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Bundesliga Team Report: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

The latest in our series on Bundesliga teams to manage sees us profile a team known to many for their regular appearances in continental competitions over the last two decades, Bayer 04 Leverkusen. 

The club were founded in 1904 by workers at the Pharmaceutical company Bayer AG and they’ve tried to maintain a link to their roots to this day, with Leverkusen nicknamed ‘Die Werkself’, meaning ‘The Company’s Eleven’. Despite their long history, they’ve never lifted the German title.

Bundesliga regulars since 1980, they’ve mostly finished in the top half, aside from a couple of brushes with the drop zone, and more often than not in the top six. Domestically, their best achievements are five second-place finishes in the league and a single DfB Pokal triumph in 1993.

Leverkusen have had some great success in Europe, producing a dramatic comeback from a 3-0 first leg deficit to win the 1988 Euro Cup on penalties. They also became the first team to reach the Champions Cup final without having ever won a league title in 2002, losing 2-1. 

Bundesliga Team Report: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

In recent years the club have focused on marketing themselves as a clean, family-friendly club. Harnessing that community support and ending their hoodoo in the league with a squad replete with wonderkids is a Football Manager dream scenario. Here’s all you need to know before heading to North-Rhine Westphalia. 

Club Vision

Media Prediction: 3rd
Board expectation: Qualify for Champions Cup

At Leverkusen, the expectations of the media and board are aligned – both think you have the talent at your disposal to secure a top four finish and a spot in the Champions Cup come the season’s end. Expectations are high elsewhere too. A run to the semi-finals of the DfB Pokal is the bare minimum, while you are expected to navigate your way through the group stages in Europe and make the first knockout round. To remain competitive and fight on all fronts you will need tactical flexibility and the managerial nous to effectively rotate the squad. 

In seasons two and three, you are expected to consolidate your position as a top four side and work towards title contention. Steady progression. But, with the likes of Moussa Diaby, Kai Havertz and Edmond Tapsoba maturing all the time, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that you could surpass those goals.
Unlike some of the other sides profiled in this series, the Leverkusen board do have a preferred playing style in mind – entertaining football. To be honest, looking at the players you’ve got, it’d be hard not to play exciting, exuberant football. 

When you do make your first forays into the transfer market, the board would prefer you to sign German players or players based in Germany already, and players under the age of 23 ready for the first team. Keeping that conveyor belt of young talent moving is essential to the club’s upward trajectory.

The Squad

Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, the Leverkusen squad is a paradise for many an FM player. It’s Wonderkid central.

You’ve got the mercurial Havertz, the aforementioned Diaby and Tapsoba, exciting wide players Leon Bailey and Paulinho as well as highly touted Argentine midfielder Exequiel Palacios. In defence you’ve got the increasingly mature Jonathan Tah, while Panagiotis Retsos returns to the club at the end of season one.

Even those who have outgrown the wonderkid label and are in their mid-20s are approaching the peak of their powers. Full-backs Wendell and Daley Sinkgraven are still rounding out their skillset, while Lucas Alario and Kevin Volland will benefit from more experience at the highest level. 

Bayer 04 Leverkusen Training Units

Importantly, you also have some veterans in the squad who provide quality and great mentoring potential for the younger players. The Bender twins, Lars and Sven, offer leadership, Lukas Hradecky is a steady presence in the nets and Julian Baumgartlinger is a tireless midfielder who will cover every blade of grass for you, retrieving the ball and distributing it to his teammates. 

Key Players
Lars Bender

When you walk the doors at the BayArena, Bender is your captain and with good reason. He has been an almost ever-present for Die Werkself over the last decade, developing an abundance of experience and leadership skills. He is best at right-back but has the versatility to also play in midfield. While Bender may not be the quickest or most creative player, his skillset and experience are invaluable. He’ll be integral to holding a very young team together as you look to challenge on three fronts. 

Lars Bender

Kai Havertz

Hardly our most insightful selection in this series, but Havertz is a different animal. He’s special. A true once in a generation talent.

 One must only look at his stats in the real world this season, and the records he’s broken to understand why he’s lauded, and wanted, the world over. Havertz is the youngest-ever player to record 100 appearances in the Bundesliga. His goal against SC Freiburg last month meant that he had scored more goals than any other play under the age of 21 in the German top flight.

Kai Havertz FM20

Havertz’s stats in FM20 reflect his mercurial abilities. He’s got 16 for Off the Ball, 17 for First Touch and 17 for Vision. With exceptional movement, a brilliant eye for a pass and fantastic finishing, he might be difficult to hold on to, but if you can he’ll be the creative heartbeat of your team for a generation, perhaps winning the greatest individual honours in the game along the way.

Kevin Volland

Sometimes deployed as a winger, Kevin Volland has thrived as a striker since joining Leverkusen from 1899 Hoffenheim in 2016. He contributed to more than 21 goals for Die Werkself in 2019, and for a time he was statistically outperforming the likes of Timo Werner, Marco Reus and Serge Gnabry.

Volland’s Work Rate of 18 highlights the all-round job that he will do for your team and he is perfectly suited to playing as a pressing forward, a role that will dovetail superbly with the abundance of pacy wingers in the squad.  

Youth Prospects

As we’ve alluded to already, Leverkusen have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young talent. Tapsoba, Havertz, Bailey, Paulinho, Diaby and the like may all be in the first team but they are also prospects, so you will need to regularly look at their training reports and work with your backroom team to ensure they develop as they should.

A cursory look at the Development Centre shows that there’s more to come. Central defender Kevin Bukusu, Polish midfielder Adrian Stanilewicz, and German duo Marco Wolf and Florian Wirtz all have the potential to make their mark on your Leverkusen team as the save progresses.

The Final Word

Some managers strive for years to bring in a selection of elite prospects and they probably still wouldn’t have the bags of potential Leverkusen have got, and it’s for this reason that they are such a good team to manage in FM20. Your immediate goal is securing European football, and potentially winning the Cup for a second time, and after that, it’s time to end the decades long wait for a first Bundesliga title. How sweet it’ll feel.