Champions League scouting report: Bayer Leverkusen can cause Manchester United problems on the break
Bayer Leverkusen return to the Champions League after a seven-year hiatus from the tournament - and they’ve had good success in their time at the top table of German football.
One of three exceptions to the ‘50+1’ ownership rule and bankrolled by Pharmaceutical company BAYER, Leverkusen have, to an extent, bought long-term success. The company’s involvement in the club for more than two decades is the reason for the DFB and DFL’s satisfaction with them meeting licensing requirements.
Some would tag them a “plastic club” but many clubs have been formed as sporting entities for company employees. It’s not uncommon in Germany, nor further afield - see FC Ingolstadt (AUDI), Sochaux (Renault), Wolfsburg (Volkswagen) and PSV Eindhoven (Philips).
Leverkusen won the UEFA Cup in 1988 – their only continental honour – but most will remember them for their outstanding achievement in 2002 of reaching the UEFA Champions League final at Hampden.
They beat the Red Devils in the knockout stages that year with a side that included household names like Lucio and Dimitar Berbatov.
Many will look back at Klaus Toppmoller’s reign as a nearly team, consigned to dissppointment when Bayern Munich’s financial power allowed them to to persuade Lucio and Ze Roberto to move clubs.
Bayer Leverkusen's strategy is firmly based around counter-attacking - and they're pretty good at it. The solid midfield three, which coach Sami Hyypia often changes, will provide a very tight, compact base, while the three-man attack of Stefan Kiessling, Son Heung-Min and Sidney Sam is very dangerous.
The notable weakness this season has been Leverkusen's inability to change matches from the bench. The jury is still out on Eren Derdiyok's return as back-up striker, but he certainly has the ability to score great goals.
The left flank is perhaps the weakest area of the team. Given Son's habit of cutting inside, the onus is on Sebastian Boenisch to offer an outlet on the outside. The Polish defender is fairly limited in that respect, especially in comparison to the departed Michal Kadlec.
Sami Hyppia needs little introduction. The Finnish coach took charge, officially, in the summer after completing his UEFA A licence in the Spring. But he also played a major role last year, even if Sascha Lewandowski, now U19 trainer, was officially the main man.