After lots of ups and downs, Bayer Leverkusen became third last season. Roger Schmidt’s men had unstable performances during the season and had to deal with high number of injured players. There was some matches that Schmidt didn’t even have 18 players to fill his bench! 8 or 9 injury in his team, technically paralyzed his thinking way and his playing methods.
After a pretty long period of failures, he managed to control the situation. He started to win and he won 8 of his last 9 Bundesliga games. He regained the third place; the place that everyone expected from him at the beginning of season. He finished the season in a good mood and waited for transfers window.
In the transfer window The Lions were one of the best teams and had some great business; Kevin Volland broke the purchase record of club and except Christoph Kramer they kept all of their valuable players. Now Schmidt has depth in all of the positions; The depth that he didn’t have in previous season and his first season at Bay Arena. For Ex-Salzburg coach it’s kind of “Now or Never” situation, He should win something this season. But why?!
As it mentioned before, Werkself have had the best team since Schmidt has arrived at Bay Arena. Chicharito, Kevin Volland and Joel Pohjanpalo gave him the quality that he can stop worrying about Stefan Kiessling’s absence in the attack zone (Because of his chronic hip injury).
In the midfield area, Schmidt has variety of choices that will give him a headache for choosing! It is kind of impossible to choose 3 of these many options; Kevin Kampl, Lars Bender, Charles Aranguiz, Julian Baumgartlinger and Hakan Calhanoglu. Or even at the wings, It is a tough call to bench 2 players among Karim Bellarabi, Julian Brandt, Admir Mehmedi, Kevin Volland and Robbie Kruse.
The only place that German coach may has problem in, is the left back where he doesn’t have a substitute for Wendell. Schmidt has said that he wants to use Benjamin Henrichs as a full back, the position which he played last season on some occasions. 19 years old Henrichs who recently won the Fritz Walter gold medal is naturally a Center Midfielder and Schmidt wants to convert him into a full back but there is still some doubts about him.
Players in full potential
Roger Schmidt started his job at Bay Arena with a very young squad. In his second Bundesliga game against Bayern Munich he used one of the youngest lineups in Leverkusen’s history (2-0 Bay Arena). But some of his failures were because of his team’s age. Now after two years most of his players are reaching to a reasonable level of quality or even their full potential.
Javier Hernandez, Julian Baumgartlinger, Kevin Kampl, Charles Aránguiz, Admir Mehmedi, Kevin Volland and Aleksandar Dragovic were his last purchases and all of them are somehow in a great age in matter of experience. Bernd Leno, Hakan Calhanoglu, Wendell, Tin Jedvaj, Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi have progressed in his direct leadership and now they are exactly what his tactics need.
In this squad there is no player who Schmidt doesn’t want. After spending two years at Bayer04, he have had enough time to build the team like he exactly prefers and Rudi Voller bought quite all of his desired players. Aleksandar Dragović was probably the only one that Voller didn’t sign in this three years but at the last days of August he was bought from Kiev and now Schmidt has everything he demanded. For example Kevin Kampl and Andre Ramalho had a reunion with their former coach in Leverkusen. Schmidt has the most powerful squad since he arrived at Bay Arena and currently has no excuse for not getting success.
Lars Bender have had serious injury problems in the last few years. After Horst Hrubesch named him as a Brazil passenger, some people thought that he would get injured and criticized his decision for going to olymipcs. But after 5 matches alongside his beloved brother, Lars is still healthy and this can be a great sign for amazed Schmidt who couldn’t believe Bender didn’t get injured! (His 2 weeks injury from Final is somehow not serious)
After losing 2 major tournaments (World cup 2014 and Euro 2016), Lars is really determined to be a part of Die Mannschaft squad for World cup 2018. At 27 he is at his full potential and it is getting a little late to be in the young lineup of Joachim Low. For Bender it’s kind of “now or never” situation too, He should and he wants to win something.
Besides that, Leverkusen had completely different results with and without Bender; Last year in the first half of season they got some meaningful results:
Every team will miss qualities like Bender but Roger Schmidt is dependent on his captian more than anyone and it can be both a great or a horrible sign. If Bender’s run in Olympics can be continued and he keeps himself healthy, Schmidt will be successful more than he ever was and the other way around.
Wining Bundesliga and trying to compete with Bayern Munich and Dortmund in a long season is really hard. But Schmidt's Leverkusen has the power to at least challenge them and with a little luck in DFB-Pokal and Uefa Champions League he can and he should progress and improve his results. Schmidt is a successful coach but keeping his result exactly like previous season is a failure for him.