The prospects and predictions were anything but favourable at the end of March of this year. With nine games to play in the 2015/16 Bundesliga campaign, the Werkself were ninth in the table and six points behind the third-place they achieved at the end of the season. That finish was secured on matchday 32. But how did Bayer 04 manage to turn the corner in such an impressive manner?
Looking for the reasons for the incredible turnaround in the home straight again and again focuses on the away match at Stuttgart on matchday 27 on 20 March. In the previous two games Bayer 04 fought hard to earn four points: firstly, in a 3-3 draw at Augsburg where Roger Schmidt's team achieved a spectacular and unexpected comeback from 3-0 down with half an hour to play; that was followed by a battling 1-0 win against Hamburg SV with an own goal from Ekdals securing the three points.
Völler: "Initial spark at VfB"
Then came the away game at VfB Stuttgart – with a much reduced squad available. The Werkself had nine players ruled out including key men like Toprak, Bender, Jedvaj, Kampl, Calhanoglu, Hilbert and Papadopoulos. That meant André Ramalho played in central defence, and Vladlen Yurchenko and Benjamin Henrichs were given their first starts. However, the patched together Black and Red team produced an outstanding performance against a Stuttgart side with a strong home record. A combative performance was rewarded with a 2-0 win with goals from Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi. And Bayer 04 sporting director Rudi Völler never tires of saying "that match was the initial spark for our sensational run-in in the league.
That was the start of an incredible improvement for the Werkself with win after win. 3-0 against Wolfsburg, 2-0 win in the derby at FC Köln, 3-0 against Eintracht Frankfurt, 3-2 at Schalke with a six-minute flurry of goals turning round a 2-0 deficit, and finally a 2-1 win against a direct rival for a Champions League slot, Hertha Berlin. Bayer 04 achieved the main target with two games to play with third place ensured before the final two games against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Ingolstadt
A fantastic outcome that only the boldest optimist would have predicted seven weeks earlier. The atmosphere amongst the players and the enthusiastic crowd at the BayArena was euphoric immediately after the final whistle. Kevin Kampl fell to the to the ground overcome by a mixture of joy and exhaustion. The Champions League anthem was played on the PA system and the Werkself players celebrated as one in front of the fans in the North Stand. The ill whizz kid Jonathan Tah sent his congratulations via Instagram from his bed in hospital.
"A perfect end to the season"
The media, as in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, were full of respect for the Werkself: "What recently appeared completely unthinkable has come true in a wonderful way: Bayer 04 have turned round a season that looked like being the worst mess up in the club's history with two games to play and secured qualification for the Champions League in an almost perfect manner."
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Bayer 04 has modernised its media working area in the stands at the BayArena and equipped it with new, multifunctional monitors. The 50 screens will be used for the first time for the fixture against Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 13 in the Bundesliga next Sunday, 3 December (kick-off: 17:30 CET) and offer the media representatives working at the BayArena on matchday numerous possibilities.Show more