The Unraveling of Bayer Leverkusen Under Peter Bosz

February was a difficult month for Bayer Leverkusen and manager Peter Bosz. During this time, the Bundesliga side played seven matches and only won once – a 5-2 victory over Stuttgart. They lost four of these matches, three of which led to the club’s elimination from the DFB Pokal and the UEFA Europa League. Additionally, they picked up only five league points out of 12 possible, falling to sixth place, five points off of the top four and 15 away from league leaders Bayern Munich.

Recent Form is Disastrous Under Bosz at Bayer Leverkusen

The Return of ‘Neverkusen’

In the span of one month, Leverkusen were essentially eliminated from all three competitions for the 2020/21 season, which will extend the club’s trophy drought to 28 years. This season has completely disintegrated for Peter Bosz’s side, who were unbeaten and on top of the table in the middle of December. 

For the club dubbed “Neverkusen,” due to its penchant for always coming up short in critical situations, this alarming collapse is nothing new.  Nevertheless, for a season that began with so much promise, why has it turned to chaos and disaster so quickly?  And who is to blame?

Leverkusen Goalscoring Woes

One glaring problem is the lack of goalscoring. In the first 12 matches of the Bundesliga, Leverkusen scored 27 goals, playing free-flowing attacking football.  A 4-3 victory over top-four rivals Borussia Monchengladbach in early November exemplified this exciting style of play.

However, in the last 11 league matches, Leverkusen scored only 14 goals, including just four during the entire month of January. Defeats to Union Berlin, Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig showcased Leverkusen’s attacking woes, as each match finished 1-0.

Inconsistent Attackers

Losing 21-year-old prodigy Kai Havertz to Chelsea for €80 million over the summer was always going to be difficult to deal with, considering his contribution for Leverkusen. During his last two seasons at the club, Havertz accounted for 38 goals and 16 assists in all competitions, propelling the club to a fourth-place finish in 2018/19 and a DFB Pokal runner-up medal last year.

With Havertz gone, Leverkusen have relied on an offensive output from a variety of attackers, particularly wingers Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby, along with forwards Patrik Schick and Lucas Alario. At first, this did not seem to be a problem, as all four players began the season in incredible form, leading Leverkusen to an unbeaten record in the Bundesliga after 12 matches.

However, their performances regressed over the last two months, particularly Bailey and Alario. After the first 12 matches of the league season, Bailey scored four goals and assisted five times, while Alario scored eight goals. In the 11 matches since, Bailey only scored two goals and two assists, while Alario contributed just one goal.

Bailey’s recent poor execution continued in the Europe League round of 16, where the right-winger had zero goals and assists in Leverkusen’s two legs against Swiss side BSC Young Boys, as they were eliminated from the competition on aggregate 6-3.

The overall downward trend of goalscoring through the Leverkusen team stalled any progress the club made at the start of the season and is a reason for the massive loss of form.

The Curious Case of Peter Bosz

Dutch manager Peter Bosz has been in charge of Leverkusen since December 2018, when he took over a squad struggling in ninth place in the league. His aggressive attacking 4-3-3 formation spurred impressive results for the club during the second half of the 2018/19 season, led by the aforementioned Kai Havertz. Leverkusen ended up in fourth place, good enough for Champions League qualification, which was the club’s highest finish since 2015/16.

Last year, despite finishing in fifth (mostly due to the excellent form of Gladbach), Leverkusen had a successful season, advancing to the Europa League quarter-finals and the DFB Pokal final, while finishing with 63 points – the club’s most since the 2012/13 season. They were also victorious over Bayern, Dortmund and Gladbach in the league.

However, the previous two years of progress under Bosz is slowly withering away over the last few months. This dreadful display is reminiscent of Bosz’s time at Borussia Dortmund, prior to his appointment at Leverkusen. At Dortmund, Bosz only lasted 24 matches, from his unveiling in July 2017 to his eventual sacking in December of that same year.

Dortmund Collapse Under Bosz

Bosz started his Dortmund tenure in impressive fashion, leading Die Schwarzgelben to six league wins from the first seven games, topping the table with 19 points, with an imperious 21 goals scored and only two allowed. But the good times quickly dissipated, as Bosz did not win another league game and only won once more overall (a 5-0 drubbing of 1. FC Magdeburg in the DFB Pokal).  This included five Bundesliga losses, a horrific 4-4 draw with rivals FC Schalke 04 after leading 4-0, and an abysmal showing in their Champions League group.

When Bosz was removed from Dortmund, they dropped to eighth place in the league, gaining just one additional point (22 total). His style of play was heavily criticised as a result, with his high pressing formation resulting in massive openings for the opposition to counterattack, leaving the defenders exposed and unable to adjust. After only giving up two goals from the first seven matches, Bosz’s side conceded 21 in the next eight.

Deja Vu at Bayer Leverkusen

Bosz’s unwillingness to change his style of play, along with Dortmund’s worrying loss of form is very similar to what has happened to Leverkusen this season. After collecting 28 points from the first 12 league matches, they only picked up nine from the last 11. This is troubling for Bosz and opened up the same inquiries and concerns about his management that hindered his time at Dortmund.

Bosz has been unable to stop this rot, which seeped into Leverkusen’s play outside of the Bundesliga, with a disappointing Europa League exit to Young Boys and an embarrassing 2-1 cup defeat to fourth-tier club Rot Weiss Essen on February 2. The manager’s inability to adjust and turn this dreadful form around may ultimately be his undoing.

The Bayer Leverkusen Future

There is still hope for Leverkusen. There are 11 matches remaining in the Bundesliga, and fourth place is only five points away. However, in order for the club to salvage the season, the offensive productivity must improve, while Peter Bosz must quickly fix the malaise. Otherwise, he will be looking for another job, and the resounding echoes of past Leverkusen failures will return to the fore.

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