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30.05.2022Bayer 04

Season review, Hinrunde: Strong start – weak finish

There were great celebrations at the end of the season that saw Bayer 04 finish third in the Bundesliga to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League for the thirteenth time. The outcome of an eventful season that had many highlights but also several setbacks for the Werkself. We look back at the 2021/22 campaign in two parts. Today: the Hinrunde.
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matchdays 1-17

New personnel at Bayer 04

Gerardo Seoane takes over as head coach at the Werkself for the 2021/22 season. The Swiss coach moves under the Bayer Cross after three seasons with the Swiss top-flight club Young Boys Bern having won three league titles and one domestic cup competition. With the arrival of the 43-year-old, there is a modification to the Black and Red style of play that still contains the offensive and proactive Leverkusen DNA but is also more adjusted to the players available, the situation of the opponents as well as Werkself form and future matches. In addition, the approach is strongly focused on the desired result.

There are also changes to the squad: Left-back Mitchel Bakker (Paris Saint-Germain), goalkeeper Andrey Lunev (Zenit St. Petersburg) and talented youngster Zidan Sertdemir (FC Nordsjaelland U19) strengthen the Werkself squad at the start of pre-season training. The summer transfer window sees the arrival at Leverkusen of the two defenders Odilon Kossounou (FC Brugge) and Piero Hincapie (Club Atletico Telleres), midfielder Robert Andrich (Union Berlin) plus striker Amine Adli (FC Toulouse) .

 

 

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Stuttering preseason

On 6 July 2021, head coach Seoane welcomes 16 senior players and seven youth players to the first training session of the season. Nine Leverkusen first team players are away on international duty: Lukas Hradecky, Joel Pohjanpalo (both Finland), Julian Baumgartlinger (Austria) and Patrik Schick (Czech Republic) are in action at the European Championships. Charles Aránguiz (Chile) and Exequiel Palacios (Argentina) are competing in the Copa America, and Leon Bailey (Jamaica) is representing his country at the Gold Cup. Edmond Tapsoba has not yet arrived in Leverkusen due to international fixtures with Burkina Faso. Paulinho is preparing for the Olympic summer games in Tokyo with the Brazilian representing his home country as is Nadiem Amiri for Germany. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Lucas Alario are ruled out by injuries.

That means Seoane and his fellow coaches are missing a number of potential first choice players at the start of the preseason. The friendlies confirm that the team in this situation first need some time to find their feet. A 0-0 draw against Bundesliga rivals SC Freiburg is followed by a 5-1 defeat against the Dutch top-flight side FC Utrecht. There is a 3-1 win against Regional League Rot-Weiß Oberhausen but that is followed by a 1-0 defeat for the Werkself against third division FC Viktoria Köln.

 

 

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On song for first game

The Black and Reds visit FC Lokomotive Leipzig in first round of the DFB Cup 2021/22. Two quick goals from Kerem Demirbay (6’) and Karim Bellarabi (14’) give Bayer 04 an early lead at the Regional League club and Demirbay doubles his tally late on (87') to round off the scoring at 3-0.

The Werkself are able to show their strengths in the opening stages of the Bundesliga campaign with a solid defence providing the base for fast attacking moves for the Seoane eleven. A 1-1 draw in the opening match away to Union Berlin is followed by spectacular 4-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach. In front of a crowd of 15,105, Hradecky & Co. are on top from the start to the end in front of a full house at the BayArena with the capacity reduced by half due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the second home game of the season, 17,605 spectators (sold-out) witness a spectacular clash with Borussia Dortmund. Despite leading three times the game ends in a 4-3 defeat with Bayer 04 again showing huge determination and the quality that is in this team. The Werkself are second in the table level on points with league leaders Bayern Munich after seven games (five wins, one draw, one defeat).

Leverkusen get off to a flying start on the European stage. Two important wins are clocked up in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League: Palacios (37’) and Florian Wirtz (69’) secure the first three points with a 2-0 win against Ferencváros and that is followed on matchday two with a convincing 4-0 away win at top Scottish club Celtic.

 

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Bayern defeat setback

Top clash in the Bundesliga: Second-placed Bayer 04 entertain Bayern Munich, top of the table level on points, at the BayArena. Only four goals separate the two teams at this point. However, the team under head coach Seoane fail to take off against the record champions with the Werkself 5-0 down after 37 minutes. Striker Patrik Schick scores a consolation goal for the hosts the final score 5-1 in favour of FC Bayern.

The Werkself then find it difficult to get back to winning ways. In the third Europa League group match, Robert Andrich scores a late leveller at 1-1 against Real Betis. The Bayer 04 first team were not happy to share the points in the next game in the derby away to FC Köln. After a 2-0 lead plus several other chances to net a decisive third goal, the Black and Reds have to settle for a 2-2 draw in the end.

Cup exit in second round

The next blow follows three days later: The Seoane team go out of the DFB Cup at home to second division Karlsruher SC. The visitors scored the winner at 2-1 after a tragic mistake by the captain Lukas Hradecky. At the other end, the attacking players ahead of the Finland international keeper fail to convert several good chances.

That is followed by a home game against VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. The Werkself are unable to end the negative run against the team from Lower Saxony with the scoreboard showing a 2-0 defeat on matchday 10.

 

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European win and late Andrich leveller turn the tide

Away from the bread-and-butter of the league to the European stage: After five games without a win, Bayer 04 clock up a convincing 4-0 victory in the return match against Real Betis. Moussa Diaby shines on that Thursday evening with two goals and two assists. The Black and Reds remain unbeaten in Europe after that win.

The following Sunday sees the Werkself share the points with Hertha Berlin in a 1-1 draw at the Olympic Stadium. Leverkusen are trailing for a long time but the team under coach Seoane refuse to give up, show courage and succeed in picking up a point on 90 minutes with the leveller from midfield dynamo Robert Andrich.

Four wins on  the bounce

An upturn at the just right time: The team from Leverkusen secure successive wins in the Bundesliga against VfL Bochum (1-0) and RB Leipzig (3-1). Schick scores four in Bayer 04's biggest home win in the Bundesliga against Greuther Fürth (7-1).

Andrich & Co. run out 3-2 winners in the return game against Celtic in the Europa League. The Bayer 04 number eight nets a brace to secure progress to the knockout stage of the Europa League with a game to play. The final group match against Ferencváros in Budapest ends in a 1-0 defeat.

 

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Too little ahead of winter break

There are only seven days for the last three matches in the first half of the 2021/22 season. Gerardo Seoane and his team twice give away 2-0 leads. The Werkself lose 5-2 at Eintracht Frankfurt and that is followed by a 2-2 draw at the BayArena against TSG Hoffenheim. Florian Wirtz plays Bundesliga match number 50 on that Wednesday night. The Germany international is the youngest player to achieve that in Germany's top flight (at the age of 18 years, seven months, 12 days).

The first half of the season ends with a 2-1 defeat at SC Freiburg. Bayer 04 only pick up one point out of a possible nine in the final week and lose touch with FC Bayern (first, 43 points) and Borussia Dortmund (second, 34 points). The Black and Reds end the Hinrunde in fourth place (28 points) one point behind SC Freiburg.

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