Bayer O4 Leverkusen 2021/22 Season Preview: Die Werkself hope to be more consistent in aim for top four
(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

The 2021/22 season will see Bayer 04 Leverkusen undertake its 43rd consecutive campaign in the top flight of German football. As all Leverkusen fans have come to learn, this journey has been very up and down, with club form greatly fluctuating over the course of a year. Die Werkself will hope to provide more consistent performances during the upcoming season – something they have yet been able to maintain.

2020/21 Season Recap

This issue was particularly prevalent during the 2020/21 season, which saw Bayer Leverkusen fans experience a whole range of emotions throughout. After a relatively slow start which saw the first three matches result in draws, Bayer began to find their form following a string of consecutive wins. Going into the winter break, Leverkusen found themselves in second place. They had exceeded expectations and so there was a level of optimism around the club. However, in typical Bayer Leverkusen fashion, everything went wrong. 

In the six games that were played in January, Die Werkself were only able to pick up four points. This poor streak continued on into February, where Leverkusen won just one of four league matches and also saw their Europa League run come to an end following defeat to Swiss side BSC Young Boys. Disappointingly, another cup knockout came in the DFB Pokal after a shocking loss to fourth tier side Rot Weiss Essen. The board quickly became concerned with the ongoing results at the club and decidedly to act immediately, resulting in the dismissal of manager Peter Bosz.

Many fans felt underwhelmed with the appointment of Hannes Wolf as interim coach, who would remain in charge until the end of the season. Wolf managed to gain twelve points from his eight game tenure – an average feat which was unable to secure himself the job on a permanent basis. 

Despite all of this, Bayer 04 Leverkusen were able to secure Europa League football after finishing sixth in the Bundesliga – a necessity for a club with the history that Leverkusen has.

New coach

Bayer Leverkusen have announced that Gerard Seoane will be the club’s new head coach following the end of the 2020/21 season. Seoane joins from BSC Young Boys, where he won the Swiss league in each of the three years he was in charge of the club. 

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Seoane’s Young Boys side even knocked out Leverkusen out of the Europa League in the last 32, winning 6-3 on aggregate. This impressive victory illustrated the young manager’s talent and led to links with the club when the managerial vacancy arose. 

With Die Werkself having secured a place in the Europa League, Seoane hopes to nurture the young squad into a team that is known across Europe to play attractive football.

Pre-season recap

Bayer Leverkusen have come out of pre-season with a mixture of results, with the inconsistency continuing from the previous season.

Being Seoane’s first game in charge, they began pre-season with a goalless draw against Freiburg. A few clear-cut chances fell Leverkusen’s way, with Karim Bellarabi and Moussa Diaby unable to convert in front of goal.

The second pre-season friendly was formatted unusually, as the match was split into thirds for a total of 135 minutes. Disappointingly, Die Werkself saw a 5-1 loss to Dutch side FC Utrecht. New signing Mitchel Bakker opened the scoring for the hosts, before Utrecht began to dominate the game, showcasing an impressive attacking display.

Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky led the team out as captain for the first time in Leverkusen’s 3-1 win against West Regional League side Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. The front two partnership of Lucas Alario and Patrik Schick were in fine form – both clinical in the final third. This is promising for the upcoming season, with these two players set to play a key part in Seoane’s plans.

Die Werkself ended their run of pre-seasons friendlies with a practice match against third tier side FC Victoria Köln. In the 60-minute game, Victoria Köln came out on top in a 1-0 win, concluding a below-average pre-season for Leverkusen.

Transfer business

The main headline coming out of the Leverkusen camp was the departure of Jamaican winger Leon Bailey, who joined Premier League side Aston Villa for a fee of £25m. Leverkusen will sorely miss Bailey, whose electric pace and creative threat led to the 23-year-old scoring 28 goals in 119 Bundesliga games.

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Whilst Leverkusen had the third best defensive record in the league last season, Seoane wanted to bolster his defensive options following the retirement of Lars and Sven Bender, in addition to the departures of centre-backs Tin Jedvaj and Aleksandar Dragovic. A direct replacement has come with the transfer of Odilon Kossounou from Club Brugge, in a deal worth £20.7m. The Ivory Coast international is only 20 years old, so he has the potential to play a critical part in the club for years to come.

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Dutch youngster Mitchel Bakker arrived at the BayArena from Paris Saint-Germain for a reported fee of £6.3m. Bakker by trade is a left-back, but he also is versatile enough to fill in at centre-back when needed. These young additions illustrate how the club are planning for the future, whilst simultaneously adding depth to the squad.

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Talented Englishman Demarai Gray left the club after failing to impress during his short stay in Leverkusen. Coming from Leicester City, Gray returned to the Premier League, joining Everton in a deal worth just £1.8m. Goalkeeper Andrey Lunev has been added to the squad to provide competition for Hradecky, who arrives on a free transfer from FC Zenit.

Key player

Following a breakout tournament at Euro 2020, Patrik Schick will be raring for the upcoming season. The Czech striker will be hoping to replicate his goalscoring form which he demonstrated at the Euros this summer. Scoring five times, he equalled the tally of Golden Boot winner Cristiano Ronaldo, only losing out on the award by number of assists. Furthermore, the Bayer player won goal of the tournament with a stunning long-range effort in Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Scotland. This alerted Europe to Schick’s ability, with big things now expected of him this season.

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Schick had a decent first season at Leverkusen, scoring nine goals in 29 league games. However, the striker will be aiming for double figures this season, coming into the campaign with his confidence at an all-time high. His ability to penetrate the defence and finish calmly will be crucial to Bayer 04 achieving European qualification, with a lack of being clinical in front of goal having been an issue for Leverkusen at times. It is expected that Schick will lead the line up front, as he brings a high level of intensity to the team.

Breakthrough talent

Last season attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz emerged as one of the standout young talents in the Bundesliga. The German wonderkid broke Kai Havertz’s record for being Leverkusen’s youngest ever debutant, also making him the Bundesliga’s third-youngest player ever to make an appearance. In the 2020/21 season, Wirtz made 29 league appearances, scoring five goals, and making five assists.

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His speed, technical quality and creative flair allow him to make courageous plays in the final third. For a youngster, his intelligence on the ball is outstanding – a natural talent that is rare to come by so easily. Coach Seoane has described Wirtz as the most complete 18-year-old he has ever seen. He recognises that Wirtz needs to become stronger personality wise but with more first-team experience expected this year, Seoane is sure that he will continue to develop at a rapid pace.

In Germany, Wirtz is considered one of the key players to the national team’s future. He is being hailed one of the greatest talents that the country has produced in recent times. Therefore, it is imperative that Leverkusen are able to keep hold of him for as long as possible, with his transfer value having soared as of late.

Key dates – opening fixtures

Union Berlin vs. Leverkusen (Saturday, 14 August)
Leverkusen vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (Saturday, 21 August)
Augsburg vs. Leverkusen (Saturday, 28 August)
Leverkusen vs. Dortmund (Sunday, 12 September)
Europa League: First group game (Thursday, 16 September)
Stuttgart vs. Leverkusen (Sunday, 19 September)
Leverkusen vs. Mainz (Saturday, 25 September)

Verdict

Bayer Leverkusen are renowned to be extremely difficult to make predictions for. Following on from last season, Leverkusen will expect to qualify for European football. The squad and manager have high hopes for the upcoming season, so they will be aiming for a top-four finish, which would see them make a return to the Champions League.

Bayer 04 will try to build upon last season’s Europa League run, with the team hoping to advance to the latter rounds of the competition. Soane will be able to utilise his European experience with Young Boys, which led to Leverkusen’s exit in the first knockout stage last year.

After Bayer 04 kicked off the 2021/22 season with an emphatic 3-0 win against Lokomotive Leipzig in the DFB-Pokal, fans will be excited by the possibility of a domestic cup run. Finishing runners-up in 2019/20, Leverkusen would love to repeat their sole 1992/93 triumph in the competition. 

However, the main focus this year is the league, with consistent performances a necessity if Leverkusen want to secure Champions League qualification.

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