredible 21.6mph.

Watch: Leon Bailey - a defender's worst nightmare

Julian Brandt

A return of nine goals and seven assists illustrates how influential Bailey was at the business end of the pitch for Leverkusen and, like the remaining enfants terribles that make up this quartet, the prospect of him getting even better in the year ahead is frightening.

So impressive was Brandt last year, the 22-year-old saw off Manchester City's Leroy Sane to feature in Germany coach Joachim Löw's 2018 FIFA World Cup squad.

That said, Leverkusen fans won't need reminding of Brandt's potency, his nine goals bettered at the club only by striker Kevin Volland. Three assists also came via the ex-Wolfsburg man, who flittered effortlessly between roles as No.10, second striker and winger.

Watch: Julian Brandt's top 3 Bundesliga assists

Kai Havertz

Brandt was also Leverkusen's serial pass master among their Holy Trinity, completing 81.4 per cent of 1,094 attempted passes across the course of the season. He covered the most ground, averaging a lung-busting 11.26 miles per game and was only out-sprinted by Bailey. It belies Brandt's slightly stout appearance, but again underpins the masterful execution of Herrlich's master plan by his young charges.

Havertz blossomed in 2017/18, ending the campaign as winner of the Fritz Walter gold medal for Germany's top U19 player of 2018. It was just reward after the 19-year-old returned three goals and eight assists in 30 Bundesliga appearances over the course of his second full season in the German top flight.

At 6'2", the Leverkusen academy product is a deceptive creature; skulking height, fast and technical - some of his attributes read as a contradiction. But a top speed of 21mph last season and 86 of 188 aerial duels won, with a successful pass completion rate of 85.8 per cent are testament to the rounded makeup of Havertz's game.

- © gettyimages / Matin Bernetti


Another of Herrlich's marathon runners, Havertz averaged 12.16 miles per game, adding yet more legs at the tip of the midfield, where he revelled in the No.10 role but would still appear across the front line and even deeper in central midfield as part of Leverkusen's flexible positional approach.

The latest in a long line of Brazilians to grace the BayArena, Paulinho follows in the footsteps of countrymen Ze Roberto, Emerson, Lucio, Wendell and the trailblazing Tita, who won the UEFA Cup with Leverkusen back in 1987/88. With him comes heightened expectation of a player whose stock will rise instantly as part of the litany of extraordinary youngsters already shining in his new surrounds.

Typically at home as a right winger, Paulinho's versatility makes him an obvious fit in Herrlich's plans with the physical forward equally potent as an inverted winger on the opposite flank. He also possesses the requisite skills to also operate in the No.10 role or even as a centre forward.