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It’s that time of year again! The Champions League group stage and this season should be treated with more excitement from the United faithful than usual. It will be Moyes’ first bow in the Champions League where he will encounter a new set of challenges. The first test comes from Bayer Leverkusen. Manchester United’s overall head-to-head record against the Germans is 2 wins and 2 draws. Both sets of fans will remember the draw in April of 2001/2002 season very well. A 2-2 draw at Old Trafford sent Bayer Leverkusen to the Champions League final where they finished as runners up to Real Madrid.
Fast forward 11 years and the two sides meet again. Bayer finished third place last season in the Bundesliga behind Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. That alone should be enough for United fans to know this won’t be an easy game. After a 3-1 win over the weekend against Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen look to be in fine form ahead of their clash with the reigning Premier League Champions.
So what can we expect from Bayer Leverkusen? Pascal Schaefer, who is quite knowledgeable on German football, will provide us with some facts to be aware of ahead of tomorrow’s game in the following interview. Enjoy!
What can you tell us about Bayer Leverkusen? What outstanding characteristics do they have?
I think the last pairing up was back in 2002 when Bayer advanced to the Champions League final after two draws. After that Bayer’s strategy radically changed. Back then they bought many players from Brazil, often quite expensive personnel like Ze Roberto (formerly RM), but they also brought in Lucio.
They also used to resign with players of proven quality, like Ballack. After Bayer (big medical firm that produces Aspirin) backed away from its monetary commitment, the club user guide of Rudi Völler has moved towards a mix of young talent and some older players in the mix. With Michael Ballack rising to fame at Leverkusen they carved out a niche as a platform for young talent that can develop into high quality players before moving to the big clubs.
Recent examples are Toni Kroos who was on a two year loan or Andre Schürrle who just moved to Chelsea for €25m. Carvajal developed really well so Real Madrid resigned him after just 2 years at Bayer. Currently the club signed young talents like Emre Can from Bayern Munich or Levin Öztunali (grandson of German legend Uwe Seeler) from HSV.
In terms of their style, they have no respect of their opponent and generally very strong characters as coaches. Bayer Leverkusen was one of the few teams to beat Dortmund in their champions year in 2010/11 season. Bayer was the only German team that was able to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz last season. I would say when they used counter attack they are really strong so they will probably like to do that.
After their third place finish last season, do you expect them to go one better this season? How have they progressed up to this point?
Dortmund bought good players and had their best start. The coach wants to go for glory after the Champions League final and they are likely going to be more consistent in the league. Bayern Munich is not allergic to Guardiola and while under restructuring and a point loss there are no signs for a complete loss in points. I think the first two spots are booked. If they[Bayer] manage to deal with Champions League highlights and regular league games then they have the potential to qualify for the Champions League again with Schalke being their fiercest competitor for that spot.
In recent years they have been playing Europa League/Champions League and I think always moved out of the group stage. The core of the team has been together for a few years and was coached by Heynckes before he moved back to Bayern. Last year they were coached by Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä (3rd place with a compact team that strikes ice cold and has no respect). This year they moved Lewandowski back to coach the youth team.
Who are the players to watch out for? What makes them so dangerous?
Kießling is a striker in form. He scored like 25 goals last season and holds the club record beating legend Ulf Kirsten. He consistently scores and just like Mario Gomez puts it in when touching it in the box. In addition the talent they raised in the last years are waiting for the break through. One example is Sidney Sam, a very fast player with an incredibly precise shot. With Schürrle transferred to Chelsea they appear to have lost a major player but he was replaced by Son, the Korean wonder child bought from Hamburg.
Other important players are Bernd Leno who forced Rene Adler (national keeper) to leave the club with strong performances and Lars Bender (plays for national team and is known to work hard on the pitch (was injured on the weekend though) he was replaced by veteran and captain Rolfes.
How do you expect them to setup against Manchester United?
There was talk about United being the highlight of the week and focus might move away from the league game, but the coach got all to focus on a 3:1 victory. They will go with their best team possible and fully motivated to win. I don’t think they will have much respect[will look to impose their style] after beating Munich in the Allianz arena last year and having had a good start into the season. They will possibly start the same team from the weekend and hope to field Bender if available. Not sure about Wollscheid.
In general it may be noted that Leverkusen didn’t play the most spectacular ball in recent international[European] games, most likely because the team was less experienced and they exited against Iberian teams. Though it may be noticed that Dortmund had 3 horrific years internationally and then just went to Wembley.
I think you are well aware that Hyypiä played for pool so as a coach he will have a good understanding of united and a strong will to beat them.
Where do you think United will finish this season in the Champions League? Will your Bayern Munich make it to the final again?
United changed their coach but not the players. I would guess that means every player wants to impress the coach but the teams core has been together. I don’t know much about Moyes, so if he knows how to deal with the characters in the team I don’t think they will do worse than last year. I would expect them to qualify along with Leverkusen for the out rounds.
Bayern Munich has bought a lot of new players and the tactic changed completely. The effect hoped for is to go past the slack as players will need to put in more efforts to stay on top of the game instead of getting benched. The new signings were top class putting more pressure on the superb midfield so everyone needs to step up their game. Currently players seem to love working with the coach but the autopilot is not on yet. As players are generally considered intelligent enough by the coach ( he called Lahm the most intelligent player he worked with ( coached Messi in the past) so I think there is a good chance they got it right until the knockout rounds. Until then they will work with the substance they have and get by at the least.
That being said I will not be surprised if Bayern will make it to the final but I would think it is wishful thinking if saying “definitely”. After all the stats go very well against us, but the approach of replacing the phenomenal coach with a phenomenal coach and adding top class personnel in that number and a new game strategy is a novel experiment that none of us have ever seen so I hope to be pleasantly surprised when they give out silverware in May.
My prediction is that United will press for the early goal, both teams will score, quite possibly a 2-2. If Bender won’t play United may take it home all the way as Rolfes hasn’t been starting recently.
Leverkusen will not give up until the whistle has blown or Hyypiä may subs himself in to “reach” the players!
Thanks for reading!