I’ve finished the pre-season of the second season of my Leverkusen save, so yet again it’s time to update you all on how things are going. In the last update, we won the Bundesliga and the Europa League at the end of season 1, and had somewhat recovered the financial situation, sitting with £9.71M in the bank, a hell of a lot better than the near £30M in the red were were in partway through the season.
I’d outlined that I needed a centre back, and probably a striker. I was planning on selling Jeison Murillo and possibly Julian Brandt. Things didn’t quite go to plan, but in the end I feel I’ve strengthened the squad, putting us in a good position both domestically and in Europe.
Firstly, I did sell Jeison Murillo. I didn’t get as much for him as I’d have liked, but he eventually went for £18.5M to Barcelona, nearly offsetting the £19.25M I paid for Ribeiro, who can be seen in the previous update. However, I couldn’t sell Brandt. I kept offering him out, but clubs wouldn’t bite, and I wasn’t going to just give him away for nothing. He’s still a classy player who led the Bundesliga in assists last season (despite inconsistencies), and he can stay and compete for his place.
I was then given a >£40M warchest with which to strengthen the squad, and that I did.
The second arrival was Brazilian striker Thiago from Palmeiras for £17.75M, which I think is a steal quite frankly. He was coming up towards the end of his contract, and as a result, his asking price had dropped from nearly £40M to £17M. A great finisher, with good dribbling, and great movement and pace. At only 21, he’s going to be a star for us for the next decade. I’d planned to play him at Advanced Forward ahead of Drmic, but I’ve taken a punt on another player, which has meant Thiago has moved into another position.
After the sale of perennial non-goalscorer Karim Ansarifard in the January window, I needed a backup in the Trequartista position. Someone who would provide a good alternative to the starter, but who was very much at the ‘backup’ level. I found the perfect option in Ahmed Hajji at Chelsea, and signed him for £14M. He’s only 20, and has plenty of time to develop, and could be a world class player, but for now I’m happy to have him be the backup. That was the plan. Thiago at AF, Brandt still at Treq, with Hajji as the backup, and Drmic as the backup for Thiago, with Mehmet Sahinoglu the third string.
… and then I stumbled upon Dutchman Ulrich Isa at PSG, available for £2.9M on the transfer list. Considering the plan I had above, I tried to resist signing him. I took to Twitter for advice, and @MrEds and @StatisticalApp persuaded me that he was worth the punt, and to play him at AF. So I bought him, for a frankly ridiculous £2.9M. For some reason, my scouts really do not rate him, only giving him 2 stars. I can’t for the life of me see why, and to me, he looks like a properly world class striker that’s been languishing in PSG’s reserves. My only concern is his lack of pace, but I’m hoping that this won’t really be an issue. To be honest, even if it is, I’ve only paid £2.9M for him, so it’s well worth the risk.
As a result, we were left with too many strikers, so I sold Josep Drmic for an admittedly cut price £4.8M to Sevilla, and I finally got rid of Heung-Min Son and his massive wages for £7.25M to Zenit (thank you Zenit again for taking my useless players). I would ideally have liked to get much more for Drmic, but I no longer had any need to keep him around with the new influx of attackers, and he would have just wasted away unused. At least this way I get a bit of cash for him before he becomes too old to sell. However, Drmic had recently become an ‘icon’ at Leverkusen, and as a result, the fans are disgusted. Isa has scored 4 goals in 2 league games to start the season, so hopefully that shuts them up.
As a result, the first choice starting lineup this season will be:
Timo Horn (SK-D)
Eros Medaglia (CWB-S), Ivan Ribeiro (CD-D), Cyril Bodin (CD-C), Jose Luis Gaya (CWB-S)
Dominik Kohr (BWM-S), Daniel Vener (CM-D), Youri Tielemans (CW)
Hakan Calhanoglu (AP-A)
Ulrich Isa (AF-A), Thiago (T-A)
Early doors, things look good look good, with Isa scoring 4 goals in 2 league games, and Hakan seemingly continuing his great form from last season. I haven’t had much chance to see Thiago and Ribeiro, as both have been on pesky international duty.
Early signs are positive as far as results go as well. We breezed through our (admittedly easy) pre-season friendlies, before facing Bayern in the Supercup, with Diego Simeone now under considerable pressure. a 2-0 victory for Leverkusen heaped even greater pressure on him, especially considering I had to play our 4th string centre back, as Ribeiro and Bodin were on international duty. The progress we’ve made in just a season is ridiculous. from 6th and the Europa League, to champions, and playing Champions League football, having won the Europa League.
Speaking of the Europa League win, we then played Barca in the European Super Cup, and lost 3-2, conceding in the last 5 minutes after leading partway through. It was gutting, but it’s indicative of how far the club has come that the Champions League winners only just beat us, and it gives me plenty of confidence for the season to come. Again, it’s worth noting that I couldn’t play my full strength side against Barca, playing my 3rd and 4th string centre backs. Against Messi, Neymar and Suarez, that’s a nightmare.
In terms of plans for the season, we have to at least compete for the title again. Considering the money gained from a high placed finish in the Bundesliga, we can really strengthen our position financially if we manage that, especially considering the bank loan we have to shell out for every month. I’d also like to do well in the Champions League, but I’m taking baby steps, and not expecting anything from our first season in the top echelon of European competition. Squad wise, I’m now in a position to rotate much more, with more versatile players upfront. Isa is really the only player who can only play one role upfront. I’m still a little bit unsure about the Isa transfer, and I don’t think he’ll stay at the club too long. Thiago is clearly the future at AF, and he will play that position this season as the front line rotates. At the very least, I will make a profit on Isa, as his value keeps going up week by week.
I’ll update again in January, hopefully again challenging for the Bundesliga and doing well in Europe. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask either in the comments section, or on Twitter (@JLAspey).