Well, the first season at Leverkusen is over, and what a season that was. It’s time to recap the second half of the season, and outline my plans moving forward. We’ve had dominating league wins over Dortmund, Schalke and Stuttgart, battles with Bayern, cup runs, and just to top it all off, financial difficulties as a result of the previous management (who somehow is favoured personnel at the club!). At one point we were £25M in the red, and I was seriously worried the club was going down, and I was going down with it. The proverbial sinking ship.
So, did I manage to turn things round, or is this a closing post for the Bayer Leverkusen save?
No, it isn’t. We’re still alive, despite the best interests of the previous management, and the players’ agents. In fact, as I type this, we’re £9.71M in the black. This won’t last, but it’s nice to be able to relax for a little bit.
So, first things first, how did we finish in the Bundesliga?
As always, it wasn’t anywhere near as easy as a 4 point gap suggests. What was a shock was Bayern suddenly dropping off, and in the end finishing 9 points behind us after being neck and neck all the way. Dortmund replaced them as our main challengers, and were on fire in the second half of the season. The Dortmund team is fantastic, featuring Gabriel Barbosa, Marco Reus, Marco Asensio, Eder Alvarez Balanta (who’s like a brick wall), and Mats Hummels. It’s a fantastic team and Prandelli sets them out in a strong counter attacking 4-4-2. At one point they closed the gap to 1 point, and I was getting concerned. They also beat us in the second fixture.
Again, like the last update, you can see where this league has been won, in defence. We’ve only conceded 24 goals this season, a concession rate of 0.7 goals per game. Not bad at all. We’ve also continued our goalscoring prowess from the first half of the season, finishing with 82 goals scored, leading the league in this regard, with Dortmund finishing 1 goal behind us. With the best defence and the best attack in the league, it’s not difficult to see why we’ve won the league really.
We were perhaps not quite as convincing in the second half of the season as we were in the first half, but that really is nitpicking. We remained solid, maintaining the lead we’d developed over the first half, and only an annoying loss to Dortmund followed by consecutive draws caused us any trouble, and this was where Dortmund closed the point to 1 point. However, we then went on a tear towards the end of the season, comfortably beating everyone in our path, apart from a 0-0 draw at Monchengladbach. I can’t even describe how good the team were against Hoffenheim in the 5-0 though. Hoffenheim struggled all season and finished bottom, but that doesn’t take anything away from how good we were, and the 4-3-1-2 worked beautifully. I’m going to do a standalone piece on the 4-3-1-2 sometime soon, so keep an eye out for that.
If you remember, we were also facing Dortmund in the quarter final of the DFB Pokal. At this point, they hadn’t beaten us all season, and we demolished them 4-1 in the league. Unfortunately this is Football Manager, and this didn’t transfer into the Pokal, and we went out on penalties to Dortmund. Still, this was the lesser of the three trophies we were in contention for, and I can have a go at winning it next season.
This was the big one. We’d comfortably made our way through the group stages of the Europa League and drew Dnipro in the first knockout round. We easily swept them aside 6-2 on aggregate, before drawing a very talented Roma in the next round, with players such as Gaston Gil Romero, Daniele Di Rossi and Richairo Zivkovic. A crucial 1-0 win away at the Olimpico put us in a great position, and a slightly nervy 1-1 draw at the BayArena put us through on away goals. I thought we’d go out when we drew Roma, so anything after this point was a massive bonus for me. We then drew Basel in probably the easiest match in the draw, and effortlessly beat them 5-1 on aggregate. Next up, a massively talented Marseille side. If you remember, Marseille were one of the teams I was interviewed for before getting the Leverkusen job, and they turned me down for my ‘lack of experience’, so I wanted to demolish them. Demolish them we did, 2-0 at home and 4-1 away for a 6-1 aggregate victory. Yes, we actually made the final of the Europa League, facing European legends Benfica in the final. Benfica’s final curse is somewhat legendary now, and they failed to win again, with my Leverkusen side once again sweeping away the opposition, and winning 4-2, in a ridiculous final where we dominated the game.
European Champions. The Europa League, but still, it’s a vital step forward and we played some fantastic teams along the way, particularly Roma, Marseille and Benfica, and didn’t have many problems with any of them. This gives me the confidence to say that we’ll be absolutely fine in the Champions League next season.
Including the Super Cup we won at the start of the season, that’s a treble in the first season. Not a bad return. It’s been stressful at times (most of the time), but three trophies is a fantastic return for the efforts of the players.
Speaking of the players, I’m going to do a top 3 players of the year, but honestly, it’s easier to do a list of who disappointed me than who excelled, because as critical as I can be (and was in the last update), 95% of them were brilliant this season.
3. Cyril Bodin (CD)
This was a toss up between Bodin and Julian Brandt, and I’ve given the position to Bodin, who was absolutely fantastic in his first season at the club, averaging 7.36 for the season, and in the last five games of the season, averaging 7.76 and being a driving force in the Bundesliga and Europa League wins. I predicted him to be the French Cannavaro, and that’s exactly how he plays. He’s fantastic covering behind the defence and the more aggressive Murillo or Toprak and I’ve lost count of the amount of last ditch tackles he’s made when we’ve thrown bodies forward. It’s vital for our setup to have someone as good as Bodin who can make these tackles, and he’s been peerless. He’s our central defender for years to come, and I tied him up to a new contract (without appearance fees) until 2024.
2. Eros Medaglia
He doesn’t look world class does he? I mean he looks decent, but not the second best player in the Bundesliga by a long way. Well he is. He’s a world class right back who averaged 7.80 for the season, good enough for the second best average in the Bundesliga. He bombed up the right flank all season long, providing that vital width that we need in the 4-3-1-2. He’s one of those ‘unseen’ players that contributes so much without you even realising it. When we attack, he’s always there. When we defend, he’s always there. He’s just solid, dependable, and so much better than the £16M value the game has given him. He only made 5 assists all season, but it’s his all round game that’s so vital. In any normal season, he’d be my best player, but one particular player didn’t have a normal season.
1. Hakan Calhanoglu
A 7.87 average rating in the Bundesliga. That says it all. 30 goals and 21 assists in all competitions with a total rating of 7.72. He’s just had an incredible season, and was voted Fussballer des Jahres in Germany ahead of Reus and Lewandowski. In the AP-A role in the 4-3-1-2, he absolutely dominates and controls the game, in a very Messi like fashion (with Messi’s move towards a more playmaker like role recently). He scores and creates and is the perfect ‘forward’. He floats between being a semi-striker and a playmaker in the hole. At 26, he still has plenty of time left, and he’s undoubtedly our star player, even above Tielemans (who I still think I can get more out of). The game underrates his value, and I won’t be selling him for quite some time.
I also think it’s worth covering the January signings, Jose Luis Gaya and Daniel Vener.
Gaya came in to replace Kostas Stafylidis, who was sold to PSG for £20.5M. Stafylidis ended up averaging 6.97 for the season once moving to PSG, and Gaya ended the season with a ridiculous 7.50 average after his move. I think it can clearly be seen that we’ve upgraded here, and my scouts finally recognise that too, now giving him the same rating as they gave Stafylidis, and recognising him as a world class player. At only 25, he’s got plenty of time left and he will be our left back for years to come.
Vener has come on leaps and bounds since joining in January from Lanus on a free transfer. He was comfortably the backup CM-D (and occassional BWM-S) to Lars Bender as the season went on, but when Bender went down with a 3 month injury, I plugged Vener in, and he’s just made the position his own. He’s already improved a lot in the several months of playing time he’s received, and I don’t think Bender will be taking the place back, and Vener will be the starting CM-D for next season. He finished the season with an average of 7.08, and reminds me more and more of Busquets every time I watch him. He’s not strong, but reads the game so well, and has the ability to tackle well and pick out a pass to the flanks, which we need the CM-D to do. I can’t say enough good things about him, and this could well be the best transfer I’ve ever made in terms of value for money.
Which bring me on to, well, money.
This is the financial situation as things stand right now. You can see how ridiculously well I’m doing with the wage budget, and I’m looking to bring this down a bit further through the close season. The Bundesliga and Europa League wins gained us £41M in prize money, which shows by our balance just how bad things got. Despite that, the club have still given me a great wage budget and transfer budget (part of which I’ve already spent, but I’ll cover that later). For now £9.71M in the black is a nice position to be in, but I know this will deteriorate again. Until things even out, we’re going to have to keep being successful. Fortunately, prize money in Germany is quite high, so I can confidently say that we should be fine, as long as we keep at least challenging for the title. I have no doubt that Bayern and Dortmund will come back strong next season, as well as probably Schalke. For now though, I’m happy with the finances.
Which segways nicely into transfer policy, and I’ve got a few choices to make this Summer, which I’ll go through soon, but first I’ll show you the first signing this Summer, Ivan Ribeiro.
Ribeiro joined from Benfica for £19.25M, which isn’t cheap, but I think Ribeiro is going to turn out to be a world class centre back, and will be a perfect partner for the smaller and classier Bodin. On the other hand, Ribeiro is a 6″4′ tank, with 17 jumping reach, and 19 strength, along with fantastic defending stats for a 21 year old. He didn’t start against us in the Europa League final, and I cannot figure out why. I think he’s going to be a fantastic player for Leverkusen.
Ribeiro is the only piece of business I’ve done so far, and the other transfers will be covered in the pre-season update, but I’m also going to cover the transfers that I’m considering.
Firstly, the signing of Ribeiro probably foreshadows the first sale of the Summer, and that’s probably going to be Jeison Murillo. Murillo’s a great partner for Bodin (and averaged 7.27 for the season), but he’s approaching 28, and the game values him at £27M, and to be honest, I think Ribeiro’s an upgrade on Murillo, and is younger at 21. If I’m going to cash in on him, then now is the best time to do it. I’d sell Toprak, but he’s a very solid backup, and at 30, isn’t really worth selling for the £3.7M I’d get for him.
Another player I’m debating cashing in on is Julian Brandt. He made the most assists in the Bundesliga with 14 (along with Hakan), with a 7.36 rating, but the game is really tempting me to sell him, slapping a £31M price tag on him, a value that I think is far above what he’s really worth. He’s not as quite consistent as his stats would suggest as well, and has a habit of going missing at times. I’m sure I can get a better option for cheaper here as well, and since I’m not focusing on any nationalities, I can simply build a monster team. I’ll see. I’ve also renegotiated appearance fees out of his contract, but I’ve been forced to give him £110k per week, something I’m not too happy about.
These are still not certain though, and I’ll cover them in the next update, which will cover the transfers and pre-season, as well as those pesky finances. Until then, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section.