New striker for new season
Having succeeded Rudi Völler as sporting managing director, Simon Rolfes completed his first big signing by bringing Czech striker Adam Hlozek to the BayArena from Sparta Prague.
Hlozek joined head coach Gerardo Seoane and his squad for the team's training camp in Austria in July. Florian Wirtz also made the trip to continue his rehabilitation after his cruciate ligament injury in March.
Alongside training sessions, media appointments and time with travelling fans, there were also two friendly matches. The game against Greek Cup holders Panathinaikos - where Hlozek made his debut - ended goalless. An encounter with Udinese of Italy resulted in a 2-1 win.
The winter FIFA World Cup in November and December meant the first round of the DFB Cup was as early as July this season. It was also as far as the Werkself got, with a 4-3 defeat to Elversberg, who were freshly promoted to the third division and would go on to gain promotion to Bundesliga 2 as well.
No Wirtz or points to kick off Bundesliga
Amine Adli and Wirtz remained absent for Bayer 04 as they kicked off their Bundesliga campaign. The latter wouldn't return for several more months and had to watch as his teammates lost their opening three league matches.
The opening 1-0 defeat away at Borussia Dortmund produced one of those rare footballing moments when defender Edmond Tapsoba had to go in goal after Lukas Hradecky was sent off for handling the ball outside the box in the fifth minute of added time.
Win over Atletico
The Werkself had their first game in the UEFA Champions League group stage at the start of September, which ended in a 1-0 loss away at Belgian champions Club Brugge. A 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin on Matchday 6 meant Leverkusen were second-bottom in the Bundesliga going into their first European home game of the season against Atletico Madrid. Two late goals earned a famous 2-0 win at the BayArena.
Xabi Alonso takes over
Nevertheless, further wins failed to follow, with a 1-1 draw against Werder Bremen and 4-0 loss in Munich. After the 2-0 defeat at Porto, the club decided to act and brought in Xabi Alonso as head coach on 5 October with the team 17th in the Bundesliga. The Spaniard won the World Cup as a player in 2010, was a two-time Champions League winner and had previously coached the reserves at Real Sociedad.
Alonso's debut on the touchline for Leverkusen produced a 4-0 home win against Schalke, setting a new record for biggest Bundesliga win by a Bayer 04 coach in his first game in charge.
However, the team were initially unable to build on that, losing 3-0 to Porto and 5-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt. Results that Alonso later identified as a turning point.
Into the knockout rounds
Leverkusen were bottom of Champions League Group B going into the fifth round of fixtures. They needed at least a point in Madrid to have a chance of finishing third and progressing to the Europa League knockout rounds. They got it with an nerve-wracking 2-2 draw that saw Hradecky save a 99th-minute penalty from Yannick Carrasco. It all came after the final whistle had initially sounded before VAR intervened and referee Clement Turpin pointed to the spot on review.
A goalless draw at home to surprise group winners Brugge was then enough in the final game to finish third, thanks to Atletico's 2-1 defeat at Porto. With European action for 2022 now over, focus now turned to the final league games of the year.
Three wins from three before break
Bayer 04 had three Bundesliga games left before the break for the World Cup, which produced a maximum haul of nine points. It started with 16th-placed Leverkusen thrashing surprise leaders Union Berlin 5-0 at home.
It meant confidence was high going into the derby with Köln on Matchday 14. Despite going behind, the Werkself fought back and turned things around with two goals in six minutes from Nadiem Amiri and Moussa Diaby.
A 2-0 victory over VfB Stuttgart rounded off the year on 12 November, with Leverkusen sitting 12th after 15 games.
#Bayer04USATour to St. Louis
The day afterwards, the squad set off for the USA - minus those players going to the World Cup. Over in St. Louis, Missouri, the Werkself officially opened the new CITYPARK Stadium with a friendly against new Major League Soccer club St. Louis City. The second day of the #Bayer04USATour included a visit to the Bayer Crop Science research centre and a soccer clinic at Lou Fusz football club.
On day three, Alonso had his team training in the shadow of the St. Louis Wheel. Sightseeing and visiting a college basketball game in the evening were further highlights. The friendly with St. Louis City on the fourth day ended in a 3-0 win.
Day five saw an emotional visit to the Ranken Jordan Children Hospital, where the players took time to play and talk with the children. On the sixth and final day, the squad got to go watch an NHL match between the St. Louis Blues and the Washington Capitals.
Palacios wins World Cup
With the tour over, attentions turned to the World Cup in Qatar, with four players flying the Bayer 04 flag in Piero Hincapie (Ecuador), Palacios (Argentina), Sardar Azmoun (Iran) and Jeremie Frimpong (Netherlands). While Hincapie and Azmoun were knocked out in the group stage, Palacios and Frimpong continued into the knockout rounds.
The two remaining Leverkusen men faced off in the quarter-finals, with Palacios's Argentina advancing on penalties. After beating Croatia in the semis, the South Americans prevailed on penalties in a nail-biting to edge France and win the World Cup.
Wirtz return after 315 days
Freshly minted world champion Palacios and his club teammates wanted to pick up where they left off as the Bundesliga returned in January. They did just that with a 3-2 win away at Borussia Mönchengladbach. The highlight of the game, however, was the return of Wirtz in the 74th minute for the first time since his cruciate ligament tear in March 2022.
Tapsoba ends penalty hoodoo
The attacking midfielder made his starting comeback just three days later in the 2-0 win at home to Bochum and immediately impressed with an assist for Hlozek. Prior to that, Edmond Tapsoba had smashed home a penalty to end the Werkself's poor run of six spot-kicks without scoring.
Shootout in Monaco starts turnaround
A courageous display against Borussia Dortmund ended in a 2-0 defeat to halt the five-game winning run. It was followed by a 1-0 loss in Augsburg, but Leverkusen bounces back to beat Hoffenheim 3-1 on Matchday 20.
It meant Alonso's men were confident when they hosted Monaco for the first leg of the Europa League play-off round in February. The impressive Wirtz had put Bayer 04 2-1 up, but two late goals resulted in a 3-2 loss.
A 3-2 loss against Mainz would be the last for some time. It was followed by a thrilling 5-3 win on penalties in the second leg in Monaco after overturning the 3-2 deficit. Given Leverkusen's recent issues with spot-kicks, it was always going to be a nervy affair at the Stade Louis II. However, Alonso's men converted all five of their attempts. Monaco's Eliot Matazo struck the bar to send Leverkusen through and continue their European journey. And it was a result that would change a lot.
Perfect March - Into quarter-finals
The Werkself got on a roll, starting in Freiburg where Azmoun struck to earn a 1-1 draw. It was the first time Alonso opted to use Andrich in the centre of a back three - a tactical switch that he would later make more use of.
A 4-1 win over Hertha kicked off a perfect but energy-sapping March. It was followed by a 2-0 victory at home to Ferencvaros in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16. Back in the Bundesliga, Bayer 04 came from a goal down to win 3-2 in Bremen before heading to Budapest and claiming another 2-0 success to advance to the quarter-finals.
Victory over Bayern
The joy continued on Matchday 25 in the Bundesliga as champions Bayern Munich came to the BayArena. The visitors were ahead at the break despite a good performance by the Werkself, before two strange scenes in the second half turned things around. Twice Amine Adli was booked for an apparent dive; twice referee Tobias Stieler reviewed the scene and reversed his decision to a penalty; twice Palacios converted from the spot to raise the roof off a sold-out BayArena.
Historic quarter-final in Belgium
There was no time for rest, but the Werkself showed no signs of fatigue as they saw off Schalke (3-0) and Frankfurt (3-1). Back in the Europa League, the quarter-final first leg with Union Saint-Gilloise ended 1-1 thanks to Wirtz's late equaliser. The second leg in Belgium was a far better display as Diaby, Mitchel Bakker, Frimpong and Hlozek all netted in a 4-1 victory to continue the continental adventure and reach a European semi-final for the first time in over 20 years.
Even then, Leverkusen didn't let up and beat Leipzig 2-0 at home before a goalless draw with Union. It was then a 2-1 loss in the derby against Köln that saw the 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions finally ended.
A historic evening
Roma were the opponents for the Europa League semi-finals. Neither team budged in the Italian capital before Edoardo Bove snatched a 1-0 win for Jose Mourinho's side. Even worse, Odilon Kossounou and Andrich picked up injuries and would miss the rest of the season.
The second leg on 18 May came exactly 35 years since the second leg of the UEFA Cup final win against Espanyol. The BayArena was a sell-out, with thousands more fans building the atmosphere in the city. With two hours to go before kick-off, fans marched to the stadium in preparation for a historic day.
Bayer 04 were dominant, managing 23 shots to Roma's one, but were unable to find a breakthrough. Nobody could believe it ended 0-0. The dream of the Europa League final in Budapest was also ended after a thrilling run of 14 European games.
Bellarabi leaves after 12 years
The final Bundesliga home game of the season was all about Bayer 04's longest-serving player. Fans said farewell to Karim Bellarabi after 12 years at the club following the 2-2 draw with Gladbach, as well as Ayman Azhil, Daley Sinkgraven, Andrey Lunev and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Almost 300 appearances for the Werkself places him in the club's all-time top 15. "I was here for more than a decade. Leverkusen is like my home. That's why it's a strange feeling, but I'm also sure I'll pop by again to watch some cool games with the fans and cheer on the lads. I'm looking forward to that in the future. That's why this isn't a goodbye forever," the 33-year-old said.
Happy ending despite defeat
Both teams still had a lot on the line in the final match of the campaign away at Bochum. The hosts were battling to avoid the drop, while Bayer 04 were looking to secure sixth place. An early red card for Adli allowed Bochum to claim a 3-0 win. However, victory for already relegated Hertha over Wolfsburg ensured the Werkself would still finish the Bundesliga season in sixth and qualify for Europe once again.
The question at the time was which competition would Leverkusen appear in. They finally knew on 3 June, when Leipzig beat Frankfurt in the DFB Pokal final, that it would be the Europa League.