70 times top of the league - but never on matchday 34

Bayer 04 have been top of the Bundesliga 70 times in 40 years. The Werkself twice led at the halfway-stage and were once top at Christmas - but, as is well known, never number one on matchday 34.

It took a long time for this first: In their eighth season in the Bundesliga, Bayer 04 were in first place in Germany's top flight after a runaway victory. On 23 August 1986, the Werkself conquered top spot with a 5-0 victory over Rhine neighbours Fortuna Düsseldorf. After matchday three in the 1986/87 campaign, the Black and Reds were ahead of the rest of their league rivals. "It was cool to open up Kicker on Monday and look at the table," said Rüdiger Vollborn, back then in goal for Leverkusen. The five goals against Düsseldorf were scored by five different players: Florian Hinterberger, Bum-Kun Cha, Falko Götz, Christian Schreier and Herbert Waas. Jörg Schmadtke, now CEO at VfL Wolfsburg, was then in goal for the stricken  Düsseldorf team. Fortuna also had a number of other famous players in their ranks including Gerd Zewe, Holger Fach and Sven Demandt - the last two later played for Bayer 04. 

Just 11,000 spectators were at the Ulrich Haberland Stadium for that match. The team did not go over the top celebrating leading the league for the first time. "We were much happier about starting the season with two really good games at home," said Vollborn. The Royal Blues of FC Schalke were sent packing in a 4-2 win for the Werkself. That was followed by a goalless draw away to Borussia Dortmund.

Falko Götz beats Jörg Schmadtke to make it 3-0 - Bayer 04 win 5-0 against Düsseldorf to top the table for the first time.

The first participation in the UEFA Cup unleashed great euphoria in Leverkusen. 5,000 fans came to the season launch event at the Haberland Stadium. The first years of mid-table mediocrity were over and now the aim was to finish at the top end of the league.

soya instead of steak

Bayer 04 remained top of the league for three match days in the late summer of 1986. The 5-0 victory was followed by a 4-1 derby win away to FC Köln, which followed the first ever win in the January of that year. The team coached by Eric Ribbeck beat FC Nürnberg 2-0 at home putting them above Bayern Munich on goal difference on matchday five with nine points and 15 goals for and three against. Bayer 04 had to relinquish top spot on matchday six after a 2-1 defeat away to Hamburg SV. However, the team remained in touch with FC Bayern and HSV in the coming weeks. On matchday 12 there was a top game: Bayer 04 in second place were away to leaders Bayern Munich - and they secured a sensational 3-0 win at the Olympic Stadium. A brace from Falko Götz and a strike from the impressive Christian Hausmann (pictured above) gave Leverkusen three points and the lead in the league for four more matchdays.

On matchday 15, Bayer 04 looked to be on track to finish top at the winter break for the first time. Then came an event out of the blue: For inexplicable reasons, at least for members of the squad, Erich Ribbeck ordered a change of nutrition. Up to that point, the team always went to Gut Keuchhof ahead of home games to enjoy a mixed salad, pasta, steak and ice cream. Now, ahead of the game against works rivals Bayer Uerdingen, there was a healthy, organic menu at another restaurant. "We were suddenly given carrot and apple salad and soya," recalls Rüdiger Vollborn with dread. Clearly, the unusual diet did not go down well with the goalkeeper and his team-mates: Bayer 04 lost 4-1 on matchday 16 and were again pushed off top spot. After a 1-0 defeat at Stuttgart on the last matchday of the first half of the season,  Bayer 04 were in third place over the winter break.

In the second half of the season, the Ribbeck team could have been top of the league again. With poor weather conditions leading to postponements, the table presented a distorted picture. On matchday 20, Bayer 04 would have been top if it had included the postponed game against Schalke 04 played two months later in April that the Werkself won 2-1. Instead FC Bayern were top on matchday 20. At the end of an impressive season overall, Leverkusen finished in sixth place to qualify for the UEFA Cup again.

Werkself top at Christmas

Over the next decade, Bayer 04 rarely managed to be in top spot and if they were it did not last long. For example, it was time again at the end of 1993. On matchday 17, Leverkusen were in fourth place and Eintracht Frankfurt were top at the halfway mark. However, there were another three matchdays that year because the season had to end earlier because of the 1994 World Cup in the USA. The Werkself secured a 2-1 win against MSV Duisburg (goals scored by Ulf Kirsten and Christian Wörns) at the end of November on matchday 18 and a 1-1 draw against FC Bayern at the Olympic Stadium (goal scored by  René Rydlewicz) on matchday 19 (4 December), which took Bayer 04 top of the league for the first time in the season. That position was retained a week later on matchday 20 (11 December) with a 1-1 draw at the Haberland Stadium against Wattenscheid 09 (goal scored by: Ulf Kirsten). "That put us top at Christmas," said Rüdiger Vollborn.

The team coached by Dragoslav Stepanovic were top after 20 games immediately before the start of the winter break - level on points with Frankfurt and just four points ahead of eighth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. Unfortunately the narrow lead was squandered in the New Year of 1994.  Bayer 04 never got going and,  with just one point out of a possible ten in five games (with two points for a win), slipped down to seventh in the table. "Extremely annoying,"was certainly not just the opinion of Rüdiger Vollborn. "We had a really strong team and we'd won the DFB Cup in May 1993. Bernd Schuster and Paulo Sergio joined us in the summer. But at the end of the year when we were top of the table we didn't really think about the possibility of ending up as champions. No, we didn't have that belief," said Vollborn.

Nevertheless: The team recovered in spring and ended up the 1993/94 season in third place, which was the best finish in the club's history.

just missed out twice

Just two years later,  after nearly being relegated in 1996, Christoph Daum took over as coach - and he succeeded in getting the Werkself top more frequently. That happened eight times in the 1999/2000 season including matchdays 30 to 33. Yes and then came Unterhaching… But that's another story for another time. Just like the season of being runners-up three times in 2001/02 when the Werkself under Klaus Toppmöller lead the table 16 times. Despite a 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin, Bayer 04 were top at the halfway stage for the first timeon 15 December 2001.

With a 4-0 win in the top match against the champions to be Borussia Dortmund in February 2002, Neuville, Zé Roberto, Nowotny, Brdaric, Lucio and Co. regain first place.

two records

At the start of 2002 top spot was lost again but a brilliant 4-0 win in the top game against that then league leaders Borussia Dortmund saw the team including Lucio, Ballack and Bernd Schneider regain first place - and that did not change until matchday 33. The Werkself had a five-point lead over Dortmund after matchday 31. Then came defeats against Werder Bremen (1-2) and FC Nürnberg (0-1). BVB were champions of Germany in 2002 with a one point advantage over the Werkself.

Bayer 04 set two records in the 2009/10 season under coach Jupp Heynckes. The team remained unbeaten in the league for 22 games in succession - longer than any other team before. And Leverkusen were top of the table for 16 matchdays on the bounce (from matchday 8 to 23). That was the first ever run of that magnitude in the club's history.  The Werkself went top on 3 October 2009 with a 4-0 victory over FC Nürnberg. Top spot was lost with a goalless draw again FC Köln in the derby on matchday 24 - although that did make it 24 games unbeaten for Bayer 04.

Simon Rolfes makes it 2-0 with a penalty against Nürnberg. Bayer 04 win 4-0 in the end and are thereby top for 16 matchdays in succession.

"We started the season back then with six wins and three draws and this opening phase gave us a boost and built our confidence levels," recalled Simon Rolfes, at that time captain of the team. "Jupp Heynckes wanted to play dominant possession football and he worked on that in every training session. The team had very high quality with a mix of experienced players like Sami Hyypiä, Manuel Friedrich, Stefan Kießling and me, and highly talented lads like Toni Kroos, Stefan Reinartz and Lars Bender. It was brilliant." 

Why wasn't it enough for the title again? "We definitely had the belief and our confidence levels were big enough. In the end it was probably the lack of depth in the squad," said Rolfes. Due to continuing problems with his knee, Simon only played eleven games in the season and also missed out on the World Cup in South Africa. Striker Patrick Helmes, who had scored 21 goals for Bayer 04 that year, was sidelined for six months with a torn cruciate and only played twelve games. Renato Augusto, a creative player in midfield, was another regular starter who missed half the season due to a knee problem. In the end the team ran out of steam. Of the last eleven games, the Werkself were only able to win two (with five defeats and five draws). "The team were able to cover those injuries for a long time but it became more and more difficult for us the longer the season went on. It was a pity because the conditions were probably there to be able to challenge for the title and it had never been so good as in that 2009/10 season since 2002 ," said Simon Rolfes. In the end, Bayer 04 had to settle for fourth place and qualification for the Europa League.

Tin Jedvaj opens the scoring against Werder Bremen (final score - 3-3), goal number 2,000 in the Bundesliga for Bayer 04 - on matchday three of the 2014/15 season and the Werkself were top for the last time up to now.

The long-standing captain of the Werkself  was still on board when Bayer 04 were last top of the table in the 2014/15 season. After a 2-0 win at Borussia Dortmund (with the record-setting goal scored by Karim Bellarabi after just nine seconds), a 4-2 victory over Hertha Berlin and a 3-3 draw against Werder Bremen (with the 2,000th Bayer 04 Bundesliga goal scored by Tin Jedvaj), the Leverkusen team under Roger Schmidt were top of the league for the first three matchdays. 

Going into the 40th season in the Bundesliga, Bayer 04 have been top the league 70 times. But not on matchday 34 as yet. It would be good if that changes…

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