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  • By Alessandro Schiavone in Leverkusen

Why British clubs want to draw crisis club Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League

By Alessandro Schiavone at BayArena in Leverkusen Germany

Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 TSG Hoffenheim

Bayer Leverkusen were woeful on Saturday afternoon as they shipped thrice without response against TSG Hoffenheim at the BayArena.

Second-best from start to finish in every area of the pitch, Champions League participants Bayer Leverkusen produced a horror show in front of their distraught supporters.

Unable to lay a glove on Andre Breitenreiter’s men in the forward areas for large parts of the game, the Werkself’s criminal defending and schoolboy errors did the rest.

Having finished THIRD in last season’s Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen are in pot four and hence a likely group stage opponent for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.

But above all, they are in a spot of bother right now. And one could be for forgiven for thinking that it’s them who lost Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, Filip Kostic and Axel Witsel and got weaker as a result, such was their absence of identity and character. But that isn’t the case as they kept all their prized assets barring Lucas Alario.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. And even though Leverkusen have lost their opening three league games, the campaign is still in its infancy and there are 31 games to go for in German football.

And as Arsenal demonstrated last year after slipping to three reversals at the start of the campaign, a corner can and will surely be turned as this Leverkusen side have way too much quality (on paper) to not finish among the land's best eight.

But what have we learned in their 3-0 demolition at the hands of Hoffenheim and what could the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, or even Liverpool and Man City expect?

Morale is low in the camp

Leverkusen lack belief, spirit and togetherness as the first 45 minutes were a real confidence shaker. The players never looked like they could get something from this game. And the unforgiving Hoffenheimer smelled blood before delivering the sucker punches to leave the tiny city, filled with passionate supporters who were once used to seeing their side in Champions League finals, in ruins. One, two, three. Game over. Especially Leicester flop Andrej Kramaric’s headed goal to put Hoffenheim 2-0 up on 35 minutes had a debilitating effect on the already-disheartened home side. After being battered 3-0, skipper Jonathan Tah told reporters in the mixed zone that his team were “not aggressive enough out of possession but also when they had the ball.” This sums up their form right now. They made Hoffenheim, who finished NINTH in the table last season, look like Real Madrid. This is a team screaming for new faces and crying out for an open-heart surgery as Ralf Rangnick would say. Swiss coach Gerardo Seoane’s laboratory could do with a couple of signings to give him different options when Plans A or B don’t work out. He didn’t have any on Saturday. To some degree like Thomas Tuchel at Elland Road, where Chelsea suffered a 3-0 trashing yesterday. But a potential date with the Blues or Spurs would well be a mismatch. How would Leverkusen deal with English clubs’ high intensity and pressing if they play like yesterday?

Suicidal defending

There was nothing to save from a defensive viewpoint, other than the fact that it could have been an even bigger capitulation had Hoffenheim, who took the foot off the gas for 44 long minutes before Georginio Rutter sealed the deal with a spectacular curled goal 12 minutes from time, had wanted. So how did the three goals happen and why? Be it individually or collectively, as a team, Leverkusen were not up to the task. Any player can have a shocker once in a while, but if the rest of his teammates step up and double their efforts, they can make up for his deficit if required. But they didn’t because they didn’t know how to help themselves first. Hoffenheim cut Leverkusen open whenever they wanted. And a staggering FIVE Leverkusen players watched on as Baumgartner’s backheel flick sailed past the hapless Hradecky in goal. That is not acceptable. Then for the second goal, Patrik Schick cheaply gave the ball away in midfield which paved the way for Liverpool flop Ozan Kabak to break forward and pick out Kramaric who headed home at the back-post. Keeper Radecky may have been deceived by the trajectory of the deflected ball ,but Sardar Azmoun and Piero Hincapie should have closed Kabak down or at least attempted to do so. Frimpong then watched on as the Croatia international nodded the ball over the line. That’s three gross mistakes in the space of a few seconds. And to save Leverkusen’s blushes, the visitors then had a goal disallowed for a foul from Kabak on Hlozek after the referee reviewed the pitchside monitor on the stroke of half-time. For the third goal on 78 minutes, red-hot Rutter ran rings around PSG misfit Bakker before stabbing an unerring effort beyond the palms of the Finland international. Ex-Man City left-back Angeliño could have got on the scoresheet late on but for his volley to miss the target completely.

Worryingly, each time Leverkusen were asked a serious question they faltered. And Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount would be licking their lips at the thought of facing this diabolic side in the Champions League. On the basis of what they produced yesterday, that would be SIX points in the bag for English sides.

That said, a bad day at the office is completely normal from time to time. Any team can lose 3-0 at home if things are conspiring against you. But it goes way deeper than that. It’s the lack of reaction and poor body language that should set the alarm bells ringing more than the result. How did they go from elation to reaching the Champions League three months ago to deflation in such a short period of time? It’s now Seoane’s job to discipline and resuscitate his men, maybe with the help of a sports psychologist. It’s a tough but not impossible task. But how can he turn things around? Keeping things compact at the back and the distances between defence and midfield tighter would already be a good start, regardless of the players he has. And then with that strategy he can grind out wins. Of course, with the addition of some players everything would become a lot easier.

Schick is wasted in this team

Strikers thrive on service. If that is non-existent even the game’s greatest forwards like Ronaldo, Marco Van Basten or Zlatan Ibrahimovic can’t do much. But mind you, Leverkusen were presented with a couple of scorable chances early in the game. Despite conceding so much territory to Hoffenheim, chances were not at a premium. In fact, with the scores level, Moussa Diaby saw his low effort thwarted by Oliver Baumann. Even Patrik Schick had a glorious opportunity to cancel out Baumgartner’s effort but fired over after a superb flick and sharp turn which left Kabak stranded. Late on, Kerem Demirbay saw his free-kick glance off the outside of the post. In between Hoffenheim’s goal galore, Leverkusen showed some attacking intent and impetus. But Schick, who was the top scorer with five strikes for the Czech Republic at EURO 2020, could and should have done more to ease the pressure on his teammates with better hold-up play and run ins behind. His game smelled of desperation yesterday. He’s yet to score this season and maybe the return of Florian Wirtz will get the best out of him again. If not, yesterday wasn’t a one-off.

Andrich & Frimpong like day and night

Leader Robert Andrich’s determined performance stands in stark contrast to Frimpong’s own display.

The box-to-box midfielder was everywhere in the first period and helped smother Hoffenheim’s attacks through the middle on a couple of occasions and spread the play. But one player can't do much on his own if the other ten are not on his wavelength.

Such as Jeremie Frimpong, Leverkusen’s weak link which Hoffenheim targeted and exposed to devastating effects. He was taken to the cleaners by Rutter and company and never managed to break up the guests’ attacks. It even looked as though Die Werkself were a man down on the back foot. However the Dutchman was slightly better when he went forward and even had a crack from distance on 28 minutes which Baumann comfortably saved. But that’s not enough to defend against the likes of Marc Cucurella, Ivan Perisic, Richarlison, Sterling and co. And the ex-Man City academy graduate needs to defend much better in key moments of the game.

Life and football don’t always play out the way one plans it. And the despondent Leverkusen fans must have got used to the idea that they may be in for quite a long season. But the good news that there are some saveable things from Saturday's grim performance. Not only could Leverkusen have scored a couple of goals but the ones they conceded are avoidable with better motivation and concentration levels. Star man Florian Wirtz will also return from injury at some point to inject much-needed creativity and goals to the side, which will also enable them to play in a more direct and less predictable way. All things considered right now confidence is fragile but the players could do with some hairdryer treatment in the dressing room to refocus and press the reset button before it's too late. And the club needs the biggest upturn in performance and fortunes in donkey’s years if they don’t want to become cannon fodder for La Liga, Premier League and Serie A teams in the Champions League. Because potential trips to the British capital would be done so with a considerable amount of trepidation on current form. The likes Frimpong, Tah, Hincapie, Tapsoba et al should take a long and hard look at themselves because the way they played is anything but Bundesliga level. And if they defend in such an appalling manner against the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur or Barcelona there's a good chance two hands won't be enough to count the goals.


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