Gerardo Seoane took over as Werkself head coach for the 2021/22 season. The Swiss tactician arrived from Young Boys in his homeland, having won the league three times and the cup once. There were also a number of changes in the squad. Left-back Mitchel Bakker (Paris Saint-Germain), goalkeeper Andrey Lunev (Zenit St. Petersburg) and youngster Zidan Sertdemir (Nordsjaelland) came in to strengthen the team ahead of the return to pre-season. Defenders Odilon Kossounou (Club Brugges) and Piero Hincapie (Club Atletico Telleres), midfielder Robert Andrich (Union Berlin) and forward Amine Adli (Toulouse) signed later on before the new campaign.
An indifferent pre-season
Seoane welcomed 16 senior and seven youth players for the start of training on 6 July. Nine members of the squad were absent due to international duty for their countries. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Lucas Alario were also both unavailable due to injury. The first friendly matches were evidence that the team would need some time to find itself, following a goalless draw with fellow Bundesliga outfit Freiburg with a 5-1 defeat to Dutch side Utrecht. The first win came against fourth-tier Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, before a 1-0 loss to 3. Liga club Viktoria Köln.
All on board to kick off
The Werkself were drawn away at Lokomotive Leipzig for the first round of the 2021/22 DFB Pokal. Two quick goals from Kerem Demirbay and Karim Bellarabi put the Werkself in control in the first competitive fixture of the season, before the former netted again to round off a 3-0 win.
Seoane had set his team up to be solid at the back and quick to counter, as demonstrated in the opening weeks of the Bundesliga campaign. A 1-1 draw at Union Berlin on the first matchday was followed by a brilliant 4-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in front of a sold-out BayArena, although capacity was reduced by half to 15,105 due to Covid-19 measures. The second home game - this time in front of a sold-out 17,605 - was a thriller against Borussia Dortmund. Despite taking the lead three times, it ended in a 4-3 defeat, but the quality in this Werkself team was clear to see. After seven matchdays with five wins, a draw and a defeat, Leverkusen were second in the table, level on points with leaders Bayern Munich.
Bayer 04 also made a perfect start in Europe with two crucial wins in the Europa League group stage. The first three points came in a 2-1 success over Ferencvaros thanks to Exequiel Palacios and Florian Wirtz. That was followed by a famous 4-0 win in Glasgow against Celtic.
A Bayern setback
Back in the Bundesliga, second hosted first at the BayArena as Bayern came to town with only four goals separating the top two in the table. However, Seoane's side never got going that afternoon and found themselves 5-0 down inside 37 minutes. Patrik Schick got one back. The Werkself subsequently struggled to get back into the groove. A late Andrich goal salvaged a 1-1 draw against Real Betis in the third Europa League fixture, but there were no happy feelings about the following draw in the derby against Köln. Leading 2-0 and with chances to extend the advantage, Bayer 04 were pegged back to tie 2-2.
The next blow followed only three days later as the Werkself were knocked out of the DFB Pokal at home to second division Karlsruhe (2-1). The visitors scored their winner from a horrible mistake by captain Hradecky.
European success turns things around
After a five-game winless run in all competitions, Bayer 04 got back on track with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Betis in the Europa League. A 1-1 draw followed on Sunday away at Hertha Berlin, with the Werkself trailing for much of the game before a 90th-minute equaliser from Andrich earned a morale-boosting point.
Four straight wins
It came at the right time as Leverkusen then recorded wins over Bochum (1-0) and Leipzig (3-1). Schick then bagged four in a historic 7-1 thrashing of Greuther Fürth. Back in the Europa League and the Werkself claimed a 3-2 win at home to Celtic, with Andrich netting twice to secure progress to the knockout stage with a game to space. The final group game in Budapest ended in a 1-0 defeat.
Not enough before winter break
The final three games of the Hinrunde were squeezed into just seven days and saw Seoane's side twice blow a 2-0 lead. Away at Eintracht Frankfurt, it ended in a 5-2 loss, while it resulted in a 2-2 draw at home to Hoffenheim. That Wednesday game saw Wirtz make his 50th Bundesliga appearance at the age of 18 years, seven months and 12 days - the youngest person ever at the time to reach a half century. A 2-1 loss at Freiburg brought the curtain down on the first half of the season. Just one point from the last three games took the Werkself's total to 28 in fourth - one behind Freiburg - but losing ground on Bayern (43) and Dortmund (34).
Lennart Grill's loan to Norwegian club Brann ended in the new year and he returned to bolster the goalkeeping department with Hradecky, Lunev and Niklas Lomb. Striker Sardar Azmoun moved to Leverkusen at the end of January from Zenit St. Petersburg to provide Seoane with further options in attack. Going out the door, Nadiem Amiri left on a six-month loan to Genoa in Italy.
Good start to new year
Just three weeks after the final games of December, the Bundesliga returned for 2022 as Leverkusen hosted Union in a 2-2 draw. The Werkself then recorded wins away at Gladbach (2-1) and at home to Augsburg (5-1). The following game was the highlight of the season as the second encounter with Dortmund again produced seven goals, but this time going the way of Leverkusen with a scintillating 5-2 win at Signal Iduna Park.
That victory over a top-four rival produced further momentum, with a 4-2 win over Stuttgart next on the list. The four-game winning run was ended the following week by a 3-2 loss in Mainz, but the Werkself didn't bemoan the fact they had twice given away a lead and went on to beat Bielefeld 3-0 in their subsequent outing.
Should've beaten Bayern
Leverkusen were somewhat defensive in their encounter with leaders Bayern and went behind through Niklas Süle's goal. But an own goal from Thomas Müller in the first half spurred the Werkself into life. A string of missed opportunities meant it remained level at the break. Chances were at a premium in the second half, but Bayer 04 had a golden chance to win it when Diaby raced through and squared in the box, where Frimpong saw his effort thwarted by a last-ditch save by Sven Ulreich.
Bad injury in derby
In between two Europa League fixtures came the derby against Köln - and it was a bad day at the office. It all started in the 13th minute when Frimpong had to go off with an ankle injury that would rule him out for several weeks. Not long after, Wirtz also went down having torn his cruciate ligament. The season was over for the teenager. It was all compounded by Kingsley Schindler's goal off the bench in the 67th minute.
Strong finish to season
Nevertheless, Seoane's side picked up 19 of a possible 24 points from the final eight league games of the season. A Paulinho brace in Wolfsburg ensured the maximum haul there, but the home game against Hertha was all about the fans and marked the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020 that there were no spectator restrictions in place at the BayArena. The team crowned that with a 2-1 win. A goalless draw at Bochum and 1-0 loss to Leipzig stalled momentum, but the Werkself went on to enjoy a flawless end to the campaign by beating Fürth 4-1 and later Europa League winners Frankfurt 2-0.
13th Champions League qualification
Leverkusen secured third place on the penultimate matchday to qualify for the Champions League for the 13th time in the club's history. The team twice came from behind away at Hoffenheim as a Schick brace and goals apiece from Diaby and Alario earned a 4-2 win.
Rudi Völler steps back
Rudi Völler's final Bundesliga game as sporting managing director at Bayer 04 ended in a 2-1 win over Freiburg. The 62-year-old was stepping down from his position but would continue to support the club as a member of the shareholders committee and as an ambassador. Following the full-time whistle, he celebrated with the fans, the team and the whole Bayer 04 family. It was both a successful end to the 2021/22 season and also his many years at the club as a player, sporting director, caretaker coach and finally at board level.
Best finish in years
Bayer 04 so erfolgreich wie lange nicht
It was a campaign that produces a number of best marks. The team's haul of 64 points was the best in nine years and saw them finish in the Bundesliga's top three for the first time in six seasons. The Werkself were the second-best team in the Rückrunde, only behind Leipzig on goal difference. The 36 points earned in the second half of the campaign was the second most in the club's top-flight history, after 1999/2000 (39). Hradecky and the defence only conceded 19 times after the new year, which was again second only to Leipzig (15). Up front, Schick bagged 24 goals in only 27 appearances, which placed the Czech Footballer of the Year second behind Robert Lewandowski. Diaby also set a new club record with 12 assists.