Condemned to a 12th-place finish last term, Bayer Leverkusen fans must have feared the worst this time around when Die Werkself managed just one win in their opening five games of 2017/18. Things have dramatically changed since then, however.
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After the pain of three successive away losses abated, Heiko Herrlich's Bayer burst into life, forming an eye-catching, attacking group now feared by all-comers.
Watch: Talking tactics with Bayer Leverkusen
"We’re learning all the time as a team," goalkeeper - and a key protagonist this season - Bernd Leno said during the first half of a season that Leverkusen finished on a 12-game unbeaten run in the Bundesliga.
Indeed, with B04 winning six of those matches, sitting in fourth is their best placing at this point since 2014/15. Herrlich’s fine in-game management combined with star turns by the likes of Jamaican 20-year-old talent Leon Bailey, striker Kevin Volland and youngsters Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz have the Factory Workers purring as they set their sights on a top-four finish. Currently the division’s third-highest goalscorers, Leverkusen are also one of only two teams still unbeaten at home, Bayern Munich being the other.
Leon Bailey is our Man of the Hinrunde!!— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) December 26, 2017
Looking forward to a 🔥 second half of the season (Rückrunde)! pic.twitter.com/qloH83Om0U
Bailey was merely adapting to life during eight substitute appearances in the Bundesliga last season following a winter move from Racing Genk. This term, the Jamaican speedster has racked up an incredible six goals and four assists in 14 games, transforming the friend of Usain Bolt into a huge crowd favourite at the BayArena.
Watch: Leon Bailey - Leverkusen's shooting star
With nine goals in the campaign to date, Volland has already surpassed the six he managed last term and is this season’s top German goalscorer in the division. The versatile attacker has drawn plenty of praise for his hard-working ethic from coach Herrlich and his eye-catching performances may even lead to a late push for a place in the Germany squad for next summer’s FIFA World Cup.
- Leverkusen have fielded 21 different players so far this season, more than any other side in the top four.
- Die Werkself boast incredible goalscoring variety, with 13 different players hitting the net in the first half of the season, more than any other top-flight side.
- B04's 12-match unbeaten sequence is currently the longest of any team in the Bundesliga.
- Currently the division’s third-highest goalscorers, Leverkusen are also one of only two teams still unbeaten at home, Bayern Munich being the other.
Leverkusen enjoyed an impressive third-placed finish and automatic entry into the Champions League just two seasons ago and will thus be keen to prove last year’s disappointing conclusion was merely an aberration. A DFB Cup quarter-final also awaits.