The Leverkusen roster is fairly deep by Bundesliga standards and has some serious top-end talent. Julian Brandt (22) is the showcase player for Leverkusen, but Leon Bailey (21) and Kai Havertz (19) are also both young and wildly talented. When combining them with the likes of Kevin Volland (26), Lucas Alario (25), Paulinho (18), the makings for a solid offensive unit are there. Frankly, with just two goals scored in the Bundesliga over the team’s first three games, the inability to generate offense is the biggest issue with the team at the moment.
Jonathan Tah is a 22-year old defender that is close to breaking through for Die Mannschaft, but his play against Bayern Munich on Saturday was awful. Bayern has that habit of making most players look that way, but how can Jogi Low entrust Tah over the likes of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Niklas Sule, or Matthias Ginter, when Tah turns in brutal efforts against top competition like he did against Die Roten? Tah has talent and is a physical presence at center back, but his struggles with positioning and decision-making have made him a bit of an albatross so far. We firmly expect Tah to improve, but he’s got to be better than he’s been. Mitchell Weiser is another player that Leverkusen could absolutely use to show more ability. The talent is clearly there with Weiser, but he needs to be better and more consistent.
Dominik Kohr, Wendell, Lars Bender, and Sven Bender each represent a stable presence on the roster, but with Julian Baumgartlinger injured the team has struggle to assert itself in the midfield. Perhaps the Austrian’s presence in the defensive midfield has left a gap too big to fill for Die Werkself.
Brandt is the player who needs to shoulder the burden of leading the players on a path back to respectability. Bailey, despite his recent, contract extension is among the most popular transfer rumor targets on the market, which may be leading to off-the-field distractions. The tabloids have Bailey with one foot out the door and just maybe that is affecting his play to the point where he’s not fully focused on the task at hand — you, know actually winning games.
Similar to Brandt and Bailey, Volland, and Havertz have not risen to the occasion like the team needs them to; instead they’ve wilted under the pressure of actually being on a team that is supposed to be a competitor this season.
Conversely, the season is still in diapers, and as a significant portion of the roster is still almost equally as young, there is plenty of time for Heiko Herrlich to rally his troops and start to direct the squad back to where it should be. Leverkusen could easily experience a resurgence if the messaging to the roster is consistent and the strategies from the coach are sharp.
Herrlich is really not doing himself any favors. In a marquee match-up against the league’s top team, Herrlich elected to keep his best player (Brandt) on the bench for the first 26 minutes of the game; a strategy that was both questionable and silly. Brandt, whose reputation in German national soccer has grown leaps and bounds, was tailor-made for this moment against Bayern Munich and instead, spent almost a third of the game watching as his team fell behind. It was a brick of a decision by Herrlich and one that has not afforded him much room for error from here.
Herrlich is on thin ice. His decision making and player deployments have absolutely raised some eyebrows. His questionable strategies, combined with the team’s under-achieving play, have put the 46-year old in the organizational crosshairs. If Die Werkself can’t straighten itself quickly, Herrlich is likely going to fall victim to the managerial ax.
In some respects, Herrlich can’t get on the field and improve the decision-making for his players, but with such young talent and a core of steady veterans, Herrlich — and his team — should be doing much better than zero points right now.
But there is time. Plenty of time. Enough, in fact, to still battle with Bayern and Dortmund among others. Die Werkself should be able to turn this effort around and work its way back into contention.
Patience, however, is fickle and Herrlich will need immediate changes to the course of this team if he plans on being around for any resurgence.